Review: What the Abenaki Say About Dogs: Poetry by Dan Close (Ethiopia 1966-68)

Reviewer Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96) worked for the United Nations and UNESCO, for Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University. She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of fifty-five, then went on to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002. She has written a memoir of Senegal, Roller Skating in the Desert, and is working on a memoir of Haiti.

what-the-abenaki-say-150What the Abenaki Say About Dogs, and other poems and stories of Lake Champlain
by Dan Close (Ethiopia 1964–66)
53 pages
Tamarac Press

Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96)

Dan Close met a group of Abenaki Indians sifting through a yellow loader filled with sand, looking for their ancestors’ bones. Someone was building a “new house by the river” and the Abenaki were awaiting a court order to stop the desecration of their ancient burial site. “These bones have rights beyond the laws of men,” Close writes in his poem, “Sifters,” a poem that came to him spontaneously after witnessing their patient harvesting of what lay under the land.

In his poems and stories Close chooses simple, perfect words that portray vivid images of the “People of the Dawn” and Lake Champlain, “The Sea Between.” Birds sing, waves splash, the wild loon sings. And then an unexpected irony jars the reader like a hypnotist snapping his fingers. “What the Abenaki Say About Dogs” is an idyllic stroll to the beyond that suddenly becomes a bridge to hell.

Beyond the daily glories of nature, however, imagination reigns, as in Close’s story about “The Bold McGregor,” an aged widower who gazes out upon the lake at midnight and sees its whole history: Indians of many tribes gliding in canoes, first a few, then hundreds, then the French bearing down with muskets, a British fleet, then American ships, conflagrations on the shores where a quiet bonfire once glowed.

Close slips into the mind set of an Abenaki as if he were remembering a previous lifetime. He writes about thundering gods on the mountaintops and Maquan, the woman who breathes life into everything. He strikes me as a mystic whose interests include “…the origins and futures of the universe.” He may well be living in the right place to understand such mysteries.

I spent a quiet afternoon reading Dan Close’s poems and stories and felt, upon closing the book, as if I were coming out of a trance. I was reminded once again how poetry raises your consciousness, lifts your spirit and makes you wonder why, as Moliere’s “Bourgeois Gentleman” says, we spend our lives speaking prose.

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