The inner heart commotion of Henry Real Bird is poised in a physical and metaphysical terrain marked by the history, culture, language and identity of his Apsaalooke nation. At the same time, no one else contemplates broncs, Chinook winds, the Wolf Teeth Mountains and forgotten creek beds in the way that Real Bird does—his is a careful, astute eye that reminds us again and again of our own interrelation, of our responsibility to all beings, all places that make up our world and beyond.
—M. L. Smoker, author of Another Attempt At Rescue
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
About the Author
Henry Real Bird
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 current Poet Laureate of Montana; an article about his unique way of promoting poetry recently aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Henry Real Bird was Poet Laureate of Montana from 2009 - 2011
Horse Tracks is awarded First Place in the High Plains Book Awards 2011 for Poetry
Henry Real Bird was named Cowboy Poet of the Year 2012 by the Will Rogers Association
Henry Real Bird breaks a lot of the rules my formal education taught me about writing poetry, but half of Henry’s education comes from somewhere else. When Crow is your primary language and your poetry is Crow spoken in English, the rules most likely get written as you go.
If you have had the opportunity to hear Henry, you realize that he has found inspiration for his written work while riding his Big Lodge Clan’s history up Yellow Leggins Creek and looking out at the Wolf Teeth range.
It is one thing to see the influence of the cowboy myth and of country-western music in Henry’s work. It is quite another to realize that he was born into the life and language of the Plains Indian horse culture. He can be “the cowboy working the gate to the stockyards bound semi,” or he can be the Indian shaking the “buffalo bull testicle-covered rattle.” Either way, he combs “the mane of a pony sort of insane.” Henry’s poetry can at one moment show the sentiments of the American Romantic tradition and at the next go for the brutal honesty the reality his marginalized existence has required: “If it gets worse, I can always kill myself.”
Leslie Fiedler writes at the end of The Montana Face, “. . . so long as the Montanan fails to come to terms with the Indian, despised and outcast in his open-air ghettos, just so long will he be incapable of coming to terms with his own real past, of making the adjustment between myth and reality upon which a successful culture depends.”
Hank Real Bird had no choice in making that adjustment, but the good Crow Montanan that he is, he has done it well, in his life and in his poetry—for all of us.
Near Full Moon
Today I saw the near full moon
The day-time star emerged, side by side
Shortly after the sun took away the pink and blue
As I was riding home in front of a soft gentle night.
In this moon of ice on the teepees
When an insecure Indian in a shaky voice
Read meeting minutes, it took me back in time
To that unsure stage of my bilingualism,
The hitchhiker’s sign read anywhere but here,
And when I rode through the pines
They were drenched in heavy dew.
This is what I asked for from Grandmother Moon
When she showed us her moisture rings
Rainbow rouge announced blurred ground
Among the fog and close to He Who First Did Everything.
My heart is good as I ride through these pines
When they are drinking water from above
The most sacred of all the waters upon Mother Earth
Which bless my horse and me as I think of you.
Last night the moonlight was like day,
When I saw a feeling headed my way, then stopped.