Dennis Tedlock: Six more poems from 'Alcheringa'

[On my way to Buffalo to celebrate the life & work of Dennis Tedlock, with whom I founded Alcheringa in 1970 & launched what we were already calling ethnopoetics, I thought to post this selection of his own poems which we were first able to show in the pages of that magazine. Additional poems from this series appeared earlier in Poems and Poetics, and his original work in its entirety should, when it finally appears, add to his reputation as an exemplary poet & ethnographer.  His contribution to my own sense of poetry & poetics was enormous. (J.R.)]


The Year


First comes

Broken Branches Moon

the snow is heavy


Snowless Road Moon

it snows

but it doesn’t stick to the road


Little Wind Moon

when the snow is in patches


Big Wind Moon


Nameless Moon


Turnabout Moon


Broken Branches Moon

also called Rooster Pull

the time of the rodeo


Snowless Road Moon

also called Get-together



Little Wind Moon


Big Wind Moon

also called Pick-the-ears-of-corn


Nameless Moon

when they set the date for the dancers


Turnabout Moon

All these twelve together are called



Winter Solstice


Here is the place of fear

for four days

no greasy foods are eaten

there is no coffee

no trade

all places of business are closed

for ten days

no sweepings

no garbage is taken out of the house

no fire is taken out of the house

not even cigarettes are lighted outside

people shouldn’t use their cars

the street lights are all turned out

this is the middle of time.




Fill a bowl with hot water

add, to taste:

dried leaves of wild mint

ground chili


dried chinchweed flowers


& venison jerky.

This is called


it is

an ancient dish.



Pull down the husk

all around

then twist it all off at once

with the stem

put the dry ears in this pile

for us

put the damp ears

the moldy ears in this one

for the hogs

& throw the shucks out there

some of the ears are yellow

some are blue



some are pretty

the multicolored ones

some are black

look for the Fully-Finished-Ear

without a single kernel missing

right to the very tip

a deer, a buck

wears that one on his breast

& the Flat-Ear

with a forked tip

a doe wears that one on her breast

& the Road-Ear

with a groove down its whole length

runners wear that one on their backs

now here it is

a Fully-Finished-Ear

but it’s wet

I’ll put it at the edge of the good pile

& here is an ear

yellow, but

each kernel

is tinged with red

it’s sort of pretty

there’s no name for this one

I’ll put it here on the fence rail

maybe I’ll do something with it later.


When The Witches Are Out


On the road at night

we caught a deer in the headlights

he didn’t know which way to go

he came toward us

turning left & right

in the lights

we stopped

he cut left through the sunflowers

into the dark

we went up to the house

so our nephew could get his rifle

on our way back down the road

there was another car coming

far off

his lights went out

we rode all the way down past

where the deer was

& there was no deer

& no car.



The Two Of Them


The Zuni

& the anthropologist

walk a narrow road

to the tip of the mesa

to see the Hopi Snake Dance

between two sheer drops

the Zuni says

to the anthropologist

— Both sides!

You jump one way

& I’ll jump the other.