The Sky Watched by Linda LeGarde Grover (2015. Red Mountain Press. ISBN9780990804772)

Speak English. Forget the language of your grandparents. It is dead. Forget their teachings. They are ignorant and unGodly. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Indians are not clean. Your mother did not teach you to be clean.

(from “Everything You Need to Know in Life You’ll Learn at Boarding School”)

Indian boarding schools. Creation myths. Cultural references. Family. These are the compass points of a new poetry collection by Duluth poet and author, Linda LeGarde Grover. A confession. I grew up with Linda’s siblings. Of the 14 LeGarde children, I knew four of them fairly well before age thirty: Nancy, two years older than me; Jerry, a year ahead of me in school; Susie, a classmate at Lincoln Jr. High and Denfeld H.S., and Jimmy, who played shortstop on my law firm’s softball team. I’ve also had the pleasure in my later years of spending time with Linda at book signings and other writerly events. So take this review for what it is: opinion tainted by familiarity. That having been said, if these poems of Ojibwe life and dreams and spirituality weren’t damn good, well, I’d beg off and tell Ms. LeGarde I didn’t have the time to review this book. But that’s not the case.

There’s a Zen-like quality to LeGarde’s verse and prose poems, the wrapping of myth into history into sadness into joy that reminds me of the Finnish epic saga, The Kalevala. Though the mysticism that is so often the cornerstone of Native American contemporary writing (think Erdrich or Northrup or Alexie) may be found in some of these poems, front and center, LeGarde isn’t heavy handed in applying aboriginal beliefs and magic to her remembrances. Instead, the connections between spirit and flesh, reality and fantasy, are more subtle, less onerous for non-Native readers, allowing us access to a world that, while seemingly shrinking due to the monolithic advance of American culture, continues on beneath the fabric of everyday life. LeGarde’s periodic reflections of being raised in the non-Indian world while being taught the “old ways” at home and within her family, the clash of cultures being omnipresent and somewhat daunting, rise from the page, easily accessible but poignant.

Our little sister is the only blond in our family. As children we were fascinated by her coloring, her hair that lightened to an ice frost in the summer, her cheeks that bloomed with a red fire in the winter. Winters she became the sun, summers the moon.

(from “Mary Susan”)

On the critical side, a few of LeGarde’s poems left me scratching my head as I tried to decipher their meaning or simply did not rise to the level of the rest of the collection. But these minor deviations in authorial quality are momentary, fleeting, and rare. What one is left with, after having spent time with Ms. LeGarde, her family, her traditions, her ancestors, is a feeling of love. And hope. And respect.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. Read a poem or two each evening before bed. You won’t be disappointed!




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