Poetry from Robert P. Arthur


Crazy Horse’s Woman

Black Shawl

How sweet to be night air, to be exquisite,
To be dew clad but naked and settling like fog
On the flower of his body

How sweet to be exquisite, to be night air,
To be dew clad and naked and hurt
And sore and even weeping in the soul

To hear his cries

In the night air, in the prison of the sky
Even as with my heart’s tongue
I explore the taste of his sorrow

And the depth of his shadow

How exquisite and sweet to be fog on the flower
Of Dakota clay and Crazy Horse’s crying
From the darkness of heaven

Crazy Horse

Black Shawl, come live with me in my lodge
where you may have roasted meat, fine leathers,
and make the motions of a man and a woman that bring the heart no cure but ease;

But come knowing that if you marry me you will be marrying a man who is half dead, one who has no joy in life and is filled with the black blood of a warrior
Black Shaw, know that I am a stranger to my life and my people

Know that I have slaughtered the white man and his women and wish my own death
Know, too, that my magic has isolated me and sets me apart from any woman always, which is not my choice but which is forever

And know, too, that I grieve for another, Black Buffalo Woman, which is forever
And speak to the dead, which is forever

Black Shaw

Tell him I will come to him
Tell him I am the most fortunate woman among all the Oglala

Black Shawl

So, this is how Pgeon gave me to him in the quiet bower
In the nest of singing birds
With the dew wrapped round me

So, this is how the great God Crazy Horse found me in the quiet light
In the falling light of morning’s glow

My face and scalp vermilion
My hair so shining, soft

My dress of white buckskin, teethed so soft
So deep-beaded, yoke blue, so wing-sleeved and fringed with particles of bone
So blue with powder

And this is how I received him:

Not as free maiden, but as Black Shawl the given
Called Black Buffalo Woman
For my names are legion

As Black Shawl the dew-wrapped
Crying out for heat for blood
For stars

For he was a phantom of ice
So snow in the heart and lips and fingers and flower

So glacial

I cried for his soul
In the light-softened bower where the sky hung naked
And the dew had gathered

So many dead men lay weeping inside him

I loved him, loved him
As my mother instructed

Still, Oh Mother, I cried, Oh Slow Bear, my mother
He is frigid in the flower
So North and Wind and Hell
All coming inside me
So filling me with truth
With death
With horror!

(young Harlan miner, Otho Chauncey, to his wife, Arlie)


From the sick room of our house
The blackbird flew
The broke clock struck

The hollows filled with nettled dark
And stinging air

You prowled the corn stalks

The hound has howled
At a shooting star

I cut my hair in March
Still you coughed

Rain has fallen in an open grave
You might have watched

Someone has swept beneath your bed

Church bells have rung
Inside my head

You wore white to please the stars

The cradle, empty, rocked
And killed our child


Yer can tell if you’ve ever strolled into a Butcher-bird’s yard.
Grasshoppers and mice, and small birds’r crucified, headless, on hawthorn twigs… bushes and briars.

Butcher-bird’s got a robber’s mask
stretched over its eyes, and a hawk’s

hooked like an awl for crackin’ paper
skulls on mossy holler stones in wet river rock or
hangin’ carcasses up.

Sometimes Butcher-bird cries out like a cat with wings,
severs th’ head and carries it up a cedar tree
to decorate its nest.

Butcher-bird’s life’s built of loneliness, killin’ and grief
in ignorance of what it does.

Butcher-bird‘s life is like my own.

Ms. Buster

Ms. Buster

the ledges
of her cat tree
the den
and kitchen,
and at the tip
of the tower
the crackling fireplace
and her water bowl.

In joy
We cried
that something dying
could rise


Something slightly dark and old lives here
After the autumnal equinox

In lichen weather

Rainwater puddles in beads on the black
Blown feather

Melting into shadow

Raven curses hang as misty sheets of wash
Over long, shadowed poles.
The jack pine skitters

Tatters of paper birch rattle in the breeze
Like the parchment of ancient scrolls

Needles punctuate the dark

Flakes fall, white as tufts of fur

Mushroom puffs grown deadly red
Bloom in stools and tables of ancient furniture

This is the deep black spruce forest
Of ankle-deep moss in evening shade
The white wolf, Skoll,
Chases the sun to the western sky

Something runs here below the whispered river

This is the boreal forest of foxglove
And grouse, the maple leaf floating
On the hushed dark face of the solstice pond

Hati, the dark one, devours the moon

No ghost or tales here of the fruited vine
Or singular sparrow

On the pond ice the powdered snow
Reiterates the swirl of wind
The thickened brush pants of death

Paw prints stretch the desolate ice sheeted lake
In ironic signature to the howled banged drum

of concussive doom

Without the wolf there would be no time

Huntin’ Creek

At night I dream
of hardening shells
where shallows
to channels
and seagulls, circling, sign
of grass so slick
and smooth
that progmen in their beamy boats
chug the seams
of bottoms’ mud
through morning rain.

The air is breathless in my head.

The sun’s a shiver
on the weather shore
and gulls in storms of mewing
grays and whites
follow the dragged iron,
croupier scrapes
that pop live crabs from grass in cards
of fiddler cream
and olive hue
to fill rough hands with peelers soft
as wind, and buckrams in their ancient blue.

All night the wind is blowing.
All night it cries through my dreams
like some forsaken sailor man dead
and unredeemed by dying.

And unredeemed by dying.

You’ll catch more crabs when you’re out there than when you ain’t!

The marshland sings of dreams unending
of waves of grasses black and green
fleshed with flounder, ray
and fattened worm.
The sun suspends itself in liquid blue.
Smith Island weeps with light
The day is ending.

The sea is slaty ca’m, as they say.

Now comes a dream within a dream
out where the buoys
bob tidal urge and doings.
Waters close over the sea blown
roofs of Tyler town.

All night the wind is blowing.
All night it cries through my dreams
like some forsaken poor progger dead
and unredeemed by dying

More arysters down there than we been ketchin’
says old Ben Parks, pulling shut his coat.

One-eyed jacks and deuces wild
by the guttering candles.

1950, Cape Charles, Virginia

The night my mother left
my father drank and cried
holding his glass to hide his mouth

Next day we went out for shark
my brother and I held on for pride
and jerked our lines

from the undertow. We caught dog shark
Bill’s to port, mine to the right
and my father took them by their throats

Because he’d forgotten the butcher knife
(and sharks are dangerous in rocking boats)
He stood upright and didn’t curse us
for pulling them in

But cursed the man and the morning
light that made him span
a boat of children
with a snapping shark in either hand

Why couldn’t he have been God?

He squeezed Bill’s shark until its
guts came busting out
Then smacked my shark against the
boat to break its back

Why couldn’t he have been God?
I’d give the job to anyone
who could handle sharks like that

Sunday Seizure

I took her down as my father taught me
Not waiting for others

As the benediction ended

My arms locked around hers
The organ stopped and someone swooned

Blood flew from her tongue
For lack of a spoon for lack of a spoon

I took her down as her heels danced me round

Her body on top of mine
Upsetting the vestibule candles

Hubbub hubbub
Her lips blubbery with blood

My own blood
Streaming from my hare-shotten lip

And somebody waving one of those paper Jesus fans

I held on for the Lord, head banging the floor
De dum De dum

Until her thrashing was over

She had the Devil inside her, someone shrieked
Now He’s in her son

Being born being born
Busy being born

Later, I entered her hospital room
Her tongue was painted the color plum

Occohannock Road

One grows to love the smell of horses
and urine-soaked hay

With the Chesapeake behind it…dung in the stables
Stars in the pasture… leather

and spring rain

Your whole body slips
into the confluence

Of hoof and sail, withers tremble
Easy Clifford plods paths of sojas

and boysenberry

Trail dust settles softly
on the waters of the brain

Contact Robert P Arthur
Thank you for taking the time to contact Bob. Whether you're inquiring after a rare edition of one of his books, interested in having him read for your organization or just have a general question or comment, emails through this form will be reviewed by his assistants and we'll get him in touch with you.