Young Bear's Poem "Our Bird Aegis" with his Commentary
Our Bird Aegis
An immature black eagle walks assuredly
across a prairie meadow. He pauses in mid-step
with one talon over the wet snow to turn
around and see.
Imprinted in the tall grass behind him
are the shadows of his tracks,
claws instead of talons, the kind
that belong to a massive bear.
And he goes by that name:
Ma kwi so ta.
And so this aegis looms against the last
spring blizzard. We discover he's concerned
and the white feathers of his spotted hat
flicker, signalling this.
With outstretched wings he tests the sutures.
Even he is subject to physical wounds and human
tragedy, he tells us.
The eyes of the Bear-King radiate through
the thick, falling snow. He meditates the loss
of my younger brother--and by custom
suppresses his emotions.
Copyright © 1996 by Ray A. Young Bear
Young Bear's Commentary on "Our Bird Aegis"
Our Bird Aegis Explanation
Of "Our Bird Aegis," Young Bear writes: "Based on a fictional tribe called Black Eagle Child, this poem was originally intended to depict the plight of an ancient Woodlands people floating on their earth-island amid an ocean of modernity in rural Americana. Yet at the same time--and this is the way I write poems or novels--I was thinking of my father's name: Ma ka te Ke ti wa, or Black Eagle. Since my father is a Bear clan leader here on tribally bought land in central Iowa, his name has always been a source of fascination. For whatever reason, I wouldn't ask him for a long time how that particular name came to be. It was surprising to learn that he had not asked the same of his father either. But he did learn that Black Eagle was Bear clan oriented, and with this knowledge came a story. Regrettably, the name-story, for whatever reason, was not imparted by my grandfather.
"In 1973, I became reacquainted with eagle symbolisms through my wife, Stella Lasley, whose Eagle clan name is Wa se ke kwa, or the Glint of the Sun on a Turning Eagle's Wing. Interestingly enough, her father's name is Wa bi Ke ti wa, or Gray Eagle. In short, there are strong, prevailing influences of nature-bird, fish, animal, weather, and so forth-in our Meskwaki--'People of the Red Earth'--names.
"In the poem I juxtapose the Bear and Eagle clan deities via the young bird viewing its own metamorphic tracks. There is an admixture of bird and animal motifs that sometimes overlap, as well as real or imagined clans, names, and people who live in ordinary and supernatural realities. And from my beloved late grandmother's stories, including references that have been in libraries for the past seventy-five years, the element of snow equals the return of the Creator. In a way, it also signifies the heavy branch-breaking snow that was part of the battle between goodness and evil in our tribal creation stories.
"The word massive in the second stanza alludes to my late brother, Todd Dana Young Bear. At first, I wanted to use his earthly name, Wa ba ko na ka, or A Bear Scratching a Tree White, but instead I used Me kwi so ta, which is a real, all-inclusive Meskwaki term meaning The One Who Is Bear Clan-Named. For this I contemplated my father's important tribal role, something I could never duplicate.
"The fourth stanza shifts back to the fictional tribe, the plight they endure, and their bird symbol. Not only are tribal peoples suffering but the deities themselves become victimized in the process of acculturation. In the last stanza the deity spots the narrator, me, and the situation returns to the personal present: the deity is aware of our family loss. But according to Meskwaki custom, it cannot express its emotions. From childhood we are thus told not to shed tears or mention the names of the deceased. In our anguish there is inner healing, which translates into eternal resolve for those in the 'Grandfather world.' One could say that in spite of everything that has happened to Native Americans over the course of five centuries of cultural malignment and even through today, we remain mindful of the beliefs that were 'given' so long ago."
Return to Ray A. Young Bear