Yesterday was Columbus Day, or, as many prefer to refer to it, Indigenous People’s Day. As the problematic history of that holiday becomes better known, it is a good time to remember the enormous talents of James Welch, an award winning Native American novelist and poet, who was a major figure in the Native American Renaissance that involved the reclaiming of indigenous people's heritage through literary expression.
Welch is probably best known for his novel Fools Crow which won the American Book Award as well as other awards. His early book of poems Riding the Earthboy 40 was published in 1971 and reprinted in 1975, praised in the Saturday Review as “alert, powerful and true.” Critics also praised his novels for the way Welch was able to bring his people’s world view alive for the reader.
There are no James Welch poems on PoemHunter, and none on the Poetry Foundation website, though the Foundation site does include a useful essay on his work.
This excerpt is from “Dreaming Winter” in Riding the Earthboy 40.
Don't ask me if these knives are real.
I could paint a king or show a map
the way home—to go like this:
Wobble me back to a tiger's dream
a dream of knives and bones too common
to be exposed. My secrets are ignored.
Here comes the man I love. His coat is wet
and his face is falling like the leaves,
tobacco stains on his Polish teeth.