Online Poems

for Craig White's Literature Courses


The Cry




Peter Blue Cloud




thanks to


Born Peter Williams to the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk (Iroquois) nation on the Caughnawaga Reserve in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, near the St. Lawrence River, in the 1930s , he originally spoke only the Mohawk language before learning English and French in grammar school on the Reserve and in Buffalo, New York. His grandfather, a schoolteacher at Kahanwake, taught him both the plays of Shakespeare and the tales of the Haudenosaunee / Iroquois.


For much of his life Peter traveled and worked (as carpenter, logger, ironworker, and woodcarver) in the American West. in his mid-twenties Paiute elders gave him the name Aroniawenrate, translated as "Stepping across the Blue Sky" or "Climbing Up toward the Blue Sky," leading to his renaming as Peter Blue Cloud, though he also wrote under the pen-names Coyote 2, Owl's Child, Turtle's Son, and Kaienwaktatsie. Living in northern California in the 1950s exposed him to the Beat poetry and folk music movements, and in the 1960s and 70s he participated in and wrote about the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.


Among his publications of poetry, fiction, and dramar are Turtle, Bear and Wolf (1976), Back Then Tomorrow (1978). White Corn Sister (a play for voices), The Paranoid Foothills (1981), Elderberry Flute Song: Contemporary Coyote Tales (1982),  Sketches in Winter, with Crows (1984), and The Other Side of Nowhere: Contemporary Coyote Tales (1990), and Clans of Many Nations: Selected Poems, 1969-1994 (1995). (Along with rabbits, coyotes and crows are archetypal American Indian trickster figures.)


Later in life Blue Cloud returned to Mohawk territory, where he wrote and edited for Akwesasne Notes, Coyote's Journal, Indian Magazine, and other regional and tribal publications.


(Sources: &



Instructor's questions: 1. How does this poem resemble the Creation or Origin Stories in the American Indian Creation Stories?

How does this origin story differ from Western Culture's Origin Stories of Genesis and Evolution?

How does the poem represent a distinctly American Indian story, possibly of loss and survival?

How does the poem indicate a minority identity or voice?

How does "The Cry" work as a lyric poem? What uses of imagery, metaphor, symbols, sound, and other literary devices?

The Cry

It was all darkness and always had been.
There was nothing there forever.
Creation was a tiny seed
awaiting a dream.
The dream came to be                                        5
because of the cry.
A howling cry which was
an echo in the emptiness of nothing.
The cry was very lonely and
caused the dream to                                           10
turn over in its sleep.
The dream did not want to awaken,
but the crying would not stop.
Well, thought the dream, opening its mind,
so now I am awake and there is something.       15
The dream floated above itself
and looked into its mind.
It wanted to see what the cry was.
What it saw was a dream
within its own dreaming.                                      20   [paradox]
And that other dream was Creation.
And Creation was the cry
seeking to begin something,
but it didn't know what,
and that is why it cried.                                        25
So the original dream lifted
the Creation dream from its mind
and set it free.
Then it went to the other end of nothing
and let itself go back                                            30
to dreamless sleep.
Creation floated all over the nothing,
dreaming of all the things it would do.
Its dreaming was interrupted
often by crying.                                                    35
So, it wasn't me crying after all,
Creation thought.
Then it thought again,
but it is me because I dreamed it.
So, I have begun Creation with a cry.                  40
When I begin to create the universe,
I must remember to give the cry
a very special place.
I'll call the cry                                                        45
Coyote.                                         [allusion: coyote is a traditional American Indian trickster figure often associated with origin stories.]

From Peter Blue Cloud, Back Then Tomorrow, Blackberry, 1978; winner (1981) of an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

Peter Blue Cloud (1935-2011) was a member of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, a community straddling the US-Canadian border at the St. Lawrence River.