Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In one of her most frequently anthologized pieces, the “Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races” (from her first collection, Emplumada, 1981), Cervantes says, “Every day I am deluged with reminders/ that this is not/ my land,” and then ripostes, “and this is my land.” “Flatirons” is designed as an explanation of just how the land belongs to the communities whose heritage and residence there stretches back across historical epochs—the “Ute and Arapaho,” who are the dedicatees of the poem, and others whose experiences there are the substance from which Cervantes has fashioned the vivid images that invest the mountains with a complex personality.

Cervantes is trying to diminish the conventional European-American separation of humans from their surroundings and to introduce to the reader unfamiliar with this concept a different kind of understanding, another method for seeing and knowing. Although some of her images, such as the evocative “dripping pursuance of thawing babies,” may tend to resist an immediate comprehension, the clustering of these images contributes to the development of an alternate reality in which human vision has been expanded to include the possibility of a life-spirit inhabiting nonhuman elements of the world.

The specifically capitalized “Ghost Dances” near the center of the poem functions as a register of...

(The entire section is 503 words.)