Frank X Walker, noted professor and Affrilachian poet, is now Kentucky’s poet laureate. To continue our celebration of National Poetry Month, let’s take a look at some of his poetry published by the University Press of Kentucky.
Buffalo Dance and its sequel When Winter Come both tell the since unheard story of York, who was the slave to Clark on the famous Lewis & Clark expedition. In telling York’s story, Frank X Walker gives a voice to an important figure who would have otherwise gone unnoticed throughout history. Through the poems, we given insights into nature, race, slavery, freedom, and more. Below is an excerpt from Buffalo Dance:
“I proceeded on the sandy coast and marked my name on a small pine, the day of the month and year…” –William Clark, November 19, 1905
If I could make my words dress
they naked selves in blackberry juice
and lay down on a piece a bark, sheep
or onion skin, the way Massa do.
If I could send a story home to my wife
float it in the wind, on wings or water
I’d tell her about Katonka, the buffalo
and all the big wide and high places
this side a the big river.
How his family, numbering three for every
star in the sky, look like a forest when they
graze together, turn into the muddy Mississippi
when they thunder along, faster than any horse,
making the grass lay down
long after the quiet has returned.
How they lead us through the mountain snow
single file, in drifts up to our necks.
How they don’t so much as raise a tail
when I come round with my wooly head
and tobacco skin, like I’m one a them
making the Sioux and Crow think me
“Big Medicine, Katonka who walk like man.”
Today we stood on the edge of all this
and looked out at so much water, the mountains we crossed
to get here seem a little smaller.
As I watched black fish as big as cabins take to the air
and splash back in the water like children playing
I thought about you, us and if we gone ever be free,
then I close my eyes and pray
that I don’t live long enough to see
Massa make this ugly too.