Grandmother – Ray Young Bear – Poem + Important Questions – Grade 12

Grandmother – Ray Young Bear

RAY YOUNG BEAR (1950). American-Indian poet and novelist. He was born in the Mesquaki tribe. His principal theme is the contemporary American-Indian’s search for identity. His major works are Waiting to be Fed (1975), Winter of the Salamander (1980), The Invisible Musician (1990), Black Eagle Child (1992). In this poem, he draws a picture of his grandmother. However, the woman with “the purple scarf/and the plastic/shopping bag” is hardly the stereotypical Indian grandmother. At the same time, she has a symbolical connection to the oldest part of the earth – “a voice/coming from/a rock.”

if i were to see

her shape from a mile away

i’d know so quickly

that it would be her.

the purple scarf,

and the plastic

shopping bag.

if i felt

hands on my head

i’d know that those

were her hands

warm and damp

with the smell

of roots.

if i heard

a voice

coming from

a rock

i’d know

and her words

would flow inside me

like the light

of someone

stirring ashes

from a sleeping fire

at night.


Notes and References

stirring: (verb) moving slightly

purple scarf: sense of sight

plastic shopping bag: sense of sight

warm and damp hands: sense of touch

smell of roots: sense of smell

a voice: sense of hearing

the light of someone stirring ashes from a sleeping fire: light from the sleeping fire (sense of sight)

Important Questions

  1. What images do you find in this poem written by a member of the Sauk and Fox (Mesquaki) Indian tribe of North America? To what senses do these images appeal?
  2. How does the speaker feel toward his grandmother? In what words or lines does he make his feelings clear?





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