Ralph Salisbury

Writer, Professor

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Light From a Bullet Hole: New and Selected Poems

Poem from Light From a Bullet Hole: Poems New and Selected

In the Children's Museum in Nashville

In the Children's Museum in Nashville, rattlesnakes coil,
protected by glass and by placards warning that if teased
they might just dash their brains against apparent air.
Negroes are advised that, if notified in advance,
the Children's Museum in Nashville will take care of them
on certain days. On an uncertain day, to regulate
my sons by Mother Nature's whims, I make it quite clear
that some skulls are less substantial than apparent air,
as, evidently, one empty cage verifies.
More durable are the heads of bison, eland
(from Africa), and other exhibits: a purple parrot,
who eventually condescends to demonstrate
by winking that, far from dead, he of his own free will
dreams over caged snakes in his own cage; blades
from China's dynasties and Malayan tribes;
some shrunken Jivaro noggins and a diminished Nashville;
and, most awesome, a bird and a squirrel
reborn at intervals from blacked-out flesh as white
skeletons. On Sundays, children are allowed a look
at electric stars. Seen every day is an Indian
child-cured by chance, the signs say
in a dry, airless place--still possessed
of parchment skin, thought eyeless, and still dressed
in ceremonial regalia
that celebrates his remove to a better world.

Selected Works

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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
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