Songs from a Yahi Bow: A series of poems on Ishi
Scott Ezell, Yusef Komunyakaa & Mike O'Connor
Pleasure Boat Studio, 2011 (2011)
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
hen Ishi, '
the last wild American Indian,
' came out of the mountains of Northern California in 1911, he created a sensation. His band of 20 had been able to live for at least 12 years without anyone knowing about their existence. Finally, only he was left. Despite his unthinkable losses of nation, territory, family and culture he was somehow able to adapt to a new kind of living, and the people around him remarked at how he accepted '
his final destiny with patience, good humor, and grace,
' even though he was '
at the end of his existential rope.
ongs from Yahi Bow
is three poets' response to what Ishi and his life means. Mike O'Connor beautifully pictures Ishi's life for us, even providing a page of line-by-line translation of the poem
Song of Ishi
into Chinook Jargon. Yusef Komunyakaa's quatrains movingly describe Ishi's encounter with a
city and its ways. And Scott Ezell's verses filter contemporary life through the
ach poet shows great sensitivity to the contrast between what Ishi's life was and what it became. Ezell in particular, both in his verses and the introduction to this work, makes us understand that Ishi is not just a rare occurrence in Western life. His struggles are ones that all of us have: there are vanishing communities all around us, and the problem is that we are the authors of their demise and the poorer for such loss. I highly recommend this issue as a beautiful work for us to linger with, think about, and finally, act upon.
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