At the Tent of Heaven
Phillip St. Clair
St. Clair’s poems in At The Tent of Heaven are twenty-two portraits of Native Americans. The poems are ordered, St. Clair says, “to represent displacement by the whites, the persistence and continuation of Native beliefs, and an ultimate spiritual transcendence.” Reading these poems is like reading history of great importance—the lives of an Ioway Chief, a Chippewa Warrior, the wives of Red Jacket, Red Jacket himself, his daughters. But St. Clair’s goal wasn’t to retell Native American history, rather to retell and uncover human truths. The poems present themselves like a wall of photographs, each photo with its own story. St. Clair’s words and images give sight and sound to language, and these poems talk. In 1986, Ahsahta Press published another collection by Philip St. Clair, Little-Dog-of-Iron.
The full text of Philip St. Clair’s At the Tent of Heaven is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
For three days snow has given flesh
To air. Men and women walk through it
And disappear. Often I see Brothers
Who have gone, and when I go to them
They are someone else.
Tell me, Spirit, why this winter
Turns my brain. Tell me, Spirit,
Why my heart grows damp
By the fire, at the lap
Of my wife.
No face is sure. Snow
Covers gametracks, makes the forest
Still, as if before battle. My ears
Ring from quiet. Not even children
Can break it.
Here comes a Brother, who fell
By the clubs of enemies, whose skull
Was caved in when we were young.
I know he is dead, yet my heart races
And my arms reach to him.
Copyright © 1984 by Philip St. Clair
Philip St. Clair is the author of four books of poetry. His poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Gettysburg Review, Harper’s, Poetry Review [London], Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council and was awarded the Bullis Prize from Poetry Northwest. He lives with his wife Christina in the Appalachian mountains of Carter County, Kentucky. Ahsahta Press published another collection by Philip St. Clair, Little-Dog-of-Iron, which appeared in 1986.