The Light on the Tent Wall: A Bridging

$12.00 each

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This contemplative volume of poems, short stories and essays tracks the struggles and memories of Mary TallMountain.

Available in paperback only.  The Light on the Tent Wall: A Bridging, by Mary TallMountain, with illustrations by Claire Fejes.  1990, 96 pages.

This contemplative volume of poems, short stories and essays tracks the struggles and memories of Mary TallMountain.

TallMountain’s mother became desperately ill with tuberculosis when Tallmountain was a young child and gave her to a white doctor and his wife. This kind of tragedy followed the author throughout her life, and The Light on the Tent Wall is the story of her survival.

Her first challenge, being “adopted out” is the inspiration for the poem that gives the book its name. In The Light on the Tent Wall, TallMountain writes: “There was humming, / soft talk about the baby coming. / Women, mothers, warm by the / Yukon stove, visiting Mary Joe / and her child, I who lay unborn / in her cradle of light.”

TallMountain wrote “Going Home,” one of the book’s prose stories, about her battle with alcoholism. She writes: “Then I knew. It was evening, and I didn’t know where the day had gone. I made up my mind to quit drinking, cold turkey.”

But even as she tells stories of suffering that are very much her own, with her wit and humor, TallMountain connects expertly to the human experience.  Her poem “Marked Man” is an example of this dark, relatable humor: “Are these / Your Levi’s or mine / Lying wrinkled on the floor?” The poem continues: “I want freedom, you growled. / So if you must go into a cage, / Marked man, / Don’t let their thieving knives / Slash away the March-wind hair.”

Mary TallMountain sees herself as “a tot beside the mystical Yukon River—she who centered my mindset early, who colored the lives of all my Indian forebears, that river remote, stately, mischievous, illogical, and rowdy, whose beauty coils unforgettable in the seedbed of my mind.” TallMountain is nomadic: never living in one place or holding a job longer than two years. What is constant is her vovation, her “obligation” to observe and write, especially about Alaska Natives.

Publisher: University of California, Los Angeles
Culture Group: Koyukon