In December, I posted a two-part essay by Abenaki poet Carol Bachofner here and here. In this piece, she redefines her artistic identity. Today I am sharing my review of her 4th poetry collection, Native Moons, Native Days.
These lovely poems explore and illuminate the life stories of the Abenaki, both past and present. They begin as lyric poems, but the singular first-person perspective doesn’t insist on itself as a lone entity. Rather, the view merges with a larger “we.” In this way, the poetry collection gives voice to a people.
The first poem, “Origin,” tells a story of how “[e]verything started over water” when a woman looked down through a hole in the clouds, “dreaming and falling.” By “Epilogue,” “We look to the sky to see who is falling, who is rising.” I read this as a creation story that informs a system of symbols that give meaning for the woman telling these poetic stories as well as for the Abenaki. As the moons come and go, so do the generations.
Bachofner’s poems bring the reader closer to the rich earth and its fruit (“Plunging hands into warm earth / where worms have shed casts”)–the dirt, the squash, the ocean, its fish. They have a way of slowing down the contemporary world and connecting the reader through place and naming. The names are important: they punctuate the poems. Medawihla, Mezatanos, Pashipakokee: loon, moon, river. My first time through the book I read the poems aloud, relying on instinct for pronunciations, and they felt good in my mouth.
Just under the musicality of Bachofner’s lines, I hear a heart beat that seems to come from the center of the earth. No one could expect poetry to do more.
Here’s a sample from the book:
We Speak the White Man’s Language
except when dreaming, except when our fingers
braid hair, weave blankets, knot bait bags,
when we are praying in Indian. Work brings words
from the belly, the soles of the feet.
Words walk the woods where our relatives
burned the way forward from camp to camp,
trading stories with people along the way.
We speak in our own tongues, syllables full
of consonants, echoing from the back
of the throat to the nose, to the wind.
Our words are a clearing, a place for fire.
Where did the language go when the black robes
threw holy water on it? Did it disappear
when the switch was on our backs? Into the trees,
into the streams, into our combs to wait.
Carol has also published three other poetry collections. Go forth and check them out!