By Don Colburn: How to Say Kwakiutl

 by Don Colburn

Imagine a grizzly bear
with frogs in its ears and a raven
perched on its head. It helps
to have watched a great heron
at the ragged edge of the sea

before it flaps and somehow
lifts off. Or if, in the dark,
you can make out a yellow cedar
bending to the water – maybe.
Like the wind, the rain, the rings

in the treetrunk the great bear
was carved from, or a sound
you hear for the first time, so old
you know it tells more than one
story: Quawquawkeewogwah.

No use squinting at the scant
letters or sounding them out.
Listen to one who hears his name
without looking. Close your eyes.
Say what he knew by heart. 

(from As If Gravity Were a Theory, Cider Press Review, 2006).