In the second of our series of conversations with Montana Poet Laureate Henry Real Bird, Western Folklife Center Producer Taki Telonidis called to wish him Happy Birthday and found him in the town of Malta near the banks of the Milk River. Henry has been on the road for nearly two weeks, retracing the travels of his ancestors and giving out books of poetry to people he meets in rural towns and Indian reservations along the way.
TRANSCRIPT OF HENRY REAL BIRD'S INTERVIEW ON JULY 24, 2010
Taki Telonidis A couple days ago you said you were doing this ride in part so you could ride horses like your grandfather and great grandfather did...in the same places. And I'm wondering as you're doing this, what sort of things are you thinking about? Is your mind taking you back to those days of your grandparents?
Henry Real Bird Back to those days. Like you get the feeling...not that you have been there before...but to know that your blood has been there two generations before you. Unbelievable! It makes you...it just makes you...you're so happy you just want to cry sometimes, just because you're so happy, you know.
Taki Telonidis That's beautiful. I'll bet you some poems will come out of this experience.
Henry Real Bird Oh no. I'm doing that. I'm doing that. In fact I'm writing as I go along type of thing in my mind I'm putting it all together. And then in the end I'm going to regroup and finish this thing off maybe in one poem. I don't know what I'm going to do. But I see awful things too...good things and bad things. Just like over in Wolf Point, Montana, I saw a lot of alcoholism there. So that was a depressing sight, but that is there. So I'll write a little piece in there to show that. Oh I've been wanting to use this line which I haven't been able to use: what have you done to life, or what has life done to you? And then to wander around like that. I"ve had that line painted on my heart for a long time and I haven't been able to really use it, but I"m going to use it there I think. I'm just working it all out.
Taki Telonidis One last question for you Henry. Today is your birthday and you're spending it on the banks of the Milk River and you're 62 now which I think entitles you to reduced admission to National Parks and all sorts of privileges. But does it also make you an elder? Do you consider yourself an elder?
Henry Real Bird Oh I'm lucky to be an elder, and I appreciate that because of all the things that I have been though, and I'm lucky to be alive and I know that. And I appreciate that. You know they have that saying to where...long, long on the tooth or something like that...
Taki Telonidis Long in the tooth.
Henry Real Bird Yeah long in the tooth, but for us they say when your eye tooth crumbles and your hair is pure white, nobody can outfox you. Nobody can outdo you in thinking. And so for knowledge to turn into wisdom type of thing. I'm nearing that stage in life, type of thing. That's how we see it, yeah.
Taki Telonidis Henry thank you very much. It's great to talk with you again, and we'll touch base with you in a couple of days.
Henry Real Bird Oh yeah, the next couple of days...tomorrow I'm going to stay over in Dodson, and then I'm going to finish off the fair there. So I'll watch the demolition derby there, then after that I'll be into Fort Belknap, and from then on I still have to make arrangements for the other end. But everything just falls into place. You just sort of kick your horse into the day and keep on going, and you run into something nice.
Taki Telonidis And the demolition derby sounds like it'll be a highlight.
Henry Real Bird (laughs) Oh God yeah. Yeah I'm going to watch the demolition derby. I saw a poster here, so I"ll be there for that. And I called ahead over there and they're going to let me stay over at the fairgrounds. So I'll have stables and everything for the horses, and no motel or anything...so I'll put up my tent and slowly drift out into the stars, you know.
Taki Telonidis Henry it sounds great.
Henry Real Bird Good night.
Taki Telonidis Nice to talk to you.
Henry Real Bird Yeah.