ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
If you're the poet laureate of the state of Montana, you could carry out your duties several ways. You could spend a lot of time talking to schoolchildren or promote poetry through the local libraries, perhaps talk to civic organizations.
Well, Henry Real Bird decided to get on horseback at one end of the state and ride halfway to the other, handing out books of poetry along the way. And we caught up with Mr. Real Bird as he's been doing just that.
Exactly where are you right now?
Mr. HENRY REAL BIRD (Poet Laureate of Montana): I'm Havre, Montana, along the Milk River. Tomorrow, I saddle up, and I drift off into the Bear Paw Mountains, and I end up over in Rocky Boy, Montana, my final destination.
NORRIS: Who are you traveling with?
Mr. REAL BIRD: I'm riding with my Hidatsa brother, Levi Bruce from Berthold Indian Reservation. As a Crow Indian, I'm a Hidatsa. Hidatsa and Crow were one tribe, and so our language is still, the grammar is still the same, and it's still pretty close. Like he says biri(ph) for water, and I saw bira(ph).
NORRIS: Could you do me a favor? We always hear about those big skies of Montana. What's that sky look like today?
Mr. REAL BIRD: It's so big that you can't really put an edge to it. That's how it is today in a vast sea of buffalo grass.
NORRIS: Henry Real Bird, tell me about the books that you're handing out and the reception that you get.
Mr. REAL BIRD: Oh, the books that I'm handing out are my books of poetry. I surprise some people, like at a cafe in Nashua, a guy that, he had two boys there, young boys, high school boys, I mean, just so much promise and so much future. And I just gave them the books so they can read that poetry.
That, plus once I give them out and other people, they see me coming out on horseback and they walk over and they say: Where's my book? And I just hand them a book from atop the horse and everything. And so I just want them to think, to move along in thought.
NORRIS: To move along in thought. That sounds wonderful. Now when they open up the pages of that book, could you just give us a small sample of what they would find? Would you mind reciting just a small bit of your poetry?
Mr. REAL BIRD: Oh, a little bit of it, okay.
Sunrise quarrels, recapitulation of sunrise quarrels, thoughts of man, civilization recedes, waves on shore of sand, attached to a reality now touches in life's span, (unintelligible) beginning of end strands, scratched thoughts drawn on rock of cave preserve our humble beginning, recorded in computer reserve. We question, wonder, learn, origin and beyond, shifting winds up the canyon walls, no barrier. We yawn from the constant vigil of progress that marches toward both ends of the spectrum cloning to nuclear arches. We give life and take life like them.
NORRIS: You say we question, wonder and learn. I wonder what you're leaning as you travel across the state and travel across some of the parts of the state where your ancestors lived.
Mr. REAL BIRD: Yeah, I can see life itself out here in Montana on a trail of the buffalo that now goes between elevators going to Cirrhosis Park. And all of the drinking that is on the Indian reservation that I don't want to see, but I do because that is life, and yet I wait for coffee at the convenience store at Fort Belknap, and all of the workers - they're going to work for the day.
And so to be able to see the young families full of promise and hope and then to go along and to pick up words like Fur Cap Mountain. That's the Indian word for the little Rocky Mountains.
To be given all of these things, I mean people come by, and they feed me dry meat, bannock bread. They crush choke cherries and give them to me. It's a beautiful place when people come, and they hug you, and they bless you to continue on and asking for a safe journey.
NORRIS: Well, safe journeys to you. It's been a pleasure to talk to you. All the best.
Mr. REAL BIRD: Okay, may you ride in beauty, too, covered with love for many winters to come. (Unintelligible), we'll see you.
NORRIS: That's Henry Real Bird, cowboy, member of the Crow Nation and poet laureate of the state of Montana.