Jonathan Radocay is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and a PhD candidate in English, with a Designated Emphasis in Native American Studies, at the University of California, Davis. He is currently working on a dissertation about Cherokee environmental and geographic stories.
The beginning stanzas of Winnemem Wintu journalist and poet Alfred C. Gillis’s “To the Wenem Mame River” have many of the conventional features of a romantic lyric. A solitary, wandering speaker walks along the banks of a river and lyricizes the natural landscape around her. The speaker hears the “river’s roar” and watches “[its] raging waters plunge and sleep.” She surveys the land’s “ancient mountains” as they rise and “point their columns to the skies” (“To the Wenem Mame River”). In its conventionality, “To the Wenem Mame River” resembles many other lyric poems about rivers and certainly draws on a long Anglo-American tradition of river odes.