Poet Henry Real Bird Rides the Last Stanza of His Trek Across Montana

After riding horseback for more than 390 miles over the past two weeks, our friend Henry Real Bird is one day’s ride from his final destination at the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.  Henry is the Poet Laureate of Montana, and he has traversed the state, visiting small towns and Indian Reservations along his route and distributing books of poetry. In this last installment of our conversations with Henry, he explains how this odyssey has given him a new perspective of his homeland, and of America. LISTEN to our final interview with Henry.

[audio http://westernfolklifecenter.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/henryrides_3.mp3]

National Public Radio also interviewed Henry today (July 30, 2010). Visit their website to listen to the NPR story.

Henry Real Bird’s Journey Poem

Henry’s journey across Montana has inspired him to work on a poem that attempts to chronicle the experiences he’s had along the way.  Below is audio and a transcript of the first draft of his poem, which he plans to complete once he’s back home at the Crow Agency.

LISTEN to Henry's Journey Poem

[audio http://westernfolklifecenter.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/henrys-poem.mp3]

(Early draft with apologies for butchering Crow language spellings and punctuation)

Wind blows free upon the Missouri River, a big river, osh geza, where my life began. There is talk of where it is winter all of the time, woodlands and the lakes, but to move out of the earth lodge, gardens of corn, squash maker, thank you, Aho, to let me stand in this Earth lodge again, happiness beyond words, corn woman in a dream, she appeared, riding Paint through a vast sea of buffalo grass swaying in cool summer wind that blows free along the Missouri River from patches of Sweet Sage, happiness fills my glass, traces of where life has been clipity-clap from crescent moon mix sliver.

Oil boom on land of Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara. Life is full, abundant, flow of US currency greasing the edges of their mouths in no flaw. Eating juneberries routine of no urgency. Trail of the Buffalo turned into a trail between elevators to Cirrhosis Park, along the Missouri.

Sweat lodge with Assiniboine, I am one of the ones with the Breechcloth. Story of good health to give from the Smoker family. Smooth, gentle rolling plains, north below, north star with whitish breaks to noonday sun. Juneberry pie from Chief of Fort Peck Tribe, campfire smoke rising into stars, part of spiritual journey, a tear-wiping ceremony. I saddle each day to a prayer.

Young, beautiful families, Phillips County Fair, sparkle of dreams, America’s dream. Promise land. I remember who I am in the sweat lodge. Wishful thoughts and prayers were given to us to become human beings.

The moon in her struggle to be free tossed and turned and wiggled out of her reflection upon the Milk River. She offered dreams and promises. Lavender twilight of morning catches me easing into the day along edges of Milk’s glacier waters. Complete in peace, Christian song done in sign language, the assimilation.

And, on the other side of Fur Cap Mountain, Little Rocky Mountains, water pollution from mine, no money, water restoration. Who is going to speak for the trout, the water being Mission Creek?

We, the ones with the Breechcloth with relatives from across the sea. America’s people stand together against ills of the world. Glaciers shrink. How much longer can the ice hold Polar Bear? We make a stand, fight for peace.

Sitting Bull’s steps ended free life. Moving lodges follow the trail of the buffalo north of the Missouri River where the wind blows where it may. Chief Joseph, “I will fight no more forever,” haunts and rings into a woeful whisper ending in the cool evening moon shadows of Bear Paw Mountains. Riding Paint through a vast sea of buffalo grass swaying in cool summer wind that blows free along America’s Rivers. From patches of Sweet Sage happiness fills my glass. Traces of where life has been, clippity-clap from crescent moon, mix slivers. May we do our hearts will, to no end, Aho, America the Beautiful.

Me, I’m going to get the horses blessed at Rocky Boy.


Hal Cannon What's the contrast of your pace and the people that are passing you by on the highway?

Henry Real Bird Yeah, I just saddle up and I go the pace of my horse and that's what I take care of. And in the morning when it's cool I try to trot as much as I can to cover as much country as I can, and then when it heats up I slow down and I take a break. The movement of the horse, and the movement of mother Earth, and the crescent Moon we just came from. That's when I started out...the crescent Moon on the Missouri River and the Juneberries were just plentiful and to just be eating that while everybody is using the Blackberry or using the phone in an air -conditioned RV pulling a small vehicle, and just cruising down the road. That's their style and that's good. But me, I just wanted to go back, and to be able to go slowly and to meet the people and to see the land, yeah.

Hal Cannon How many miles have you gone?

Henry Real Bird I think I've gone 395 miles, somewhere around there, because I think they said Rocky Boy's is about twenty miles away.

Hal Cannon So what's next for you, Henry?

Henry Real Bird After I do this one here, 300 of my children's books are being shipped out, and I pick them up and distribute them at a youth rodeo on Rocky Boy, yeah. So that's what I'll be doing Monday or Tuesday.

Hal Cannon You're busy.

Henry Real Bird Oh, yeah, I'm lucky. I'm thankful that I'm able to do this. That type of activity that creates the exhaustion to where we can sleep good at night...and to be able to get into...I've had some good dreams here. I saw a dream of snow flying here a few days ago. I say that dream to all the people in radio land to where they will reach that day where the first snow fall is, and to be with their loved ones and to go through many of those first snowfalls upon this sacred mother Earth. And so I was able to be given that dream on the road here and I enjoy that, yeah.

Hal Cannon Henry, how was the demolition derby, by the way?

Henry Real Bird The demolition derby was the best. I haven't seen that since I was a little boy over on Crow Agency. On this one here they changed the rules and they have heats, but back in those days they'd get the infield of the race track and its a free-for-all to the last car standing. But here they have rules and everything else, you know. But it was good. And on that one there, I mean those young families there...beautiful. Women and men with beautiful kids and so full of promise, it made you happy to know that America is so beautiful, so full of dreams. And to put on the best clothes that they have to come out to the fair reminded me of being young. Walking in new boots and new pants going to the Billings Fair, Montana State Fair. So I was able to take in everything there. It was beautiful.

Hal Cannon Oh, that's wonderful. Henry, thank you so much for letting us be a part of your journey and recording this. People have really enjoyed hearing your voice on our blog. It's really wonderful to be a part of it.

Henry Real Bird I'm having a beautiful time. Thank you.

Hal Cannon Thanks, we'll talk to you soon. Let us know how it turns out.

Henry Real Bird Ok, I'll do that. We'll see you later.