American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center

American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center

Time is a Parlor Trick and Other Poems By Doyle D. Turner; Number Three - Native Writers Chapbook Series II [a machine-readable transcription]


Nightfall Book Cover

Figure 1. "Time is a Parlor Trick and Other Poems book cover"

Copyright 2007 Doyle D. Turner, All Rights Reserved

Published by

Sequoyah Research Center
301A Ottenheimer Library
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
2801 S. University Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas 72204

Doyle D. Turner teaches writing to adjudicated youth at Northwest Minnesota Juvenile Center in Bemidji, Minnesota. He is an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe, Mississippi band. Doyle earned his bachelor's degrees from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1990 & 1993, where he was a member of the editorial board for the poetry publication Red Weather. Doyle earned an M.S. in English Education from Bemidji State University, where he was recognized in the spring of 1998 as the William D. Elliot Creative Writing Scholarship recipient for his manuscript of poetry. He has previously had work selected for publication in What Matters; Selections from 30 years of Literary Magazines at Moorhead State, the 2002 Voices for the Land II; Minnesotans writing about the places they love, Smoke, a collection of poetry published in Liverpool, England, and Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone, an anthology of contemporary Ojibwe poetry. Doyle has also written and performed songs on the CD "Waiting on Sundown" with his wife, son, brother, and father. Doyle lives in Bemidji, Minnesota with his wife Molly and their two children Tony and Sophia.

Cover Art by the Author

The Native Writers Chapbook Series II is published by the Sequoyah Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Chapbooks are published simultaneously in hard copy and in digital format in the Tribal Writers Digital Library on the Center's website, Native writers without substantial previous publications who wish to submit their work should contact the editor by email at


Table of Contents

Frame of Reference

Look through your frame
on the wall
over my right shoulder
as I sit at my desk
paying bills,
reading papers,
living a life-
time away from you.
Your eyes crinkle
into the smile
they said had frozen on to your face
after days spent below zero, cutting pulp.
You load timber in my dreams,
pile giant logs on runner sleds
with winter teams of steaming wet horses
pulling into the traces,
to make a living.

You wear a red-hooded sweatshirt
for hunting,
back before blaze orange,
wearing blue jeans you called “overalls”
through grasping brush thickets,
driving deer to us,
worn in shadowed and mossy popple stands,
on your way to some lost leech lake,
now only a place in my memory
the way to which I’ve forgotten.

Your hands are scarred and worn,
raccoon bites, reaching into hollow logs,
grabbing deep under new ice
to guide giant walleyes gracefully up the hole,
murmuring a charm to
a gray owl held by one leg in your trap,
it watched you unblinking
as your hands released the jaws
and freed a tufted and feathered leg
a gentle calmness in its eyes.

Your eyes are ancient,
looking through the frame.
It could be centuries since
all these memories
actually took place.

But you are still here in my voice,
the shape of my hands
traced from yours.
My breathing is your
And it is solace
having you
looking over my shoulder.

First Flight

Speckled partridges alighting in
our white,
Feeding as we rise,
they ruffle and
fluff their wings in the sunrise,
shaking off
our inhibitions.
Their heads cock,
and turn,
eyeing our hesitations.

Would they drum in front of us
who are Waxen and Warned?
Anchored dust
to dust to

Earth-bound flight.

New Title

A tractor is turning over
the land
like long ago
when the land was turned
over by Gitchi Manidoo,
the blood of the
turned the stone
a polished maroon.
Blood of a clean
slate now pipestone.
Transformation of all evil
and greed.

Noah’s ark turned over
and sunk
into a vein of stone.

Collective Memory

smoky stories
curled round the center pole
of time,
hardwired within
before birth,
animals standing out
like neon,
a billboard before a brush background
each electric bristle of fur
pin-point sharp.
You saw me,
glass-edged sight,
shard streams from your eyes
bathing my brain in boil.
Synapses snapping
a windy sheet
on the clothesline of memory.

Smiles pulled tight across the beams of their faces,
familiar as family footfalls on the stairs,
they find me stirring the smoke with my hands.

Breath billowing white
across the lake
story weight bending
ice like stop-motion waves
flooding the top of my mind.
You are out ahead
and behind,
will be wading out
on weak ice
for conabear beaver.
Have been skinning, stretching,
nailing for weeks
at a time.
Dark ice
groans to me
as I sneak across the drifts,
a smudged face
whittling stories from a blackened stick.
Ashes drifting down like snow.

Waiting For Fish

It seemed like a moment of sun,
interrupted by water
so perfect in the afternoon sun
alive to a promise of spring,
dead reeds along its banks.

flowing, washing away the
ice of another winter
feeding the culvert we stood upon.
Telling stories of old Indian
men, our relatives,
pushing out logs from the river’s edge,
standing on the ends like
Ajijaak, spearing fish on springtime
days during the northern spawn.

Fish longer
than your arms could spread wide,
as long as this much, not so long ago.
Stories, stealing enough truth to test
your willingness to believe.
Ripples of fish
crossing the river
up stream.
Fins as big as your hands
waving to you from the boggy banks
sneak up as they splash
watch where your shadow falls
still. We saw small fat northerns glide in
and out of the culvert.

Father and son watched as the truck idled,
a reminder of watery time passing through
our lives, the culverts.
Our hands missing the
half-wet handle
of our spring spears.

Wet Conquerors

We pummel your roof,
We drench your hair,
We band together and form rivulets down the sides of your nose.
We are a squadron of tri-atomic bullets,
strafing the grass, the blacktop, your car’s paint.
We kick start our gravity-inspired droplet shapes and ride.
We bomb the hills of jet streams
and raft rivers of hot and cold air,
shrieking as we pierce clouds and mist.
We are caressed by moist air,
loving velocity,
We attack the sand coating of your shingles
We flatten upon impact and puddle,
soaking and saturating,
tediously waiting,
ecstatic evaporation.

We are as patient as the line leading to a roller coaster
where hyperactive kids
placidly pass the hours,
rush junkies awaiting their next hit,
we wait
for the next ride.

We take our next erosion run
sure of our purpose
to wear you out.

We are patient.
We wait.
We are immortal.
We wait.

We caress
all you can build.
We rub
along the stone,
We bump
each piece of steel.
We grind
down your civilized boulders to sand.

Look at the sky.
Watch our
conquering clouds.

A new attack.

Weather Permitting

I’ve been waiting on the waterline
of the puddled pavement,
my vision away from
the forge of low and high
pressure building
steam heads in on the horizon
patterned after the stratospheres
or not you decide
a storm
a star
a blue washed out and through
the fall of ice particles
like a sinister winter sky,
shrill in its demanding
not to be seen as


Sneaking down gravel
inclines winding
through shadows
bobbing flashlights
guides to brushy pathways
in the dark,
adolescent boys
wielding long-handled
checking every bend
and overhang of
spring’s infancy.

            soirees in the shallows
            and adolescent adventure
in a mist
of memory.

Who will walk through the culvert
where sly suckers
sit in the current?
Don’t let them pick me -
electricity in our chests
galvanized ribs
long black passages
a rite of the unknown
liquid fear
running past
your ankles.

The smallest one
always went first.
Spears, flashlights,
and set faces formed a ring
around the
entrance, a rear guard
to prevent your
You moved forward
just past your fear
of appearing weak
outweighing your fear of
what lay inside
you walked a slimy gauntlet
between child and
cold fish noses bumping your legs
while everyone
rushed above you
to get to the other side
to see what you would push out,
or if you’d make it,
each glad
once again
to have found another

Laid Out

beyond the range of my sight,
sure-footed steps
wrought into rock.
Laid out
for me
a hundred and fifty firelight years ago.

Lying to us
by sobering up
every so often,
softening our doubts
on the rocks and gravel
in your voice.
We’ve laid it out to you
as plain as you’ve been laid out
for us.

Ladling soup
into styrofoam potluck tribute,
the stories start.
Your years of yearning and yielding
laid out in front of us
in the hardness drawn up on your skin.
We tap the well of stories,
your wit
as if you could capture the wildness somehow,
turn the trade
to yourself.
Our stories braiding
and twisting our line
to you.

Killing It

Red Chevy pickup
a talon along your back
in the mouse field
where we trapped
furry feet
fresh from loamy
gopher slag
we fought you
star                                                  ting
        stop                           ping

13 years are tenuous ticking tools
put to your
learning not to mourn
when you died.


He holds the baby
against his shoulder
in a blue blanket
lighter than the sky,
in the moon-light
of October.

Breath-fog mingling
as the ceremonial drum beats
into the soaring voices.

Firelight reflects in
both of their eyes
searching the old dances
for the old beat
tying them all by blood.

He paces his hopes
baby’s cries
along the shadows
fringing territories
and mysteries
while night dancers
painted and feathered,
fly transport for
old to new
to now


Casting Off

I drifted home
rolling and skipping
one loosely-tied thought to another,
half-hitched trolling.

Remembered myself through the door
and walked in on a story
already half-gone.
Facing the wind,
your eyes squinted a distant truth.
Waves of story
holding our collective breath
in the back of our throats.
It wasn’t some faded lure this story had cast
that pinned us all like clouds to the sky,
but instead the car-crash fascination
that causes you to slow down
and show your white movie-screen face
through the glass.
We all wondered if your story would wreck,
if you’d drop it in the depths,
use it to bait bigger tales.

We watched you hook us
to the gentle lap of laughter.

I stole a line or two before
my mind knotted me
to the next thought,
lashing me to the mast.

Fall Driving

sway-backed ridges
golden from wind-showered leaves.
Hundreds of elk, nose to rump
nudging one another,
steal along the edge of the ridge.

Snuffling elk
offer their skins to the
oak coal rays.

And once again they are left
with the sun
dipped below the arc of our hearts
and the buds
are found and eaten
thick with a fuzzy

The elk on the once-golden hillside
chew the last
fingers of light

Elk swallowing a good
tuft of contentedness.
Ambling forward
letting the last
warmth and pattern fall
upon their shoulders.

Second Surgery

If you left
and dreamt yourself
to heaven,
slid your soul
through the wisps of clouds
in a rush of fantasy
and life,
I would burn
your face to memory,
imprinting the outlines of
as you left
for good.

Wondering what you said to me
when you held me on your
t-shirted stomach in
that black and white.
If you spoke to me
like you did
just before you left.

Would you come back
when we sang our grief
songs of who
you are
and cease to be?

Would you stop
on your way out
as I wait through
your second surgery?

Daily Rediscovery

There is a time in between,
just before we whirl ourselves into
the wide world waiting
with a maw to consume time.
We talk.
We study the gleam of an eye,
a slow column of incense
unwinding from a burner.
The bedroom door is closed.
The entire world,
that mythical monster,
outside the door.
A step or two either way,
and we’re back asleep,
or gone into the world.
Here is the center

of the storm

of our lives,

of ourselves.

I will stay here and study the latticework of color
in your eyes,
seeking our future
like a crystal ball

A wave of my hand
across your cheek,
a caress,
and the clouds clear,
seeing what the future holds
for you and me.

A blink of an eye and the clarity
ripples and dissipates,
the merest sound wave
a tsunami,
a creak of a bed
a groggy, “Momma?”
or a footfall on
even the deepest of carpet
and synchronicity
has sunk deeper
beneath the opaque surface
of oily time
until tomorrow morning.

Snow Day

Looking out the classroom window
eyes squint
giving faces a weathered look
Mrs. Albertson in room #122
has been here before.
Every teacher in the district
reborn a meteorologist
wind chills,
snowfall totals,
barometer movement,
evaluations of the
superintendent’s wisdom
all flies through each school
building momentum
a snowball.

A juicy bit of gossip
look both ways before being whispered.

“All it’ll take is one bus in the ditch,
and the Supe will learn not to play
fast and loose with the weather
around here.”

“They’ve closed it down
in Fosston.”

“Wind looks like it’s picking up.
Won’t take much to cause white-out conditions
out there.”

Each contact is checked and rechecked
building and updating
a gossip weather model.
emails, quick hallway conversations
in shortand
Don’t let them hear. They’ll think
it’s the official word.

One whiff of this and they’ll be all but unteachable.

“Irv says Rhonda’s building’s serving lunch early.”

“We never used to close school around here so quickly. Why, back when I started teaching…”

And now an insidious stillness
nothing left to say.
No new

And when the intercom crackles
it surprises no one,
only how the message is phrased

And for a moment we are all
twelve year olds
released from our obligations,
no longer needing to lean into the traces
of the educational process
obligations falling from our shoulders.

We are





drifting out of the school doors
Crystalline freedom
tasted on our tongues
in our eyelashes.

Hammer's Berry Farm

Opaque white ice cream buckets
of red fruit
symmetrical gold flecks
along their flesh
matching flecked green eyes
looking up from handing me
a flat
full of berries
our motion stopped
like a hiccup in time
a skip in the frame
three beats where eyes lock
a lifetime rushes by in
tick tick tock

three beats of hesitation
between us
haunt me after all of these years
have filled hours with wondering
I had said something
our hearts had become acquainted
I had turned the wheel back.
Now each time I drive by
I see the shape of your face
rising to the surface of memory
in a shimmery

Would there be anything past
the tan of your willowy arm
the berry stain on your hand
the quick glance of white teeth?
Anything past
what passed
eye to eye
when all the world is in love with
even itself


Fire lights the tops of the trees
burning humid
air molecules swollen
from the attractive nature
of evaporation after rain.
For days now my dreams
have tossed sloppy in the
tractor-caressed mud ruts
like a kid’s dirty smile
rolled from one side of his lips
to the other
open eyes absorbed the drops
a reversal of tears.
The ground around me is full.

The shingles arched to catch it all
springing from the peak
like leaves springing
up on my roof,
playing among the patterned
let’s stay up here all night soaking
up the drop-
let’s throw our shoulders
peeled like winter-skinned oranges
backs open to the sky,
receiver dishes to wet messages,
encoded whispers in the collective pattern
of impact.


“What is description, after all,
but encoded desire?”
“Description” - Mark Doty

I, too, own a swamp
gaseous and rotting
a constant gurgle percolating

deep pots entangled
in vessel, sinew, and bone
an acid that could preserve

a man for decades.
A mirror for the seasons
sometimes it resembles

a lake, the feathery
fineness of the auburn
tamarack gathering wind.

There is something that
lives there, reaches for
my feet as I pass.

I roll down my window
finger the scent, a
candy lined up

along the path.
Passing this place
almost daily now

I can skip along
the surface, hit the
hollowed pit

of a wave, the gate
pressing sound from my ears
bubbled yells would only

burp like any other
escaping gas. Silt like
china, breakable with a

wave of the hand
now holding your shoulders
“No one will know. No

one will find you.” No
terror, only a sediment
settling sure in your


Upon Your Leaving

Emptying maple sap into cast iron
boiling down to syrup,
an old-time sugar bush
from ancestral time.

Tapping trees
tapping the core,
waiting for the kindness
of the maple grove
to drip into our buckets.

Crows on the ice
tell us when
to tap the trees.

Boil out
what we find inside,
forty gallons of boil
to one gallon of syrup,
minutes of rolling, mixing
hours of steam and roil.

There are no crows
for our hearts.
Left to rely on the leaving,
boiling out
what we find inside.

we dip
through the steam
into the kettle,

Finding the bottom is sweet.

The Filling Station Treatment

“Warmer weather’s movin in,”
but by the time you mention
that you’ve driven through
soggy flakes
of late spring cold,
hypnotizing and
mesmerizing you
like railroad cars
numbering by
at the crossing
of a misplaced
small town,
he’s already
run his eyes
across your wife through
the sky-tinted windows
and he’s off
to check the oil.

When you ask,
“Where are the restrooms?”
he hesitates and squints at you
as if you are the one
who has been leaving the toilet plugged
for the past 16 years.

And as you pay
$2.55 for two cans of pop,
he’s looking past you
at the prairie clouds
rolling in
like another high-tide,
probably thinking about
the cars it will blow
through town,
through his station,
coming again to
leave him behind.


“A love sundae in summer
has dribbled down my hand
melting away from me.”

and he pokes his face to the window again
unfortunately, at eye level.

“Tears like old rain leaking from a gutter
have flooded the wrinkled drainfield of her face,
sumping a heartache.”

He’s pressed small snot prints to the window.
Dropping my pen, I give him the finger.

“Ripsaw screech sways through the air
sounding that love animal dying.”

“Get down! Get away from there!”
His face draws a furry smile
Tail twitching, a graceful “S,”
he yowls his one desire.

“…debilitates like a degenerative mental
illness. Obsession eats its own hunger

“let me in!”

I get up to let him in.

Time is a Parlor Trick

Time is only
the wave of the hand over a
watery watch sinking
under the surface,
dissolving deeper.

One blink and we are enmeshed,
your heart a rhythm for my breath.
A sweep of a second hand
and you are a Jupiter
and I am searching your atmosphere
for a safe entry point.

One tick and the sun
fills a picnic meadow
our voices stirring the wind.
There aren’t enough words
to close the gap
between our cloudy days.

Following the incessant “tick”
echoed down dark and deep.
My heart can cipher the difference
between quartz precision
and the pull of my blood toward your veins
between the insistence of school bells in the hallway
and the ring
at the edge of my hearing
telling me you are near.

No matter which is longer,
my mortal mind
can sense the current
of timelessness,
which fires our synapses
in a common flash,
flows through our veins with a single push
from a sharecropped heart.

Passing Over

There are two footbridges
crossing bogs
in my grandfather’s time.
The beat of his voice
flowing over those years
solid in his memory.

They’d spear fish off the first,
fish with line off the second.
Shoot big northerns that shook the reeds
near shore
when they could afford the shells.
Jokes in Ojibwe
in a time of tangled English.
Water still lapping at poles
sunk solid
and deep into the muck.
He gives directions as if they,
the bridges,
are still there.
“Just past the first footbridge . . .”

Telling northerns
bigger than any memory
duck blinds sinking slow
with a watery weight of years.
Somehow it is always just beyond those bridges
walking over them to get to
a time and place beyond
where I can go.
The transient nature of two footbridges
he has been beyond
He is so much older than
any memory where I can go.
Looking out over the bare poles
sticking above the waterline
like a gateway,
wondering what bridges
I will take with me.


The Ho-Chunk Nation
has provided generous support for the publication
of the Native Writers Chapbook Series II.

Author: Turner, Doyle B.
© American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center