Behind the illusion.


Today is the birthday of Louise Erdrich, one of the leading lights of the second wave of  first nation American literature.  One quarter Chippewa Ojibwe and a member of the Turtle Mountain band.  Here is a poignant pen portrait of a life in things, a life in transit, a damaged life.  Not at all like the photo most of the men have in their memory.


Francine’s Room; by Louise Erdrich


This is Tarsus, one place like anyplace else.

And this is my circuit, the rodeo, fair.

The farmboys blow through here in pickups, wild

as horses in their oat sacks.

The women wear spurs.

In the trailers the cattle are pounding for air.


My room is the same as last year. They always give me

end of the corridor, left, the top floor.

Privacy. Why not. I’ve been through here before.

I’m the town’s best

customer. A minor attraction.

I buy from their stores. Remember this bureau—


battered wood, the fake drawer and split mirror?

And even the glass marks, ring within ring

of spilled drinks. When I sit here

the widest warped links have a center.

Strung out they’re a year’s worth of slack, a tether

that swings around the spine’s dark pole


and swings back. Each time I return

something’s different,

although there’s a few I can always expect.

The cracks in the mirror: always more, never less.

The stains in the bedspread have spread.

And the rip in the window shade lets through more light,


strange light, since I come here to be in the dark.

Should be taped. A few things can be saved anyhow.

But I don’t want to get into that.


I set up my pictures. Mother and Father,

stiffer, more blurred every year.

I turn them to the walls when there’s customers, that

is the least I can do. What mending there is

occurs in small acts,

and after the fact of the damage,

when nothing is ever enough.

There is always the scar to remind me

that things were once perfect, at least


they were new. I first came here when I was a girl.

It surprised me, the things that two people could do

left alone in a room. Not long and I learned.

I learned what the selves are a man can disown

till he lets them to life in a room.


It’s the region’s hard winters, snowed in with the snow

half the year. I’d expect them to think up a few.

But nothing surprises me, not anymore.

The plumbing can only get worse with the cold.

It’s true, even summers the water is foul

and flows slowly, a thin brown trickle by noon.


Heat pours in the west, freak waves of dry lightning

soak the whole town in a feverish light.

Beneath me, the tables of water have dropped

to unheard-of levels. It’s been a long drought.

I bend my whole arm to the handle, the valve

yawns open but nothing comes out. What else should I

expect. Wrung cloth. The body washing in dust.




This post is about a poets birthday, an Irish rebel, and a diving bird.

Today is the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most famous of the New England “Fireside Poets”, born on this day in 1807.  Longfellow is best known for his (very) long lyrical/romantic verse tales such as the Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline.  They are poems that had a role in the days before the invention of TV.  They occupied a long winters night with a well told tale set to verse.

The song of Hiawatha tells the story of a fictional Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha and his tragic love for the Dakota squaw Minnehaha.  Now here is where things get weird.  Here is a photo of the Irish rebel Eamonn DeValera taken in 1919.  He is wearing the headdress of the Ojibwe-Chippewa tribe, who made him an honorary member, in Spooner Wisconsin.


During the rebellion the Irish leaders were referred to by nicknames.  This avoided their real names being overheard by spies.  Micheal Collins was nicknamed “The Big Fellow” and DeValera, who was tall and lanky, was nicknamed “The Long Fellow”.  Longfellow writes Hiawatha about Ojibwe warrior.  Irish rebel nicknamed Long Fellow is made an honorary Ojibwe warrior.  That is just bizarre.

DeValera survived the executions of the 1916 rebellion because he held entitlement to American citizenship from his birth in New York.  He toured the USA in 1919/1920 to raise funds for the rebellion and to secure recognition for the cause of the Irish Free State.  Post-Treaty he broke from Collins and led the IRA rebels in a doomed civil war which split the country for three generations.  He went on to found Ireland’s largest political party, served as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and as President.  The classic terrorist – rebel – freedom fighter – elderly statesman cursus honorum.

Finally we come to the diver.  Divers are a breed of bird in the British Isles that are usually called Loons in North America.  The smallest diver, the red throated, develops the signature red throat feathers during the breeding season “when ocean by the sun is kissed”.  So it is clear that the interlocutor of this Longfellow poem is a Red Throated Diver.  The poem is shorter than the great lyric beasts that Longfellow is famous for, but sits well here on “Mindship” as it touches on themes of ships lost at sea.


The Sea Diver: by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My way is on the bright blue sea,
my sleep upon its rocking tide;
and many an eye has followed me
where billows clasp the worn seaside.

My plumage bears the crimson blush,
when ocean by the sun is kissed!
When fades the evening’s purple flush,
my dark wing cleaves the silver mist.

Full many a fathom down beneath
The bright arch of the splendid deep
My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe
O’er living myriads in their sleep.

They rested by the coral throne,
And by the pearly diadem;
Where the pale sea-grape had o’ergrown
The glorious dwellings made for them.

At night upon my storm-drench’d wing,
I poised above a helmless bark,
And soon I saw the shattered thing
Had passed away and left no mark.

And when the wind and storm were done,
a ship, that had rode out the gale,
Sunk down, without a signal-gun,
And none was left to tell the tale.

I saw the pomp of day depart–
The cloud resign its golden crown,
When to the ocean’s beating heart
The sailor’s wasted corse went down.

Peace be to those whose graves are made
Beneath the bright and silver sea!
Peace – that their relics there were laid
With no vain pride and pageantry.