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photo by Jeri Dobrowski

HENRY REAL BIRD
 




photo by Ken Stoltz,
 courtesy of
Lost Horse Press

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Henry Real Bird’s poems are of the moment and thus timeless. We look to Henry for a check of the pulse of things coded in words that work to decipher what he often calls “feelings.” But are they more like soundings of the heart and of the earth? And then again are they poems, songs, or prayers? All I know is I’m glad they are preserved.

                                                  —Hal Cannon, Founding Director, Western Folklife Center

 

 

Past Montana Poet Laureate (2009-2011), rancher, author, artist, storyteller, educator and Crow elder Henry Real Bird is a frequent performer at the Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

His collection of poetry, Horse Tracks (Lost Horse Press), received Montana's 2011 High Plains Book Award.   

Read more about him below.

                                                                                          

 

Below:

About Henry Read Bird

Poems

Books and Recordings

Links and more

 

Recipient of Montana's 2011 High Plains Book Award.



 

   About Henry Real Bird
photo and information courtesy of Lost Horse Press
 

Henry Real Bird is a rancher and educator who raises bucking horses on Yellow Leggins Creek in the Wolf Teeth Mountains. He was born and raised on the Crow Indian Reservation in the tradition of the Crow by his grandparents, Mark and Florence Real Bird. Educated in Montana at Crow Agency, Hardin, Bozeman and Billings, he has a Master's Degree in general education.

Henry has punched cows, worked in rodeos, and taught school from Kindergarten to college level. He began writing poetry in 1969 after an extended stay in the hospital. He still speaks Crow as his primary language and feels this has helped in writing his poetry. Henry Real Bird is the past Poet Laureate of Montana.

 

 

Poems from Horse Tracks

A Cottonwood Leaf

Thought

 Night and Day

Flowers

From Wolf Teeth

Tail That's Light

Cowboy



 

A Cottonwood Leaf

To see the firstborn
Of a longhorn heifer with one horn
As she gives her protection
Is a feeling of great satisfaction.
Baby calves bucking
Give me this feeling
But when the wind hits you in the face,
Think of me.
This brown cottonwood leaf
Floated down the muddy waters
Of Mean River.
I'm that feeling that never was
But just a reminder of yester-winter
In a mind that never was
The feeling dissipated
In relation to the premise
That feelings never leave
Or they never were
To be thought of in sleepless nights
Of what is
To an individual alone
That never was.
This brown cottonwood leaf
Floated down the muddy waters
Of Mean River.
I'm that feeling that never was
But just a reminder of yester-winter
In a mind that never was
The feeling dissipated

© 2010, Henry Real Bird, from Horse Tracks
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 



Thought

"Thought is like a cloud
You can see through shadow to see nothing
But you can see shadow
When it touches something you know,
Like that cloud's shadow
Touching the Wolf Teeth Mountains.
When the clouds touch the mountain's top
Or where it is high
The wind is good
When you're among the clouds
Blurred ground among fog,
You are close to He Who First Did Everything,"
Said my Grandfather Owns Painted Horse.
We are but nomads asking for nothing
But the blessings upon our Mother Earth.
We are born as someone new
So then
We have to be taught
The good from the bad.
What is good, we want you to know.
What is good, we want you to use,
In the way that you are a person.

© 2010, Henry Real Bird, from Horse Tracks
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 



Night and Day

She taught me to talk in prayer, in Sun Dance,
To be connected with Mother Earth
To love again in rebirth.
I bit the sagebrush
As the eagle claw pierced into my chest
Beyond the pain, prayers mixed with tears.
You were the best,
To stay alive in feelings for years
But then again, you were perfection.
Beauty of sound blew in our feelings,
Love returned affection.
My skin broke
And I was free in your love,
That was perfection in your arms.
At that very moment in time
I knew then that I was blessed.
But there are times when I can't wait,
I'm thankful for the wide open spaces
As I ride out on buffalo trails and cow trails
Where wolves have gone.
As I ride out into the wide open spaces
Where a cloud and her shadow
Are the main characters
Lost somewhere deep in my memories,
Night is with day.

© 2010, Henry Real Bird, from Horse Tracks
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 



Flowers

In this moon of beautiful feelings
When the plum blossoms
Glitter beautiful fragrance
In the heart and bosom
In this moon
And for winters many to come,
Let love live in this lodge.
Never say never forever again
With nothing behind me, before, beyond
On a road that never ends
Life leaves me hoping for love.
Wishing my thumb luck
I walk out into the horizon
For the magic she possesses
In feelings of florescence
Radiant kaleidoscope impression
Tie-dyed and heart inside I tuck.
Chokecherry leaves move,
Buffalo roam, winter ends,
Crow People migrate, moving on,
Moving on up Wind River,
In this moon of beautiful feelings
In this moon of beautiful feelings
When the plum blossoms
Glitter beautiful fragrance
In the heart and bosom
In this moon
And for winters many to come,
Let love live in this lodge.


© 2010, Henry Real Bird, from Horse Tracks
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 


Tail That's Light

Riding on fresh snow
that's been falling for several days.
The ground is white
with sagebrush tips sticking out.
Riding through snow, it's quiet.
Where a river goes, the trees are black,
the ground is white.
Where there are pine trees
it's blue, almost black,
and still further beyond
Wolf Teeth Mountain's pine trees are darker still.

There's nothing but the cold wind
looking like smoke.
Ash trees, where they're thick,
it is black.
Gray, I'm riding, his breath is white
Gray, ground, he is like this day.
My song, I'm singing
as I'm looking around
where the sun appears
pink peeps out of the blue sky.
Going to get many horses.
Riding Gray, they won't see me
in white, gray, blue, black winter day.
My song, I'm singing.

© 2013, Henry Real Bird, from Wolf Teeth
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 


Cowboy

Charles "The Kid" Russell
heard stories of the Wild West
He was born in St. Louis in 1964,
before Nelson Story's Texas Cattle Drive of 1866,
before the Fort Laramie Treaty, 1868,
before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, 1876.

Tell me the reason
the tribes were considered nations—
Gold greed caused commotions,
Black Hills over Bozeman Pass
How "The Kid" wanted this to last
Taught by Jake Hoover, the Mountain Man,
he lived with Blood Indians on their land,
but went on to become a cowboy.

The cord-shaking Rattle Man
in his rhythmic gallop beat
upon his black and white medicine steed,

feeling of the horse at his feet.
The cord-shaking Rattle Man
came out alone with Star That's Light
just before the sun,
among the colors, playing and dancing.

The spirit of the people,
he was putting together,
the cowboys and Indians.
Spirit of the ground
trembling through me—
The cord-shaking Rattle Man
in his rhythmic gallop beat
upon his black and white medicine steed
feelin' of the horse at his feet
touches me, the rhythmic gallop beat.

Snow blowin' mountain top
from the land of the shining mountains

He must have heard
the sun rising,
night hawk on herd.
This must have been the sixth sense—
ground step, harmony with nature dispense.
The peaceful, simple life of man
in his coexistence with the land.

On this ground, after his 16th winter,
the Judith Basin he began to enter.
The free life of the cowboy at the time,
he loved the fun of life,
Luck was a word to him,
he had a lot, in his time.
Under his flat high brim,
here's a cowboy who knows
where the ice and rocks are
on a horse that looks
where to send its next step.
And he knew when the berries were ripe
and when the roots were just right,
who could tell time with the stars—
predict the length of winter by the sun,
predict the weather by crescent moon,
with the ground he was in tune.

Wasn't born a cowboy,
for the cowboy life
was just now being worn
as a way of life.
Leggings of leather,
hot with a feather,
the wild-horse rider
caring for the cattle
as the condition and elements they battle.

The cord-shaking Rattle Man
came out alone with Star That's Light
just before the sun,
He was putting together
the cowboys and Indians,
Spirit of the ground
trembling through me—
The cord-shaking Rattle Man
in his rhythmic gallop beat
feeling of the horse at his feet
touches me, the rhythmic gallop beat.

The high-stepping cowboy
in high-heeled, under-shod, pointed-toed boots—
These are the cowboy's roots.
Always short handed
with the coyote, magpie, and sage hen,
the high-stepping cowboy
rode downstream,
over the hill,
to the Pacific and Atlantic waters.

With the diminishing demand
of the cowboy and the wild horse band
in an ice-fringed cabin
he began to look within—
The cowboy he had been
to become the "Paintin' Kid"
As he began to open the lid
on the free life of the cowboy at the time
One hundred years after Lewis and Clark
stopped at Pompey's Rock,
he went to teepees, the Big Apple,
to the uptown men of wealth—
New York City, the lonesomest camp on earth,
the feeling captured in something gone—
Really, it's just where you long—
the sound of hoof beats
of Big Horned Mountain sheep
Are they above? Or below?
Talking to an echo
below the glacier
fighting bear for food—
Or, he was the food that stood
under glacier, in grizzly rampage,
that was his only stage—
The free life of the cowboy, at the time
the action moves on in you, turn the page
the free spirit of the cowboy lives on in your spurs.

Spirit of the ground
trembling through me—
the cord-shaking Rattle Man
in his rhythmic gallop beat
upon his black and white medicine steed
feeling of the horse at his feet
touches me, the rhythmic gallop beat—

Snow blowing mountain top
from the land of the shining mountains

In the beauty of frosted junipers
on a black and white paint, in jitters,
in boots—to back track and side step
to wonder where they stood
on the horizon, a horse peace signal
the sign language of man—
The cowboy is rich
sitting in a good saddle
on a black and white paint,
All this in the mist, the ground's breath
Let me ride til my death—

Little boys grow up believing in Santa Claus,
dreaming they'll be bronc riding champs—
Stories of how Casey and Paddy Ryan rode,
stories of the West in St. Louis were told.
Listening to Hank Williams and Frankie Lane,
the gun fightin' ballads, now measuring rein
It's all the same in the change—
same shadows on the Missouri Range,
droughts on the Powder River,
colt-killing hail over Wolf Teeth Mountains.
They no longer throw the mail off
at jerk-water towns,
no one ships by rail,
but the cowboy is still sitting on the trail—

Just watching shadows move,
to settle in a groove
Shadow climbing leafless ash
hardened life of cattle and horses
returns in microscopic flash
The moon and daytime star on their courses
Las sun ray kiss, blown from the tip
of Wolf Teeth Mountains

Pink spray under moon for her trip
a coolness of deep blue lifting from the ground
in dim dusty pink clouds—
The cowboy found lonesome
in his quest for freedom,
to know that he is only free
to choose the conditions
that he wants to live under.
The clouds under-stroked with lavender
from the brushes
of Charles "The Kid" Russell
Did the Hollywood Cowboy
have too many cards in his boot?
And will the Texas Rangers get their man
from behind the bush?

The cord-shaking Rattle Man
in his rhythmic gallop beat
upon his black and white medicine steed,
the feeling of the horse at his feed
The cord-shaking Rattle Man
came out alone with Star That's Light
just before the sun,
among the colors, playing and dancing—
The spirit of the people
he was putting together
the cowboys and Indians—
Spirit of the ground
trembling through me—
The cord-shaking Rattle Man
touches me, the rhythmic gallop beat.

Snow blowing mountain top
From the l of the shining mountains
The first rays of the sun
lightly kissing Sheep Mountain.
The spirit of the ground
from the water's sound,
the ground's gentle breath
blew upon a yellow-leafed aspen
Softly blowing thoughts and leaves around—

What do you want to be?
A cowboy?
Put your boots on
and rope that snake in the corral.
Ride him around.

© 2013, Henry Real Bird, from Wolf Teeth
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 

 


Books and Recordings

Wolf Teeth


2013

Includes:

The Horse
Mothers
Tail That's Light
Cowboy Drifter
Sound of Sun
Cigarette Dream
Pour Me a Dream
Moon of Ice on Teepees
In the Mountain Air
Fire Water
Willow Wind
Delusion
Poemspeech
Values
Road Wide
The Indian and the Buffalo Survived
Life
Invisible Man
Cowboy
Riding My Dream
The Wolf Teeth Mountain Rawhider
Lone Horse, after Halo Moon
Rodeo
Faded Memory
Rawhide Laced
Love Hate
Opening
Riding Over Frosted Prairie Grass
Horse Waiting
Moon Colored Pony
Rain's Edge
Plum Blossom
Crazy about You
Just as Well
Lone Elk
A Blessing
Wind Swept Love
Alone is Alone
Checking Calves with Paleface
There Might be a Feeling
Hallucination
High Country
Last Night
Sunrise Whirls
The Urge

available from Lost Horse Press


 

Horse Tracks


2010

Recipient of Montana's 2011 High Plains Book Award.

Includes the poems:

Beyond Reflection
Itchik
Today
Hoola Hand
Reflection
Buffalo Grass
A Cottonwood Leaf
Semantics
Thought
Wolf
Odd Numbered Geese
Ghostly Thought
Bird Horse
Night and Day
Earth Day
Ramblin'
A Taste
Cosmic Beauty
Flowers
Necklace
Distant Thought
Moon Scent
Static Information
Robin
Mom
In the Wind
Daytime Star
In the Horse Shedding Moon
Listen
The Feeling That You Are Still
Overlap
Roses for the Matador
Deuwachisnik
Mountain with Something Beyond
Mass in Crow
Ride with Me
Heart Thief
Red Scarf
The Evolutionary Alfonso Delupe
Horizon People
Heart
Fat on Ribs
Moon
Sun Turning Moon
Omaha Reflection
Oxbow
Vines
Empty Eyes
During the Night
Without a Body
Horse God
Rivers of Horse
New Indian Sonnet
Alcohol Fetal Syndrome
Constellation
Near Full Moon
Big Wind River
Short Canyon
Vision

Also included: Transcripts from the National Public Radio broadcast, "Across Montana on Horseback, Poet Hands Out Poetry," and the Western Folklife interview, "Ride Across Montana with Henry Real Bird."

Introduction by Greg Keeler


Find John Dofflemyer's review here at Dry Crik Review

Horse Tracks is available for $23 postpaid from:

Lucy Whiteman Runs Him
P.O. Box 144
Garryowen, MT 59031

(signed copies on request)
 

and also from Lost Horse Press

 



Many Ghosts in Mind

Henry Real Bird's Keynote Address at the 2010 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. 

Many Ghosts in Mind is available for $2 plus postage from the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop

 


Rivers of Horse CD


2009

Includes:

Just One More Kiss
Horsewaiting
Rivers of Horse
Horse Essay
Rodeo Song
The Dreamer
Sunrise Heart
Sleep
Love Song
Red Scarf
Clouds
Driftwood Feeling
Reality
Road Wide
Morning After
Frost
Tail that is Light
Snow
Bird Horse
New India Sonnet
Alcohol Fetal Syndrome
Food Gatherer
Spark of Thought


Rivers of Horse is available for $18 postpaid from:

Lucy Whiteman Runs Him
P.O. Box 144
Garryowen, MT 59031


 


Indian Reading Series

Henry Real Bird is also the author and illustrator of dozens of educational books for young readers in the Indian Reading Series, including Santa Claus Comes to the Reservation, which you can view in a .pdf file here. Copies of the book may be available from used book sources.

 

 

Links and more...

 



  In July, 2010, National Public Radio broadcast, "Across Montana on Horseback, Poet Hands Out Poetry" about Henry Real Bird's 500-mile ride across Montana while he was Montana Poet Laureate.


  The Western Folklife Center interviewed Henry Real Bird while he was on his ride across Montana,  "Ride Across Montana with Henry Real Bird."
 

  Henry Real Bird tells stories and recites "Robin" from Horse Tracks in a YouTube video here. Find Henry Real Bird's recitation of "Driftwood Feeling" here on YouTube, recorded at the Montana Festival of the Book.

  Henry Real Bird is featured in "Why the Cowboy Sings," an hour-long film produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis, a Western Folklife Center Film produced in association with KUED in 2002. View the film here at Folkstreams.

Henry Real Bird on Facebook.
 


Thanks to
Lost Horse Press for making this feature possible.

 

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