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Contemporary Poetry Assignment

Instructions: As a group, select one of the contemporary poems and sign up on the attached spreadsheet. Only one group per poem. Then prepare the following presentation using Google Slides.

Slide 1: Title Slide with a creative title for your presentation, the title of the poem and poet, the full names of all group members, and your group number.
Slide 2: The background of the poet
Slide 3: A summary of the poem in your own words
Slide 4: Which of the
“Common Topics in Native Literature”
does this poem address? What does the speaker want you to understand about this/these topic(s) (speaker’s message or theme of poem)?
Slide 5: Big Picture: What is being dramatized? Who is the speaker? What happens in the poem? When does the action occur? Where is the speaker? Why does the speaker feel compelled to speak at this moment?
Slide 6: Design: Describe the form (type of poem/shape/structure). How is the message rhetorically or poetically conveyed? How are the lines structured? Describe the diction choices.
Slide 7: Patterns: What patterns do you notice rhetorically/poetically, rhyme, sound, visual (imagery), rhythm, and/or meter
Slide 8: Write a thesis statement about this poem.
Slide 9: Ask 3 discussion questions about this poem that your classmates can answer. These questions should ask students to analyze the poem and be open ended.
Slide 10: outside references

Your presentation should include:
· At least three images
· Citations of any outside sources used (you don’t need outside sources, but I’m assuming you will at least for slide 2)
· A manageable amount of words on each slide
· Speaker notes for additional information, so your slide doesn’t get too crowded OR you can include a voice over, if you know how to do that
· Your name on the slides you worked on
*You will not be presenting these slides, but rather students will be viewing them independently as a gallery walk.



For Edgar

The submarine’s inside was dim.

— Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, tr. by Will Petersen

in my youth, I hitched a ride to San Diego, across
chirping desert and distant night, I gazed upon a slow-moving
dark, encasing a convex cerulean cavity

each night, I stood beneath the sky for hours mesmerized
at the perplex reformatory, twinkling lights of broken
glass fragments spreading against a glistening sunset

a faceless man behind a lost reflection of glass
at a drive-up window informs me,

too bad, you know nothing of your own past

how far will I walk against the night?
conforming to a captivity I had never realized

some years later, under the kitchen table, they all huddle,
as the rampage continues toward the back of the house,
a clash of debris from the other room recoils
and broken sounds escape the barricade of doors

I remember I returned in 1970,
all they remember is me sitting at the edge of my bed,
with the war still in my hands



How can we die when we’re already
prone to leaving the table mid-meal
like Ancient Ones gone to breathe
elsewhere. Salt sits still, but pepper’s gone
rolled off in a rush. We’ve practiced dying
for a long time: when we skip dance or town,
when we chew. We’ve rounded out
like dining room walls in a canyon, eaten
through by wind—Sorry we rushed off;
the food wasn’t ours. Sorry the grease sits
white on our plates, and the jam that didn’t set—
use it as syrup to cover every theory of us.

When Roots Are Exposed


The empty of stomach
manifests silence
a stillness
that levels
coffee in a cup
and in a respectful manner
allows steam to penetrate
the surface.
Reversal of action
has created my sandstone canyon
rooted cedar and sage at my feet.
This movement is where
a tranquility stems.

When my child creates
bubbles through a soapy wand,
I occupy the action of fate
that bursts the perfect form.
A halcyon absorbed
nesting within
the existence of the form
that no longer exists.
The formless form
is where my mind floats.

It is easy to give form
especially with English words
a promotion of mechanical ligaments
binding spirit with assembly-fabricated molds.
Just as my hair poses an appendage of my brain
my tongue poses an appendage of my heart.
I cannot classify this thought as a typewritten symbol.
An ideogram of essence
cultivates my stillness to action.



When we are out of gas,
a headache haloes the roof,
darkening the skin of everyone who has a full tank.

I was told that the nectar of shoelaces,
if squeezed hard enough,
turns to water and trickles from the caribou’s snout.

A glacier nibbled from its center
spiders a story of the Southern Cross,
twin brothers
dancing in the back room lit with cigarettes
break through the drum’s soft skin—
There bone faces atlas

a grieving century.

Massacre Song Foundation

Launch Audio in a New Window


Chorus rumbles constant throughout night
storied roots curl around obsidian
arrowhead dissolved into shaft groove
you unbuckle the stems from your leg

Coda’s systemic sameness & design
monsoon shovels clay onto hand
pushes up arm, pericardial shift dams
its build you prostrate in an office chair

Massacre song foundation roll fields hypoxic
grasses scribe a hill slope horripilation
a pronghorn horns the air stirs skin cells

Unpeel bison hide bundle
piece stem into its chamber
pillar a room with red cedar smoke

Confusion forms to recall its palms air push
different if not warranted you hear only
past reflections bounce off the keystone surface:
a beast skips on a butte
thrown across a wheeling prairie
oak shadow outline casts to your interior
walls angled from captured leaf veins

Unmoved trailer homes center scene
cottonwoods bend your head

you thumb forward then walk

the bear was born


the bear was born
thrown from its side by killer-of-enemies
its rage scratched open several rivers and the gulf of mexico
an aspect so to speke
made fulsomely as it were one
whos habitat
full somely made
reaches all its leaves and feathers to the smoky air
a tanager on an elm in oahu
really reminded of the grand canyon
by the souvenir mug of the muleskinner
& the horse & the name angel



Seeing photos
of ancestors
a century past

is like looking
at your own

and lines
you can’t

until someone else
with a stranger’s eye
looks close and says
that’s you.



Bending, I bow my head
and lay my hands upon
her hair, combing, and think
how women do this for
each other. My daughter’s hair
curls against the comb,
wet and fragrant— orange
parings. Her face, downcast,
is quiet for one so young.

I take her place. Beneath
my mother’s hands I feel
the braids drawn up tight
as piano wires and singing,
vinegar-rinsed. Sitting
before the oven I hear
the orange coils tick
the early hour before school.

She combed her grandmother
Mathilda’s hair using
a comb made out of bone.
Mathilda rocked her oak wood
chair, her face downcast,
intent on tearing rags
in strips to braid a cotton
rug from bits of orange
and brown. A simple act
Preparing hair. Something
women do for each other,
plaiting the generations.



When summer ended
the leaves of snapdragons withered
taking their shrill-colored mouths with them.
They were still, so quiet. They were
violet where umber now is. She hated
and she hated to see
them go. Flowers

born when the weather was good – this
she thinks of, watching the branch of peaches
daring their ways above the fence, and further,
two hummingbirds, hovering, stuck to each other,
arcing their bodies in grim determination
to find what is good, what is
given them to find. These are warriors

distancing themselves from history.
They find peace
in the way they contain the wind
and are gone.

Sometimes I Feel Like All Indians


For Kelly Morgan

ever do is die
Her brother was thrown out the window
by Black men he was drinking with
His cousin was stabbed near the store
She got shot
Nobody knows where he ended up
She hasn’t heard from her brother in 17 years
He killed himself when his wife left
Her son was hit by a car of drunk whites
Her uncle went off a cliff in the dark
Her grandmother died in the hospital
because they gave her the wrong medicine
Her baby was born addicted & died
My brother died as a baby
Her mother died of an overdose
She doesn’t know how her mother died
but no one has seen her for a long time
She was put in foster care because her parents died in a car wreck
I close my eyes & keep praying
sometimes there’s nothing to do
but brush back the tears
& keep on folding the laundry

A Mighty Pulverizing Machine


To each orphaned child—so long as you remain close enough to walk to
your living kin you will dance, feast, feel community in food. This cannot
stand. Eighty acres allotted.

To each head of household—so long as you remember your tribal words
for village you will recollect that the grasses still grow and the rivers still
flow. So long as you teach your children these words they will remember
as well. This we cannot allow. One hundred and sixty acres allotted.

To each elder unable to till or hunt—so long as your old and injurious habits
sing out over the drum or flicker near the fire you cripple our reward. We
seek to hasten your end. Eighty acres allotted.

To each widowed wife—so long as you can make your mark, your land
may be leased. A blessing on your mark when you sign it and walk closer
to your favored white sister. Eighty acres allotted.

To each full blood—so long as you have an open hand, we shall fill it with
a broken ploughshare. One hundred and sixty acres allotted.

To each half blood, each quarter strain—so long as you yearn for the broken
ploughshare, you will be provided a spade honed to razor in its place.
When every acre of your allotment has been leased or sold, you will turn it
on yourself. From that date begins our real and permanent progress.

Amelia’s First Ski Run


Eaglecrest, Juneau, February 24, 1989
Amelia, space-age girl
at top of Sourdough
makes her run with Eagle Grandpa Dick,
Raven girl, balancing on space,
gliding on air
in Tlingit colors:
black pants, turquoise jacket,
yellow shoulder patches,
black hair like feathers
clinging to her head,
face the color of red cedar.
Once in a while
I could even see space
between her legs and skis.
Diving downhill
she continues
side to side, slalom style,
following Grandpa’s red boots.
Then the two figures swoop around the
swishing downhill,
shooshing home.

Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation


Angels don’t come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.
Coyotes, too. They all mean the same thing—
death. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven’t seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named Gabe though—
he came through here one powwow and stayed, typical
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars. Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women’s bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I’ve ever heard of has ever been or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—
Nazarene church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John’s wife. It’s no wonder
Pastor John’s son is the angel—everyone knows angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say. They’re no good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean?
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we’re better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
’xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they’ll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out for us.

True Myth


Tell a child she is composed of parts
(her Ojibway quarters, her German half-heart)
she’ll find the existence of harpies easy
to swallow. Storybook children never come close
to her mix, but manticores make great uncles,
Sphinx a cousin she’ll allow, centaurs better to love
than boys—the horse part, at least, she can ride.
With a bestiary for a family album she’s proud.
Her heap of blankets, her garbage grin, prove
she’s descended of bears, her totem, it’s true.
And that German witch with the candy roof,
that was her ancestor too. If swans can rain
white rape from heaven, then what is a girl to do?
Believe her Indian eyes, her sly French smile,
her breast with its veins skim milk blue—
She is the myth that is true.

Indian Boarding School: The Runaways


Home’s the place we head for in our sleep.
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
don’t wait for us. We catch them on the run.
The rails, old lacerations that we love,
shoot parallel across the face and break
just under Turtle Mountains. Riding scars
you can’t get lost. Home is the place they cross.

The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards
as the land starts rolling, rolling till it hurts
to be here, cold in regulation clothes.
We know the sheriff’s waiting at midrun
to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.
The highway doesn’t rock, it only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts
of ancient punishments lead back and forth.

All runaways wear dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub
the sidewalks down because it’s shameful work.
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.



Her head bangs against the window
and dash when I stop and turn,
my legs too short to work
the brakes.
Mama’s crooked
brow, her makeup smearing away,
slurs something about good
ol’ boy music, a pint of Kentucky
Deluxe in her hand. Two hours,
she said, and three days later,
Tuesday, she is finally wanting
to stop. I am getting better
at the turns, guiding her
Cutlass through these hills,
ten miles an hour, gravel roads,
the Cutlass
rattling out the last
fumes of gas. Engine stops,
the night dimly lit by the moon
hung over the treetops;
owls calling each other from
hilltop to valley bend.
The radio
fades in and out of static,
tractors revving, cows lowing,
and we may never make it back,
home still five hills away, daylight
coming over rocky edges of the hills.

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