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A Prairie Chorus: The Sweet Return Of SdoSdoNa

Lois Red Elk shares a poem about meadowlarks—a bird she believes can sing in Lakota and Dakota
By Lois Red Elk | May 20, 2024


Meadowlarks are heralders of Spring, renewal and hope in the West. And they sing their words in a language that Red Elk understands. Photo courtesy Krista Lundren/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Hello readers, friends and all the wonderful people associated with Yellowstonian. I’m excited to contribute to this online writing adventure, and I hope this finds you well.

Here on my homelands I am called a senior citizen, an elder, and one of the long living. With all that, I’m often called on to share stories and poems. I stay busy in the community and in the schools, helping young people learn how to share the stories just as my elders taught them to me.

“To Come Back” is one of my favorite poems. The metaphor of the poem has been interpreted and shared by so many, and I’m always glad to hear how it affects readers. I don’t have a singular personal interpretation because it has many. I leave its meaning to you, as grasped through your own experience. 

In my culture our new year begins in the Spring and one of the first to herald the Spring is the SdoSdoNa or Meadowlark. His/her songs are many and ask us to enjoy what we see, feel, hear as the prairie erupts again in different expressions of life. Avians are true delights, and I know how much people in the higher meadows enjoy the sights and sounds of mountain bluebirds who are other harbingers.

I often include birds in my poems because they are the most vocal. In my culture, we believe the birds can speak Dakota and Lakota. When a person speaks another language there are many sounds that are different than English so our ear can be attuned to bird vocalization. Some of the meadowlark songs can be translated into my language. When this started, we believe, was during creation. I will leave this cultural belief here and maybe write more about this later.

In the meantime and to each of you, all the best. Discover your best self, and cherish the Springtime wherever it finds you.

To Come Back

by Lois Red Elk

If one chooses to look very carefully, after the

Intense inferno, after the smoke clears, there

among the embers and ash, one can watch the

arrival of a single blade of grass. One can see 

the careful pace of beetle legs revisiting new

life. Then one can hear the lone restored song

of the meadowlark, and inhale the fresh smell of

the homecoming rain. It is then, in the assembling

and mending that it will be safe to come back

to who you were meant to be. In that time.


  • Lois Red Elk

    Lois Red Elk-Reed is a poet who calls the high plains home. She is Yellowstonian's poet in residence. She lives on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. Red Elk is working on a new volume of poetry and other observations. The name of her column— inyan zi—means “yellow stone” in Lakota.

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