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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Cheribun: 305 words
MacQ’s first cheribun!
+ Poet’s Commentary: 363 words
By Margaret Dornaus

The Writer’s Cabin

For John Joseph Mathews
 

The last time I visited the tallgrass my mother and I went looking for buffalo, our car windows flung open to better hear and smell them. But this morning my sister and I are skirting the prairie’s collection of bluestem and bison in search of a man. Or, rather, for the ghost of a writer we both love and admire.

Past the preserve 

shifting gears for the ride 
up a long, dusty road 

the way there 
a red earth path to his 
version of Walden. 

In my mind’s eye I see him stretched out before the fire reading, writing; his cement floor covered with bearskin rugs and deer hides. His crossed boot-clad legs going on forever. “He cut a wide swath,” our guide notes.

That old post oak 

next to the well house 
he painted in ledger art—

see how the trumpet vine 
blankets the tree where bears 
scratched their backsides? 

Inside, we find his photograph propped up on the mantel. The words he chose to live by on his blackjack ridge (to hunt, to bathe, to play, to laugh) etched in Latin across the fireplace’s stone face.

Tucked in one corner of the living room, a taxidermist’s tableau—a prairie hen, her wings extended to shelter two offspring—settled on a makeshift table. And in the kitchen where his second wife roasted venison and bison, another fireplace. A stuffed bobcat resting on the cold hearthstone.

As we pass by the writer’s solitary grave on our way back to the car, a Carolina wren calls out. Come again, sweet heart, he seems to say. Come to me, come to me, he sings.

Sleeping porch 

how many nights must he have 
stayed awake 

talking to the moon 
in good times and bad 
as if she were his lover? 

 

 

Publisher’s Notes:

1. Oklahoma historian and novelist John Joseph Mathews (1895–1979) was among the most important spokespeople and writers of the Osage Nation. “His third book, Talking to the Moon (1945), written after living alone in the Osage Hills for ten years, is a classic nature study” (from his biography at the Oklahoma Historical Society:
https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=MA037
[link retrieved 2 December 2021]).

2. “The Writer’s Cabin” by Margaret Dornaus is the first cheribun (that is, the combination of prose and one or more cherita poems) to appear in MacQ. In fact, it seems to be the first published anywhere online. My Google searches for cheribun were fruitless, but I did find a handful of chaiga (i.e., the combination of cherita and visual artwork). Poet ai li, who founded the cherita form in 1997, coined the terms “chaiga” and “cheribun.” However, her journal The Cherita does not publish either of these hybrids.

Poet’s Commentary

After writing several kinds of short-form poems for a number of years, I discovered contemporary poet ai li’s six-line invention: the cherita. Its relative length seemed to allow more opportunity for telling a brief yet self-contained story than a standard three-line haiku might. I was excited to see where this new poetic form might take me.

That was four years ago—about the same time I received a magazine assignment to write a travel article on Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Born and raised in nearby Tulsa, I already was familiar with much of Pawhuska’s history, and I was eager to visit the Osage Nation and the surrounding tallgrass prairie again. When I learned that the Nature Conservancy had completed a renovation of Osage historian and writer John Joseph Mathew’s cabin, I couldn’t wait to see what else I might discover as my sister Sara and I set off for a weekend road trip to research my story.

Both Sara and I have long admired Mathews’ writing, particularly the brief collection of natural history observations he wrote from the cabin he built on an ancestral ridge overlooking the tallgrass. The seasonal meditations depicted in his masterpiece Talking to the Moon established Mathews’ career as an important writer. In fact, many readers consider him to be Oklahoma’s version of Thoreau. For us, visiting the cabin where he’d penned his short masterpiece was the equivalent of having backstage passes to our favorite rock star’s concert.

Reenter the cherita. On the drive back to Arkansas, I began writing dozens of cherita based on my Mathews’ pilgrimage. A happy ending, I thought, to my fan-based adventure. Once home, I wrote my newly hatched cherita down and put them away. Until now, when once again, I find myself in conversation with John Joseph. Those cherita (three of which I’ve included in “The Writer’s Cabin”) provided the foundation for my first attempt at writing a cheribun; many of them also provided the spine for the prose sections of my poem. But it’s Mathews who was my inspiration all along the way. I am so grateful for the chance to celebrate him here and now.

Margaret Dornaus
Issue 11, January 2022

holds an MFA in the translation of poetry from the University of Arkansas. A semi-finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 13th annual Narrative Poetry Contest, she had the privilege of editing and publishing a pandemic-themed anthology, Behind the Mask: Haiku in the Time of Covid-19, through her small literary press, Singing Moon, and received a Best of the Net nomination in 2020.

Her first book of poetry, Prayer for the Dead: Collected Haibun & Tanka Prose, received a 2017 Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America. Recent poems appear in The Ekphrastic Review, Lindenwood Review, MockingHeart Review, and Red Earth Review, as well as in the tribute series for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, I Am Still Waiting, published by Silver Birch Press.

 
 
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