Denise Low






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Denise LowDenise (Dotson) Low
, Ph.D., is chair of the English Department at Haskell Indian Nations University, where she also teaches creative writing and American Indian Studies courses.

Her book, Words of a Prairie Alchemist, a collection of essays, was published by Ice Cube Press (2006).  A poem collection, Thailand Journal, was named a notable book of 2003 by the Kansas City Star, and her book, New & Selected Poems, 1980-1999, was published by Penthe Press.  She also edited Wakarusa Wetlands in Word & Image for the Lawrence Arts Center’s Imagination & Place Committee (2005).

Low was guest co-editor of Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, a special issue of American Indian Culture and Research Journal, UCLA, 28.1 (2004). Her articles, essays, and reviews of American Indian literature appear in Studies in American Indian Literature, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Indian Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, Kansas City Star, and others.

She is a 5th generation Kansan of mixed German, Scots, Lenape (Delaware), English, French, and Cherokee heritage. She is a member of the Prairie Writers Circle of The Land Institute.


Kene:  Bald Eagle

    For Buddy Weso

   “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” 
                                                Horatio (Hamlet)

My grandmother said we travel to stars

when we die.  This dawn a bonfire hisses

blue flames against banked snow

guiding Uncle’s journey from life

into unknown sky.  Clouds obscure

heaven’s embers.  Around us white pines

collect tears from the driving wind.


Across the Wolf River a faint cry

and someone says “kene” just as softly

so I barely pick out both the bird’s sound

and the spoken Algonquin word

from the burning, breaking splinters

and explosion of popping orange sparks—

familiar fireplace sounds I recognize—


but just as quickly I doubt soft voices

until again, in full daylight, the sound “kene.”

Originally published in Connecticut Review


Two Gates

I look through glass and see a young woman

of about twenty, washing dishes, and the window

turns into a painting.  She is myself thirty years ago. 

She holds the same blue bowls and brass teapot

I still own.  I see her outline against lamplight,

but she knows only her side of the pane. The porch

where I stand looks empty.  Sunlight fades. I hear

water run in the sink and she lowers her head,

blind to the future.  She does not imagine I exist.


I step forward for a better look and she dissolves

into lumber and paint.  A gate I passed through

to the next life loses shape, and once more I stand

squared into the present, among mango trees

and scissor-tailed birds, in a Thai garden, almost

a mother to that faint, distant woman.


From A Thailand Journal





All poetry on this page
© by
Denise Low, 2006 

Mornings I Never Leave You


Mornings a misted road opens

its slow arc through floodplain.

The Wakarusa River tosses

somewhere south in the midst

of willows and osage orange.

To the east, Blue Mound rests

from its slow erosion as air

filters over it.  The sun illumines

each hill, each piece of stone.


These mornings I rise from bed

and leave the solid shape of your back.

I leave the warm skin you fold

over me against cold

and the blotting of night.

Sun consumes the tail-end

of darkness.  I leave your eyes

and drive into small changes—


grackles ornamenting a tree,

grass winnowing the wind.

White dew sifts back into sky.

Traced by distant branches

the Wakarusa,

a small river I never see,

loops through wet silt,

holding Earth in place. 

Originally published in Helicon 9 Anthology



American Robin

      Nothing would give up life:

         Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

                                               Theodore Roethke


Cold sun brings this mourning season to an end—

year of my mother’s death.  Last winter thaw

my brother shoveled clay-dirt, she called it gumbo,

over what the crematorium sent back—not her,


but fine powdery substance, lightened, all else

rendered into invisible elements.  That handful

of a pouch, un-boxed, was tucked into plotted soil,

the churchyard columbarium, a brass plaque the only


permanence, and brick retaining wall.  So finally

my mother is a garden, day lilies and chrysanthemums

feeding from that slight, dampened, decomposing ash.

Her voice stilled.  One ruddy robin in the grass, dipping.


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