[featured in the bookclub Poetry Special]
In fluid, believable dialect, Buffalo Dance channels the voice of York, the slave who accompanied Captain William Clark on the Lewis and Clark expedition—and it’s a voice of dignity, clear-headedness, and intelligence. The final lines of the first poem in the collection, “Wind Talker,” give the reader an immediate idea of the character and wisdom of its narrator. Standing on a bluff and beholding the Pacific Ocean for the first time, York tells us, “then I close my eyes an pray / that I don’t live long enough / to see Massa make this ugly too.” The narrative then retraces the journey that brought York to this point from Louisville, including his interactions with and perceptions of the many Native Americans the expedition encounters along the way. York feels a kinship with them, and their respect for his dark skin and impressive stature give him a new sense of himself. But the return to “civilization” is a return to harsh reality for York—a long-neglected figure whose story, in the poet’s hands, embodies the evils and dangerous contradictions of 19th-century America.
Blurbs from the book jacket
Card catalog entry from the Library of Congress
Amazon.com information page
Barnes and Noble information page
Perspectives on York:
Also on our shelves:
Frank X Walker’s Affrilachia was our April 2001 selection. He is also one of the writers featured in our special tribute to James Still.