HORSE TRACKS. By Henry Real Bird. (2010 Lost Horse Press, 105 Lost Horse Lane, Sandpoint, ID 83864) 111 pp. $18. Lost Horse Press
Poet Laureate of Montana, Henry Real Bird was raised, resides and is active within his culture and community of Garryowen, not far from Hardin and the Little Big Horn River. With these eyes, he sees, speaks and thinks in Crow (Apsáalooke), leaving rhythmic and descriptive poems displaying a minimalist style upon our doorstep – and so feeds the spirit of being human. [I can’t help but be reminded of our native (Sierra Nevada foothills) Yokuts leaving food upon the doorsteps of early settlers to preclude the use of guns that scared their game.]
The natural world and Real Bird’s rich relationship with it, its wild and domestic characters, is intriguing and rare. I am drawn to his syntax, as I was drawn many years ago to BLACK ELK SPEAKS, investigating a structure that might better fit this seemingly simple, yet subtly pantheistic, life with livestock, on this or any grazing ground. He writes with respect and an ingrained understanding of how things work together in nature, with the depth of ancestral wisdom and myth, and of course with feelings – his great heart open to the world.
Lost to a memory
In a sky of dreams
Where a kiss was temporary,
This feeling beams
A scent of life
In light golden yellow frost;
The bittersweet cold
Tinkling where rivers go,
Floating through time
Where memories live
In early winter moon
The crystal dragonfly is
Alive in a moment,
Just wanted to know
That tomorrow was there,
In past future perfect feeling.
Love is a lasting moment,
A robin in winter sky.
Perhaps most consistent throughout this collection is the unending, yet accomplished, quest for the spiritual, To be connected with Mother Earth (“Night and Day”), whether ghost writings/On dead trees, under the bark (“Ramblin’”) or These horses have a soul (“Rivers of Horse”), Real Bird gives us eyes to see things differently, and plainly. I found these poems uplifting and visual, with insight into a culture I don’t know, to become alternative and viable perspectives to cherish, or listen to when riding out alone – ancestors trickling down the veins (“Bird Horse”).
Clouds lift up Ruby Valley
As the medicine man unveils
Feelings of illusion.
The poet paints with wails
Of inner heart commotion,
Life is a song of feelings.
(“Eyes Take Out”)
Writing in the moment, his treatment of the past, present and the future fuse together matter-of-factly, In cosmic universal alliance walk (“Mass In Crow”), no one tense favored in his thinking or writing. Steeped in his culture, one might think a longing for the old ways would be more evident in his poetry, within a culture dealing with tribal politics, drugs and alcohol, or ever-hopeful in the promises of more lucrative days ahead, but it’s not, because these poems live on a spiritual plane all their own. I hear his chanting voice when I read these poems, perhaps songs that are continuous moments within which he re-finds himself and his heart, and that he selflessly gives to us in HORSE TRACKS.
Then I remembered myself, as feeling in wind,
The vision of a feeling drives the heart
Slowly through a life where people hide
From themselves in thick underbrush,
In the shadows of their hearts.
I want nothing to cling to your heart
As you go riding in life.
That is what I’ve asked for you.