wilma mankiller

raised from the dead
by an angel’s voice
in a plea to save
mother earth

my heart cries
too late, too late

my mind sits
in a bowl


wrapping itself
two words

like a snake
a tongue




As a rule, I’m not big on explaining poems, I like to leave them open to the reader’s interpretation, but this one needs some explanation. This past weekend I went to a festival at a local Native American Historic Site. The featured singer, Joanne Shenandoah, in explaining one of her songs, mentioned Wilma Mankiller, and immediately, there was a poem. I know little about Wilma, other than the brief explanation given by Joanne — she was a real person, a great person,
the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation. 
This poem is less about who she was and more about the images her name
immediately evoked. And the photo? Well, other than boosting the
contrast and the saturation, what you see, whatever you see,
is what was there.


If you feel like commenting, I’d be curious to know
what your thoughts are about explaining your poetry.


this post is part of dVerse OpenLinkNight



36 Responses to “wilma mankiller”

  • debi Says:

    i am such a visual person, even with words, and i must say that the double sets of colons after the snake “stanza” look like fang marks, and that makes me not trust that there’s no tongue. i then move backwards up the poem (yes, very beatles-y, i know) and it makes sense in all kinds of ways. all of them uncomfortable. VERY well done.

  • Daydreamertoo Says:

    Sometimes I go through a whole barrage of emotions as I write. I can start happy and end up in the doldrums or vice versa. My emotions rise and fall as I write so, I may write something really down and depressing but, it isn’t nessacerily how I feel at the time I post it. Also, I don’t think we ought to have ‘explain’ our thinking process to anyone else, really. The words are the canvas of our art and, it ought to speak for itself, but, at times, it does offer a little more insight to others as to the workings of our minds and what it was that maybe inspired that particular piece, especially if it is about someone, or, it is pretty obscure.
    Lovely writing and, yes, she sounds like a very interesting woman.

  • Anthony Desmond Says:

    I live for poetry that’s wrapped in metaphor… love the form and the imagery in here. nice

  • Gay Says:

    I’m glad you put up the illustration and that you gave us a little explanation make that background.
    I saw a man possibly dead draped on a horse in those clouds in the sky. Thanks to Debi I read the poem backwards. I believe it works backwards because if there were a fix, time would have to roll backwards. Two words – in a bowl – mother earth. Thank you, challenging, important work!

  • brian Says:

    smiles. the explanation works…and you will see after our convo this morning i added a note to mine as well..love the mind in a bowl, empty…and snake with no tongue…great write…

  • Kelvin S. M. Says:

    ..my mind sits in a bowl… very creative thinking there… i like it!(: thanks for the poem.

  • Mama Zen Says:

    Wilma Mankiller was a truly exceptional woman.

    Lovely piece!

  • poemblaze Says:

    I deliberately avoided reading your explanation. I love the mystery and the wonderful imagery. I am meditating on the many possible meanings.

  • Pat Hatt Says:

    Amazing creative word play, I too loved the “my mind sits in a bowl” line. Enjoyed the explanation too!

  • bkmackenzie Says:

    very nice..great image in the last two stanzas a snake without of tongue…that is wonderful…bkm

  • Steve E Says:

    I’d MUCH rather read a brief descriptive, than read a poem which left no room for imagination.
    (And if Brian can do it, well?????–grin!)
    thank you for good (short) write!

  • zongrik Says:

    It’s always interesting how people got their images. Like the mind stuck in the bowl image, do you work in a lab or hospital and have access to brains that are in formaldehyde?

  • Uneven Stephen Says:

    Beautiful write, very descriptive in so few lines. Thanks for the explanation.

  • Poetical Psyche Says:

    Really enjoyed this piece. Some great narrative with some really nice metaphor.

  • mark Says:

    Occasionally, The Poem asks to be explained. Mainly so it won’t be misunderstood. Most of the time, The Poem wishes to stand on his/her own. If nothing else, you’ve explained the process and that’s always fun to learn about.

    I like what you did with the name and the poem that came out of that.

  • Frida Says:

    I think sometimes on occasion a poem could need some explanation. My granddaughter who will be 2 come September. She is named Wilma and she is a really strong-willed little princess 😉

  • Percy @dreamhopewrite Says:

    I usually love the open meaning of poems but your explanation sort of seals the deal on a very good write!

  • Jennifer Richardson Says:

    I love that you gave a bit of explanation;
    poems are born with distinct personalities
    and needs
    and callings
    and, much like with children,
    our care for and interaction with them
    can’t be over-generalized:)
    (some are shyer and harder to get
    to know than others but oh so
    worth the effort)

  • lori Says:

    I often don’t like to explain either, but sometimes it is necessary. I don’t think you’ve taken anything away by explaining. I think you’ve only enhanced the strong piece for us. That whole last part is crazy-good 🙂

  • Kate Says:

    I liked that you explained it. It’s an interesting story that tells how the words just came into your head. Wish I had that talent.

  • Sharp Little Pencil Says:

    The simple cry, “Too late,” says it all. I saw a buffalo in the cloud, and that was before I read the section mentioning Wilma Mankiller. This is a poignant reminder, for me, of how poorly we are doing with this land we stole from indigenous peoples. Found you on dverse, glad I did!
    Amy Barlow Liberatore

  • Marcie Says:

    Amazing what inspires us…and how we interpret the stories we hear. Wonderfully creative!

  • blackswanpoetry Says:

    Strong piece and nice images…

  • Truly Says:

    I like the Native American-Mother Earth connection. And the empty mind seeing only 2 words rings true. Sometimes minds become obsessed with something and that’s all they can see.
    I do like reading the writer’s explanation after I have read the poem. My interpretation has already been made by then.

  • C Rose Says:

    The background serves this piece well, and your words a beautiful insight into Wilma. Great write ~ Rose

  • Marbles in My Pocket Says:

    I like yours, but as for explaining mine, it depends. I like to think most poems I write are simple and straight forward–like me–but once in awhile I dive off into something that needs explaining, and I have no problem with it. I’ve always kind of chuckled thinking about people years from now analyzing and discussing the “deep” meanings of my writings. Like we did with the greaat poets in high school, you know? I can see some rednck farm boy in the back saying, Ah thank he meant sumbuddy died and he went to the fune-ral; ‘ats all.” And he’d be right. (Hey! You asked!)

  • Jingle Says:

    amazing one, superb melody.

  • beth Says:

    what. explain my poetry. but then i’d have to kill you 🙂
    and honestly, i totally see a person in those clouds…she has her head sticking out, a ponytail and broad shoulders…and i think she’s ready to take on the world.

  • Martin Lochner Says:

    my mind sits
    in a bowl


    reduce your amount of words
    increase your meaning
    i think you achieved this!

  • Bodhirose Says:

    I really appreciated you adding an explanation–then how would we know about Wilma Mankiller and she being the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation–fascinating!

    I lovely tribute to her and the feelings and images evoked as you learned about her. Very nicely done.

    Gayle ~

  • Jo Bryant Says:

    I love the poem – adding the explanation gave it life for me

  • Amy Says:

    This is such an amazing poem. I love the words–I don’t need an explanation to love the poem, to feel like it opens up my heart, opens up new realms for me to explore. On the other hand, I know that I don’t like when someone misinterprets what I have written, poem or fiction. If they see something that is there that I didn’t intend or that I did subconsciously–that’s wonderful–but I don’t like when someone says, “Oh this is obviously about *this*” when that was nowhere in my mind when I wrote it, and nowhere in the poem that I can see. I don’t know… maybe this is a prejudice left over from too many college lit classes. So I have mixed feelings about explaining poetry. On the one hand, I’m happy to explain mine so that it doesn’t get misinterpreted (although I don’t think I’ve ever offered it outright, either), but when reading other people’s poetry I am often quite content without knowing for sure what they mean.

  • Joel Says:

    Powerful message. Lovely poem.

  • Noel Says:

    I like that you included the explanation here, and I do think sometimes it really adds something. I had never heard of her before, so now I can look her up!

    On first read, this poem made me think of all the insane weather we’re having, and global warming, and people fighting about whether it actually exists or not …”too late, too late.”

  • Leckeres für Mensch und Katze - Goodies for a pleasant life Says:

    All over very beautiful pictures. If you like join us on PicStory* 🙂 LG Tina

  • Harry Nicholson Says:

    Hello Kelly, I came here to say a belated thanks for visiting and commenting on ‘Canna’. I’m glad I did and came across this poem and your explanation. When I hear the name Cherokee, I feel a sort of weeping within.

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