STELLA JENG GUILLORY: Chief Joseph's Flute

(2016 Ian MacMillan Awards, Poetry Finalist)


Roaming across the Zumwalt Prairie,
I play my flute.
The Nez Perce know I am coming when
a tune in my key approaches.

I play the flute I carved
from yellow cedar.

The fetish block on my flute portrays a thunderbird
that guards and directs my breath.

I play the flute I carved for myself.
It suits me when my right and left hands are bent
and the distance between
the mouth piece and the finger holes
is according to my own constellation.

It creates the key fitting my height, 
my way of slightly leaning forward.

The Nez Perce know I am returning when
a tune in my key approaches.

The Zumwart Prairie rolls out --
a vast and deeply incised basalt tableland.    
It breathes in and out, broad, immense
and moist breaths. Patches of pale white violet
are the most fragrant little things. It awakens
my numbed sense of longing.

Blankets of northwest native yellow violets followed
by the then sweet blue violets.
Before that, the pale blue spring queens
from a tiny principality, 
where modesty prevails.

Along the Coyote Trail, that is where
I found the glacial lily, preceded by the harbinger
wave of grass widow, their lance leaves
accompanying satiny flowers of six pink petals.
Lastly, fields of
camas – a sea of it.

I hear a deer running across,
making crisp noises brushing against
bunchgrasses, prairie junegrass and oat grass.
A herd of them crossing the field
in the full moon.

Once a male fawn stood there,
shy, showing his new velvety antlers.
I sampled huckleberry and tiny sweet blackberry with him.

Last night, a total moon eclipse.
Earth casts its shadowy mantle
the naked Moon

I, clumsily
snuggle into their

The tulip opens wide --
bending outward
welcoming you.
Soon I would shed my petals
one after another.
All five.
What else can I do for you?
The tulip asks.
Like a broken conch shell
I allow you to see
my inner construction.

My tombstone says my name,
Thunder Rolling Down the Mountains.


Stella Jeng Guillory lives in Vancouver, WA. Her poetry has appeared in Bamboo Ridge: The Hawaii Writers' Quarterly (Summer 1990); Sister Stew: Fiction and Poetry by Women (1991); La'ila'i (1994); VoiceCatcher, the Winter Issue, 2013 & the Summer Issue, 2015; Just Now, 20 New Portland Poets; and America the National Catholic Weekly (Dec 2, 2013 & March 2, 2015.)