Recently released by Bowman Books, this is the seventh volume in The Native New England Authors Series. There are several reasons why I love these poems. First, the majority (nearly two-thirds) of the 65 poems contains an Abenaki word or phrase–the poet’s native language. While it’s hard to pick one from amongst words that I hardly can pronounce–the poem “Wlowatawak” caught my attention, being about a grandmother who “left tribal stories / told over cups blue tea,” tea made from the plants and flowers of the woods. Carol follows a long tradition of Native authors who use their own tribal words in songs, poetry and stories.
The wonder of it all is that New England tribal languages are being–and have been–pulled from the brink of extinction. Jesse Bruchac, one person responsible for this revitalization, published a poem in 1996 (Reclaiming the Vision: Native Voices for the Eighth Generation), titled “Green Corn Song,” echoing every English line with a recurring line in Abenaki. What a privilege it would be to hear these ancient Abenaki words spoken by the poets themselves! Another reason I am drawn to these poems is that the tribal perspective and landscape are known to me–for my own tribe, the Mi’kmaq, are part of the same cultural group as Carol’s. Much of her world is familiar to me, especially “Pond Water,” which “will always call to you / will always know when you return.” I learned to swim and ice skate on a little lovely pond in Cromwell, Connecticut.
The poem,”Land Sickness” particularly hit home, as I more often than not have lived in land-locked places, like Carol: “I have no salt spray for my hair, no chill / gray sand between my feet. I am bereft / of crisp ocean kisses and wild seaweed.” When Carol asked me to compose a few testimonial lines for the back cover–I did so on the basis of one poem–“Zogwawon” (face paint), for its universal longing in these times of war:
I paint my face, double curves
on each cheek and across the brow.
I choose the colors of war, red and black,
kelegatsta, each stripe a memory of some wrong.
I want yellow for the dawn, for peace.
Bring trickster clowns to shake their rattles,
no more baskhodebahiganal to break the heads
of our enemies. No more shouts of insult.
Available at www.nativeauthors.com.