Through a Red Place

Rebecca Pelky

Rebecca Pelky’s story-in-poems assembles the author’s research into her Native and non-Native heritage in the land now known as Wisconsin. Through the poet’s ancestors—and documented through text and image—this book relates narratives of people who converged on and impacted this space in myriad ways. Written in English and Mohegan, Through a Red Place reshapes itself from page to page, asking what it means to navigate place as both colonizer and colonized. These poems seek the interior and exterior lives of beloved people and places, interacting with archives and visuals to illustrate that what is past continually interrupts and reinscribes itself upon the present. This collection embodies a refusal to go missing despite what’s buried, erased, or built over, much like the ancient mound now covered by an ammunition plant. An inventive collage of geography, history, myth, translation, lineage, erasure, journalism, and photography, Through a Red Place builds a map between distances and lost stories to unearth and honor the past.

Sonnet for the Mohegan Language

Without an adjective there is no blue
for bird or sky or water, which is not
to say a colorless world. See the hue
just there of a bird being red as it
builds a nest of twigs and bits of wire
(being gray or being rusty). There is room,
like Cricket laughing himself into fire,
for a bird to blacken sometime soon.
The nest as well, might find its niche
being small and happy while it waits
for eggs and then a family to stretch
the edge for love and size, to make it great.
The Mohegan world isn’t static, but flows
prismatic; each of us moves in rainbows.

 

Listen to “Learning Mohegan #1,” read by Rebecca Pelky:

Listen to “Acnestis 2,” read by Rebecca Pelky:

Listen to “Man Mounds,” read by Rebecca Pelky:

“Using maps, drawings, pedigree chart, photographs, news clippings, Indian school records, redacted source material from Andrew Jackson’s Message to Congress, and the wonderment of the English and Mohegan languages, Rebecca Pelky pieces together family history and the struggle for acknowledgement of heritage. ’Here I am. / … I am certain. / I am genuine. / I am willing.’ And I would add, ’I am writing.’ A competent, lyric/graphic claiming place.” —Diane Glancy, author of The Book of Bearings
“In Through a Red Place, Rebecca Pelky writes, ’Nutôcimohkawô ihtôqat’ (I am telling a story) and takes readers on a long drive across a span of land and daylight that is home to the red pine, peeping frogs, and mounds that mark all that we know both great and small. The fact that she has taken time to know the peepers as kopayáhsak is as important as the lesson she imparts by teaching readers that Eeyamquittoowauconnuck is Brothertown. Using both English and Mohegan, Pelky lingers over some of America’s most difficult histories, allowing events and documents to speak for themselves. She reminds all of us that although it may not always be easy, we should look more often into the mirror and say, wômôsum (love me) as we begin and end our days.” — Margaret Noodin, author of What the Chickadee Knows: Poems in Anishinaabemowin and English

Photo by Karen Pelky

Rebecca Pelky

Rebecca Pelky is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation of Wisconsin and a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She holds a PhD from the University of Missouri, an MFA from Northern Michigan University, and is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Clarkson University in Upstate New York. Through a Red Place is her second poetry collection; her first, Horizon of the Dog Woman, was published by Saint Julian Press in 2020. Visit her at rebeccapelky.com.

  • Rebecca Pelky was honored for the release of Through a Red Place in the publication North Country Now. Regarding her book, Pelky shared, “We don’t think of poetry as the product of rigorous research, but this collection is the result of long hours in the field and in archives. I hope aspects of the book will surprise people, but also that the questions it asks will be deeply relatable: who am I as the product of my ancestors? How do I fit into a specific place? I think those are questions many of us can identify with.”

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