Shamanism 101

By Dean Young b. 1955 Dean Young
Like everyone, I wanted my animal   
to be the hawk.

I thought I wanted the strength   
to eat the eyes first then tear   
into the fuse box of the chest   
and soar away.

I needed help because I still
cowered under the shadow of my father,   
a man who inspected picture tubes   
five out of seven nights,

who woke to breakfast on burnt roast   
except the two weeks he’d sleep   
on a Jersey beach and throw me   
into the gasoline-sheened waves.   
I loved him dying indebted
not knowing to what,

thinking his pension would be enough,   
released not knowing from what,   
gumming at something I was afraid   
to get close enough to hear, afraid   
of what I was co-signing. So maybe
the elephant. The elephant knows
when one of its own is suffering
up to six miles away. Charges across   
the desert cognizant of the futility.
How can I be forgiven when I don’t know   
what I need forgiving for? Sometimes

the urges are too extreme: to slap
on the brakes and scream, to bite the haunch   
of some passing perfume, so maybe my animal   
is the tiger. Or shark.

Or centipede.

But I know I’m smaller than that,   
filling notebooks with clumsy versions   
of one plaint, one pheromonal call,

clamoring over a crumb that I think   
is the world, baffled by the splotch   
of one of my own crushed kind,
almost sweet, a sort of tar,
following a trail of one or two molecules,

leaving a trail
of one or two molecules.

Dean Young, “Shamanism 101” from Skid. Copyright © 2002 by Dean Young. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press,

Source: Skid (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002)

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Poet Dean Young b. 1955

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Animals, Relationships, Nature, Family & Ancestors, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Dean  Young


Poet Dean Young was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and received his MFA from Indiana University. Recognized as one of the most energetic, influential poets writing today, his numerous collections of poetry include Strike Anywhere (1995), winner of the Colorado Prize for Poetry; Skid (2002), finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Elegy on Toy Piano (2005), finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Primitive Mentor (2008), . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Animals, Relationships, Nature, Family & Ancestors, Mythology & Folklore

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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