Ralph Salisbury

Writer, Professor

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Like the Sun in Storm (poetry)

I’m holding onto history,
someone else’s sanity,
after the crash.

Those three lines sum up for me what I have always loved about Ralph Salisbury as a poet—one whose vision has grown stronger with age. Clarity and complexity are as intertwined in his work as is his mixed Cherokee-Shawnee-English-Irish ancestry and his own path as a youthful warrior and a wise elder counseling peace. His words are those of a man struck by lightning, both literally and figuratively, and the sanity that he holds onto and forces us to face, is that of one whose survival is both metaphor and guide for the generations that follow. -- Joseph Bruchac, Breaking Silence (American Book Award), The Boy Who Lived with the Bears (Boston Globe Book Award), Dog People (Paterson Award)

Ralph Salisbury’s Like the Sun in Storm is a great eagle-soaring sweep of poetry. In these times of wars and suffering, his poems give powerful voice to that which too many people ignore or are afraid to speak about or are too brainwashed to recognize. Like the Sun in Storm is beautiful, brilliant, true ... an assuaging of a deep homesickness for that which shimmers with honesty and heart wisdom. This Cherokee-Shawnee elder’s poems brilliantly distill home and shelter out of the violent complexity of America’s and the entire planet’s current frightening reality/​surreality. Ralph, beloved poet and brother, thank you/​nya’weh for this saving poetry. -- Susan Deer Cloud, Poet, NEA & NYFA fellowships recipient, author of Car Stealer and The Last Ceremony

The manifest destiny of these poems is justice and salvation in language for people torn down by blind nationalism, war, greed and racism. As soft as lingerie, as tough as steel pipe, and as fine in phrase and image as our best American poets, Ralph Salisbury sings "Like the Sun in Storm" for a world that can be healed. --Henry Hughes, Winner: 2012 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award, author of Moist Meridian and Men Holding Eggs (Oregon Book Award in poetry)

Sample poems from Like the Sun in Storm


"Like the Sun in Storm"

There was a place
where the big kids let me hide, the space
too small for any of them,
between a white lilac and one
like the sun in storm
or the blood of a butchered pig
darkened by earth, and when
the game was done
and everyone else had got caught
I stayed and still stay
in the nest of the big one's willingness
to let me become
the pretend child of all of them
and the sense that the world--
despite some slaps and the occasional
crunch of knuckles against teeth
and my brother being sent to war–
could be really good.

"Coffins Sliding Like Kids' Sleds Down"
From my wife's father's story.)

This view-home’s sundown side’s whole wall
a window as clear as a waterfall,
glistens of coffins sliding like kids' sleds down
a street earthquake wrenched steep
were what memory made
my wife’s father make
of our valley's other side's lights’
glacier glitters, and, though
turbine tornados herd melted snow's stampede-flow
into tungsten’s blind canyons,
only the lightning strike
from which I stumbled upright illuminates
this page, on which
the father of the mother of my daughter slides
beyond words wrenched deep, as years
before and beyond my few collide.


"Awakened by Cell Phone"

Awakening, beneath pines,
where a border of earth
the river dried from
gives thanks to rain,

I hear the lovely and loving chatter
my daughter's year old daughter sends
through silicon crystals
transmitted into eons of green
metamorphosed into petroleum
reborn as plastic, and, yes, into the centuries
of families which formed my ear.



Selected Works

To order any of these books, please click on the titles below and, again, below the cover images. To read samples please click on the titles below and scroll down in the center column.
Literary Nonfiction
“Ralph Salisbury’s So Far, So Good will take its place beside Scott Momaday’s The Names and Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave as a major addition to the evergrowing genre of contemporary Native American autobiography.”—Geary Hobson
Poetry
The manifest destiny of these poems is justice and salvation in language for people torn down by blind nationalism, war, greed and racism. As soft as lingerie, as tough as steel pipe, and as fine in phrase and image as our best American poets, Ralph Salisbury sings "Like the Sun in Storm" for a world that can be healed. --Henry Hughes
"The poems of this volume make stunningly clear the ways in which Ralph Salisbury continues to model the traditional and modern (postmodern, if you will) roles of the poet as Cherokee humanist and indigenous cosmopolitan." -- Arnold Krupat
"It’s great to see the energy of an 80-year-old poet at work. Mixing WWII memories with his observations of the peaceful world outside his study windows, these poems celebrate longevity and unflagging concern for peace." -- Diane Wakoski
"Salisbury writes out of the passion, rage, and lyricism that mark the Native American spirit in these blasphemous times."
- Paula Gunn Allen
Finalist, Oregon Book Award. “A magnificent summa from a superb artist.”
-Louis Owens
“The words of Going to the Water: Poems of a Cherokee Heritage ‘do it right’. They hit hard. And they must be heard. Listen.”
-Simon Ortiz
Short Fiction
Salisbury excavates the hearts and minds of his characters, mining them to fuel his stories. And his stories are the richer for it — invariably compelling and continually surprising. (MSU Press)
“...unique in tone and voice, unlike the voice of any other American Indian writer writing today.”
-Gordon Henry