RWB Workshop Poem of the Week (3/18)
LA VIE EN ROSE
I’m in Couer d’Alene, must have been the meeting
of the multifamily housing developers,
and I just stepped out of the hotel
to see stormclouds over the mountains.
I had lost my sunglasses in Spokane,
where I had a cocktail in a formal hotel lobby
with a woman from an Indian version of the Magic Flute.
Well, I didn’t have a cocktail, but I enjoyed the way
she enjoyed her drink out of the heat of the summer sun.
I remember the Julyamsh pow wow, looking for Francis, the emcee.
The woman’s daughter called this place “the land of Francis.”
There were vendor tables, drum groups, arbors for shade,
a place for the horses and riders who rode in, and a campground.
The shawl dancers must have been wilting
in the hallucinatory heat, but they wouldn’t let on.
I’ll stay out here with you, forswear
the air conditioning of the raceway.
Mozart’s Indian flutes play coolness on even the hottest day.
They didn’t have any green-tinged sunglasses,
so I bought, for the first time, a pair of rose ones.
I didn’t see Francis the whole of that shadowless day,
didn’t meet the emperor of his own gaudy realm.
When I left, though, someone was standing by the exit
in the red and white weaves of the afternoon, smiling.
“You must be Francis,” I said.
Lake Couer d’Alene is one of the beauty spots of the world.
After they invented cars, but before they built the bridges,
people would try to drive across the frozen lake in winter.
You can see the ruins of the Duesenbergs and Model Ts
if you can get down to the bottom.
I know a way.
I hate it when the sun deserts me while I’m traveling.
I put on the rose-colored glasses anyway.
Half the sky is filled with the fists of the thunderheads.
I could tell you a story or two about multifamily housing.
The following article was originally published at
A grand entrance at Julyamsh
The Julyamsh pow wow dancers enter the arena five and six abreast in blazes of color – the men revolving like slow kaleidoscopes and the women stately and proud, moving slowly to the steady heartbeat and insistent vocals of lead drum Black Lodge. They keep dancing in until there are hundreds of them in the infield of the Post Falls, Idaho race track, in a long brilliant horseshoe that throws back to where they entered.
I’ve missed the sensational horse and rider entrance, the decorated ponies and their riders galloping up to the review stand and back out again, but the Grand Entry of dancers is in itself an awesome and emotional event.
Though it is 100 degrees and the sun is bearing down from a thin blue Idaho sky, none of the dancers, from the oldest to the youngest, shows any discomfort or gives any signal how hot it must be under their bright and vivid outfits, the feathers, the bustles, the leggings, the jingles.
The Coeur d’Alene tribe, whose summer encampment this is, has come back to its traditional homeland for this celebratory weekend. I can sense a palpable feeling of joy in the air, a happiness that goes beyond their traditional July hunting and fishing meetings (and later July 4 celebrations).
They are reclaiming lost territory, coming back into their traditional place and strength. And the dancers, from near and far, seem to respond to this. In their prayerful regalia, in their quickfooted pride and strength, in their obliviousness to the heat, they are wonderful and beautiful.
Master of Ceremonies Dale Old Horn proudly shows off each group as it passes the review stand and the drum tents. There are the Eagle Staff bearer, the American and Canadian flag bearers, a veteran with a POW-MIA banner, the Head Man and Head Woman dancers (Spike Draper, New Mexico; Dine, six-time Julyamsh dance champion; and Tisa Pinkman, Nez Perce), and Marcy Williams, Miss Julyamsh. Then parading past are the elders, Golden Age dancers, Northern and Southern Traditional dancers from Oklahoma and the Northern Plains, Grass dancers, Women’s Traditional dancers, Men’s Fancy Feather dancers, Women’s Fancy Shawl dancers. Old Horn is especially fond and proud of the oldest and the youngest of the dancers.
As the opening ceremonies begin, rafts of umbrellas spring up in the stands to stymie the sun, and a stiff wind whips around the American flags and ribbons that decorate the pow wow grounds like displays of living energy. There are words from the tribal chair, Ernie Stensgar, an Honor song, a Flag song, acknowledgement of VIPs, and the spectacular feather pickup that starts the dance competition.
Here, in a Northern Plains tradition, four veterans in regalia make a square around a feather placed on the ground. They dance in place for what seems to be a very long time, the tension building, and then they make three exquisite passes before one of them finally picks up the feather.
Though the dancers are uncomplaining on the sunny field, I am not as durable. Retreating to the air conditioning of the interior grandstand, I see the pow wow ground laid out before me.
The horseshoe of the arena is surrounded by several other semicircles, the first made up of reviewing and spectator stands. Around them are wedges of booths, craft vendors to the left and food vendors to the right, plying such traditional pow wow foods as frybread, Indian tacos, curly fries, elephant ears, corn dogs and buffalo wings. Loosely attached to the proceedings are the tents, tipis and trailers of the encampment.
A long red streamer whips around in the hypnotic wind, and in the hot trance of the day I can see that beyond the prosaic greyhound track that has been so changed for a short time it’s easy to imagine a natural horseshoe of surrounding land that runs back to the framing, heart-stopping mountains of Idaho. The perfection of it dawns on me slowly- the semicircles of the pow wow ground fit into the larger, natural one like coins into a slot.
And the perfection extends, generously, beyond the enduring dancers working and blending into the clarity of a spectacular Idaho summer afternoon. It extends to each of us there, no matter what background or condition, no matter from how near or far away.
We all have our place in a beautiful universe, and it is a good day to be alive.
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