November 2019 Poetry Feature: Ron Welburn


Please welcome back The Common contributor Ron Welburn.


  • Marginal Note for Historical Revision
  • Pretty Memory
  • Analog to Ancestry



“Neither Huguenot nor Timucuan gained much
from the other. The Huguenots tried to convert
the Timucuan to Protestantism. The Timucuans
taught the Huguenots to smoke tobacco.”

(Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians, 1976. p. 429)

Timucuans know tobacco smoke carries prayers to our Creator. Prayers of smoke. Teaching the how of smoking is external, lumbar, digital, objective. To convert us to Gospel, let’s swap for a while, and talk it over. We’re teaching you how to smoke so you will learn how to pray, so the Creator will hear you by the smell of your heart. Your words on paper are never enough. And there is trickster power in tobacco. Acres and acres of cultivated domination. Industry. The invention of burley. The importation of latakia and perique. Tampering with the process. Erasures of prayer. Kids. Additives of industry. Non-smoker rebellions. Compartments. Your industry values. Investing in the Market. Timucuan long-range planning.



Walking with Shawn Wong and Leslie Silko
at Stevens Point, June 1973

The street of this college town in Wisconsin murmurs about us; but not the trees. Faces stop; birds continue. Minds wait and insects breeze around us. Beautifully interlocked, we are a holotrope of Margin America. Shawn is brown, wiry, bespectacled, obvious. I’ve got four eyes, too, and red glows around that mustache and through my arms, and with thick coarse hair I am “the supposed.” And Leslie, walking between us, glows around us both, mixed bloods preparing a Ceremony pulling together Homebase and Peripheries. We are all Asian; or we are all old American. We are united in our Bering tours coming and going. Something of Spain and Scotland lives in a corner of Leslie and a place or two in West Africa lives in a corner of myself. Three paradigms of joy! Is a Chinese really an Indian come back home? Or was it Chinese who discover America? As we walk here close to the apex of Turtle dwellings, where does the Indian live as soul sister and brother? How does the white man live amidst the pueblos? Laughter is ours this hot afternoon, resonant with mysteries of ourselves known and soon to come. Arm valued in burnished arm.




A stream to rivers, to memory living in the spirit of waters. A turtle is never far from water; box shape centered by the smell of its sound, by the earth bottom spread out on its back for the first woman, the earth blood to feed our long remembrance.

My rivers run south like my young stream, the sliders’ water or the place sheltering the crayfish. Rivers named and renamed are all concentric like genealogies.

We are analog to ancestry, Susquehannock and Delaware. I am one voice of what growing near the Delaware means, a people a river nomenclatured by an English Lord. One approached it traveling east, crossing the Schuylkill, a name perfidious to my father’s commute. Turning around I retrace family movement from the direction of the Susquehanna. So many questions. Rushing waters feeding the open memory.

Analog to ancestry. The mouth of the river and its source. Pilgrimages to Otsiningo. We cannot deny the rivers we know, nor the source that keeps us listening to voices alive in the hills. Outside one circle there is always another, a widening gyre with other kinds of music.

Away from my valleys three rivers rush southward, and gravity abides in place selection. Shafts of feather, their echoes fan the songs and words of families, gathering about the arcs of our goose-winged hands.


Ron Welburn’s poems in this feature are from his book-length poetry manuscript, Yellow Wolf Spirit. His poems have appeared in scores of literary magazines and anthologies such as The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal; volumes I and II of Susan Deer Cloud’s I Was Indian compilations; the Yellow Medicine Review; Jersey Jazz; Lone Star; Callaloo; and Best American Poetry 1996. His seventh collection of poems, Council Decisions: Revised and Expanded Edition, was published in 2012 by Bowman Books of the Greenfield Review Press. He did three Poet-in-Residences under the auspices of the New York State Council on the Arts, and has given dozens readings at such venues as Knoxville, Springfield, and Johnson & Wales Colleges; Washington & Lee University; SUNY Albany; The Hudson Valley Writers Guild; Westfield State; Springfield Technical CC; The New York City Book Fair; in Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Arizona; at the National Museum of the American Indian; and in 2017 he read at the 25th Anniversary of Returning the Gift Native and Indigenous Literary Festival as a returning author; he was an invited reader at the SHARP [Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing] 2019 Conference held in Amherst. Ron also reviewed jazz records for JazzTimes magazine for 25 years.  He is now an emeritus professor in the English department at UMass Amherst where he taught American literatures, Native American literatures, critical writing (including a favorite course, Américas Fictions, featuring hemispheric authors like Atwood and Danticat, and in translation Borges, Carpentier, and Valenzuela). Ron also taught Intro to American Studies and the Methods course for the department’s Graduate Concentration in American Studies, for which he once served as director. In 1997 Ron also co-founded the UMass Certificate Program in Native American and Indigenous Studies, serving as its first director.     

November 2019 Poetry Feature: Ron Welburn

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