Red Willow People by Devreaux Baker is a book of poems like textiles, filled with equal parts color and texture—some bright and abrasive, others muted and familiar, soft to experience. The language calls to mind dry desert legends, horizons of sand and sagebrush and all the while “around your throat, a necklace of silverfish, dreaming.” It is easy to trust that here people indeed emerged from a hole in the earth with ancient turquoise spirits; to think that the world had been any different would ruin the fond exploration these poems offer. Morning is patient and will wait for you while you wander, the light is forgiving and playful, the water will hold you with tender honesty—you are welcome here.
Yet, you must also accept sorrow. There are moments in these poems that are too sacred to approach otherwise, like “dirty boots at the edge of despair.” Rather than abandoning grief somewhere between folklore and “where the ground falls into her deep prayer” the poems in Red Willow People reminds us that we will all heal eventually.
Though there is death here, and sadness, and even bitter regret, there is also the other side of air, where “trees wear their weight of silence in so much green and in so much red and yellow” and still stand, old and proud; where eyes are a dark opening in the earth and yet somehow never empty; where you can “go so far into the back-side of her mind” and accept that you might never come back.