bsu | cal | department of english | carolann russell-schlemper | silver dollar
Bemidji State University
Silver Dollar

College of Arts and Letters
Department of English
Rivers Meeting: Literary Magazine


Silver Dollar

West End Press, New Mexico
ISBN 0 - 931122 - 81 - 3

I look toward your new book, grandmother, and send greetings. Your silver dollar, your mark of love always warming on the Earth... [are] credit the book leaves in greeting.
---Meridel Le Sueur

CarolAnn Russell knows the North Country, and her poetry shows it. More than that: it is alive with the idiom of the land, with the emotions of a writer who is committed to this world. There are no posturings in Russell's poetry. She knows what she is up against: the thankless task of rendering into words the essence of what we are.
---Jim Barnes, author of The Sawdust War, 1992

These poems are expansive, inclusive. They are poems of an open heart, a heart which refuses to close ­ a defiant act in this country, in these times.
---Jim Daniels, author of M-80, 1993

CarolAnnRussell's Silver Dollar is a very American book. She faces America's beauty and humor, its bumbling politics, and the cruelty of its injustices with wide open eyes. sometime angry, sometimes forgiving, but always honest.
---Alberta Turner, author of To Make A Poem, 1992

She proves that the act of seeing is always double: that which is there to see which we often miss; and that which is behind what we see, which inhabits and haunts and weighs on us, and makes a literal calling for the poet.
---Jack Myers, author of Blindsided, 1993


I used to trap honey bees for glory and science,
cradling the glass belly of a mason jar
next to my lung while the bees droned
golden songs of the condemned.
Their bodies were sunshine and fur
with tiny black holes
for legs and eyes to grow out of
disturbing the air like brush marks.

Silent, aware of my breathing,
I would sneak among apple blossoms
and buttery dandelions, the lid opening its silver jaw
to snap off buds until the bees fell,
little buzzing hearts into a bed of grass.

One by one the lights of afternoon went out
and the transparent world in my hands
pulsed with wings.
I let them go in Mama's strawberry patch,
my feet heavy with clods of dirt.
I'd turn the jar on its side
like a glowing womb
and watch the cloud of bees weaving
a human sound
before they broke free into the air.

Free Ride

It is snowing after Christmas in an American city
on the East Coast, where money is everything
lonely and I pick up an old black woman
waiting for the bus outside the post office.

We talk about her six children, eight grandchildren,
and husband who left when she was tired
and stayed away twenty years, during which
time he gave her a hundred fifty dollars

and then he died. She smiles at me
and says she likes to give away money,
a dollar thin as birdwing to a sister
to keep them both alive and going somewhere,

loose change to a brother with broken ribs
and a habit, saying she is no different.
At the Martin Luther King Jr. school
where concrete walls advertise opportunity

she is gone, walking the way children do
into the ice and snow, a free country,
a bright and tiny bird now flown from me,
a woman in a red hat whose darkness glows.

Who carries us in her empty arms
and keeps secrets for us all
in her black pocketbook
among the coins and dollar bills

healing the fist, opening
the hand, the true payroll.

Grand Entry

Tonight cars are breaking down
and people are walking to the powwow
and from where I stand at ground level
the dancers are spirits striding,
beaded flowers on black velvet,
a spiral of women in jingle dresses
unraveling rows of cone-shaped bells
pounded to silver from the lids of snuff cans,
young girls stepping high
beneath the silent fringe of shawls,
a whirl of boys in ribbon shirts
and men like ghosts
painted half black, half white
with red stripes and lightning bolts
on their cheeks, twin feathers touching
air above their heads,
bodies disappearing
into confusion camouflage,
impossible targets for the airmen
taking pictures, his shiny lens
a mirror in search of souls.

When the song is passed to Willie Strong
and the Red Lake High School Drum Group
and people gather round the singers like a picket,
boomboxes balanced on their shoulders,
Marvin Staples, holder of the world record
for miles walked backward picking up cans,
begins dancing backwards, leading the veterans,
his foxtail swinging counterclockwise,
singing the babies to sleep,
rocking the old women back in their chairs,
the sound coming out of the ground
lifting me up among the lights,
moving around, the real thing -
no Roy orbison or Johnny Cash -
carried outside brick walls under the stars
where the Indian kids hang out, long haired,
wearing jeans and mirrored sunglasses
and black leather jackets studded with nails -
to mix with tobacco and cigarette smoke.

I push the stroller with my baby son
up next to an old man in a wheelchair,
the pipe is raised to the four directions,
the standards are carried out
floating in waves over the hardwood floor -
the bars and stars in a bloody field,
the POW-MIA and hidden tears,
the tribal staff with eagle feathers,
and the flag of Red Lake Nation, its circle
of otter, eagle, turtle, bear, fish, Anishinabe
in the rectangular gym of Memorial Hall
built by the WPA from granite slabs
the color of pipestone, nothing
between us and the lake. Someone is talking
into the silver globe of the microphone
about the oldest person here, a hundred years,
and the man beside me begins to roll forward,
his silver wheels turning, face in profile
like the Indian on the nickel
who knows the eagle has finally escaped
from the back of the Liberty silver dollar
and for whom the drums are beating
like the hooves of a thousand deer.

© 1995 CarolAnn Russell
Silver Dollar, West End Press, New Mexico

E-Mail Me
Italian Poems
Poets of the Cimitero Acattolico
The Way to Villa D'Amore
Gypsy Taxi
Silver Dollar
The Red Envelope
Limited Editions


Without Reservation

The Tao of Woman

Professional Readings
Anthologies & Journals
National & International Presentations
Grants & Awards
Order a Book

Copyright © 2004 CarolAnn Russell-Schlemper
Questions and comments to or
Last Modified: November 16, 2007 12:29

Design by AM Lindahl