DiscoverPoetry

Bear, Coyote, Raven

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Native American folklore meets modern America in a collection of meaningful poetry.

Synopsis

A bear can be a person, though most prefer to be bears. Did a coyote ever lead you to a story? Have you ever lost yourself in the blue-black eye of a raven? Imagine these creatures transitioning from people to animals and back, walking along a desert highway dressed in their finest three-piece suits: ribbon shirts, jeans, and moccasins, foraging a city alley for supper, or sharing stories under a starlit sky. If you listen closely, you could learn something from these three magical creatures.

In his first book of poems, Jason Grundstrom-Whitney introduces us to variations of this distinctly American trio. Sometimes Bear gets his paw stuck in a back-street dumpster. Coyote shows people how to trick themselves. Raven travels to the far north to bring back another story.

Bear, Coyote, Raven welcomes the reader into their shape shifting world, where themes of environmental degradation, violence, and technological troubles explore what we have lost and suggest a solution, to connect with the web of being and those blessed in their own right. The poet asks us to engage, to take the time to invest our energy, and to explore this different way of being.


Bear, Coyote, Raven by Jason Grundstrum-Whitney is a collection of Native American inspired poetry. Grundstrom-Whitney, a Bear Clan member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, has worked on several causes, including Native American rights. Jason has worked as a substance abuse counselor and a specialist at the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta, Maine.


In Native American folklore, animals have active traditional roles.  The Coyote is perhaps the most well known in his role as the trickster. The bear has a more complex and varied role. Sometimes the enforcer. Sometimes bumbling. Other times the straight man for the more clever animals. Female bears' reputation lives on in contemporary as the protective "Mama Bear." The Raven is perhaps the most complex. He is a helper and also a trickster. His plans are frivolous or not well thought out and often create other problems. Characters in this collection shift from animal to human form and back and examine the modern world.  


The collection opens with an introduction to the three characters. The bear is introduced with something reminiscent of an earlier time and his form in the night sky as Ursa Major. The Coyote, although not in the sky, walks against the backdrop of the Milky Way and longs for the faraway Moon Spirit. The Raven has is own problems avoiding gunshots and airplanes in his flight. He also must overcome his growing girth. It is the modern world as the raven shows, and so much is different from the past. Technology is present. Sometimes it is barely noticeable as birds gathering on a telephone wire to bothersome buzzing and humming. What seems useful in modern times also has its downside as the Coyote thinks, why hunt and search for food when there is a dumpster buffet? He finds plenty of food; however, when the monster (garbage truck) comes, lifts, and consumes the contents of the dumpster, it then sets the dumpster down on the Coyote's tail.  


There is also wisdom for the reader:

Medicine is not something

that can be attained on a couch

watching the history channel.

Sometimes you have

to be hungry.


Grundstrum-Whitney introduces the reader to three characters of the Native American mythology, not as the used to be, but dropped into today's world of violence, nature's struggle against man, and lack of empathy. The poetry is different and even different from other Native American poets. There seems to be a conservation of words, rhythm, and form.  It is a bit primitive in the modern world, but also purer. Bear, Coyote, Raven is a pleasant blend of cultures with lessons to be learned.

 

 

 

Reviewed by

Joseph Spuckler has a Masters Degree in International Relations and a deep appreciation for poetry and Modernist writers. He is a Marine Corps veteran and works as a mechanic devoting his off hours for motorcycling and reviewing poetry. Originally from Cleveland, he currently resides in Dallas.

Synopsis

A bear can be a person, though most prefer to be bears. Did a coyote ever lead you to a story? Have you ever lost yourself in the blue-black eye of a raven? Imagine these creatures transitioning from people to animals and back, walking along a desert highway dressed in their finest three-piece suits: ribbon shirts, jeans, and moccasins, foraging a city alley for supper, or sharing stories under a starlit sky. If you listen closely, you could learn something from these three magical creatures.

In his first book of poems, Jason Grundstrom-Whitney introduces us to variations of this distinctly American trio. Sometimes Bear gets his paw stuck in a back-street dumpster. Coyote shows people how to trick themselves. Raven travels to the far north to bring back another story.

Bear, Coyote, Raven welcomes the reader into their shape shifting world, where themes of environmental degradation, violence, and technological troubles explore what we have lost and suggest a solution, to connect with the web of being and those blessed in their own right. The poet asks us to engage, to take the time to invest our energy, and to explore this different way of being.

After Raven Stole the Light

Ursa Major


Bear sat by the fire

with Coyote and Raven.


Looking up at the stars,

Coyote slyly asked Bear,

“How long do you reckon it would take

to get to one of them?”


Through the top of his head

Bear shot out,

leaving his furry clay body behind.

He became Ursa Major.


At times he played on the

stars in that constellation.

Around late-night fires

those beings wondered

about this sun and life.  

                                    

He trailed purple as he sped in between,

listening for those in need of medicine.


“Good trip?” asked Coyote

as Bear shuddered.


Raven had stolen away;

the mist of dawn was calling.

 

 

Coyote


Walks along the trail

of the Milky Way.


Dust seeks dust;

wild seeks wild.


He hears the moon calling.

She is light years away,

leaving dust in his eyes.


Seeds of dreams

as light waxes

and wild wanes.

 

 


Doubt


Tired Raven stretched his wings,

his girth causing difficulty

on the downward stroke.


Too much pain—

his cold blue tears

created an ice storm.


A farmer shot at him.

An airplane almost

knocked him from the sky.


“How will I make it

to the top of the tree

before the day of renewal?”

 


Dragonfly


Bear ponders a dragonfly

landing lightly on his kayak.


“Am I not deserving your touch?”

Summer sleeps me lazily in this cocoon of plastic,

afraid to disrupt lilies and turtles from temporary perches.

My eyes lose most of what surrounds me—

insects, birds, frogs, jumping fish, menagerie clouds.


Your thousand-eye glance appears passive;

you alight from my kayak paddle,

seeing direction and winged prey in multitudes.


Dragonfly regards the world

with her compound eyes,

sees more of me than I know myself,

takes flight from the slipper of day 

in late afternoon light.



Remember the Owl


“Watch the owl

in the woods at night.

How is it related

to the exhale of my breath?”

asked Bear.


“Watch the owl.

Listen to its call.

You know its voice.

You see this area

in your dreams each night,” answered Coyote.


“Watch the owl.

Listen. Remember.”

 

 


Avian Bebop


Coyote tapped his foot

to the steady

walking bass line of

Charles Mingus.


“Yes, I like this.

It’s like bedrock,

talking as it moves.”


Coyote invited Raven and his kin

and anyone else who

would come.


After the concert

the sax player said

to the trumpet player,

“Damn, what happened

with our horns today?

They sang!”                                                                                           


They noticed the

crows and ravens

lining the telephone

wires.

 



Pebbles


We met in an arroyo out

past the neon lights,

Bear, Coyote, and Raven.


We ambled and ate

and gave crumbs to ants.


We took experience

like tiny pebbles in a rattle.


One pebble,

not very musical.


Put many in a gourd

and you have a conversation through the night.

 

                                                                                    


After Raven Stole the Light

1.

Eagle didn’t bother Raven any more.

The old man was too tired to fight.

Raven stole the sun the moon

the stars.


Eagle carried prayers.

 

  

2.

On a dark winter day

when the last gasp of a storm

whistled up the night sky,

Raven unleashed light.


Through mischief and mystery

Spring was born.

 

 

3.

Raven, fat as night,

sat atop the world tree.


He shook his wings

to settle and roost.


Light shot from his feathers

spreading stars across

the blanket of night.

 


4.

Bear and Coyote

stumbled down the streets of Machias.


They were drunk, singing old songs

in a tongue not even the Tribes

could understand.


The earth smelled of musk

from seeds long forgotten

on Appaloosa fields.


The telephone wires

buzzed and hummed,

launching another refrain

as light spilled from the lip

of the ocean.

Raven flew with a broad smile.                                      

 

 

 


Cedar, Sage, Sweetgrass, Tobacco


Coyote and Raven laughed

as my claws got caught up

in the fine strands of sweetgrass

I tried to braid.


“Unh,” I swore,

forgetting my human voice.

I couldn’t help myself;

the smell of the earth

and sweetgrass

brought out the claws.


Cedar, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco.


They found me in the blueberry fields

outside of Calais, Maine;

blue smacking lips

created a strange

contrapuntal line

to Raven’s flight.                               


Coyote stole from the edge

of the field glancing cautiously.


Cedar, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco.


“Time for a trip.”


“Unh, unh,” smacked my lips.


Coyote looked west,

stood on two legs

and tucked his hair

underneath his hat.


Cedar, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco.


“What of the medicine?” I asked.


Said Raven, “We’ll be back.”




Warrior of Wide Open Spaces


If you travel vast distances

across the bones of burnt summer

remembering a place you saw

for a brief second thirty miles back,

how can you not be there?


If you happen to catch shadows

dancing in the wind,

you and they have been there,

impermanence the cadence

of a distant drum.


Don’t mourn these places.

You find one another

in ten thousand years

in ten thousand ways.

You are and will be

the warrior of wide open spaces.



Edge of a Note


Moon-glow pearls cast the fields

and soak my jeans.

I dive into silver-frosted water

and swim underneath

to gaze up at the full moon.


In your distant howl

the edge of a note finds me

as I break the surface.


Wolf song reaches that part

I forget in the daylight

when the frenetic world

steals the edges of notes

and the howl fuels my heart

with an inaudible hum.

 



Mid-stride


You caught me mid-stride,

wild-eyed, confused.


You spoke through trees,

sun, stars,

rivers, mountains, lakes.


“Come home,” you whispered

through the frosted grass.


You sang at night

through Ursa Major,

“Be who you are.”


You caught me mid-stride

in a wild dash,

trying to put distance

from this clay body.



Wake Now


When I first came to your people,

you were scared, sick,

and did not know

the secrets of life’s

abundant garden.


I married a woman and

taught her all I knew.

You are of that family.


Ignorance has a way

of tangling its diseased branches

tightly to the heart.

This happened many times.


Wake now, child, and see, smell, taste,

feel silence and abundance

hidden within her robe.                               


Bear lifts his sleeping son

to greet the dawn.

 

 

About the author

Jason Grundstrom-Whitney, a Bear Clan member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, has worked on a number of causes, including Native American rights. Jason has worked as a substance abuse counselor and a specialist at the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta, Maine. view profile

Published on December 12, 2019

Published by Resolute Bear Press

8000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Poetry

Reviewed by

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