Crossing the Plateau

by Ivan BrownOtter



Purchase on Amazon

76 pages, May 2013
Published by Penciled In
Designed by Benjamin Daniel Lawless

In this humorous and profoundly moving book of memoir poetry, meet the people of the Navajo reservation — teachers and students alike. BrownOtter survives job interviews, gets mistaken for Christopher Lloyd and uncovers his place in a natural yet mythical universe.

Indian Time

“You are a day and five hours late
for this interview” said the superintendent
at the Navajo school “How come?”

I looked at him and took a breath
as if to say Well shit, Mr Superintendent
There are no street signs
How did you expect me to find the place
I’m not Superman
Global positioning hasn’t arrived yet

Sandy roads curve in and out of rainbow clouds
circle back through red rock canyons
I can’t tell an Indian road from a sandstone pathway

I ended up in Lukachukai then Chilchinbeto
without knowing how I got there
I slept out in the middle of nowhere
under a gallery of glacial-blue stars

But I didn’t say it out loud
Instead I said “I’m from Phoenix
You can’t get here from there”

The superintendent laughed
“You’re right about that
Several people applied for this position
but you’re the only one who showed-up
You’re our new English teacher
Looks like you’re already on Indian time”

Opening Their Journals at the Navajo School

A ghostly gray cloud slowly swallows the sky
Cool air rushes in
fresh with the scent of juniper soil

Suddenly the classroom explodes with light
The brazen crash ... a lightning strike
Zigzags of fire hiss like snakes
Ozone’s sour tongue licks the air
The roar of a freight train
comes barreling straight down

Kids rush to the windows
Glowing marbles pour out of the sky
bouncing big as hominy corn
rumble the canyon like kettle drums
and paint a path of summer white
out across the plateau

With my ears still ringing
I whisper to the class
“Take out your journals
It’s time to write”

Some stay at the windows
Others sit on the floor
opening their journals
to the storm


Ivan BrownOtter writes from experience, bringing the beauty and mystery of the Navajo Reservation to us. Whether he’s inside a lightning storm in a Navajo classroom or walking the mesa by moonlight, the experience is ours.
— Rosemary Wilvert, 2007 Poet Laureate, San Luis Obispo, CA

Ivan explores the intuitive relationship between us, Native Americans and nature. Forget about punctuation and ride that mythical seam separating us from Nature and other creatures.
— Jerry Douglas Smith, Poet Laureate 2013, San Luis Obispo, CA

Journey with Ivan through a blundering job interview on the Navajo Reservation. Enjoy a moonlight canyon walk or a run with the spirit of deer people. Ivan poetry is refreshingly simple, vibrant and candidly transparent.
— Alma Hernandez Wilson, Grant Writer, GUSD, Guadalupe, CA

Fresh as a spring wind, clear as desert dawn, open as the night sky: Ivan BrownOtter’s poetry describes a world of remarkable beauty. You will come away feeling calmer, steadier, and wiser.
— Ken Solomon, Dept Head, Agricultural Engineering, Cal Poly SLO

Ivan’s poetry invites us to listen with simplicity and humor. It welcomes us to the heart, to the earth, and to our humanity, oftentimes filling us with serenity as we connect our physical and spiritual worlds.
— Samuel H. Duarte, Poet and Author of Carnalval, Santa Maria, CA

I first realized Ivan’s wit after I heard his poem about being mistaken for Christopher Lloyd. He’s a dead-ringer. Ivan writes with humor and passion. He is not a twist-the-words poet until you don’t even know the meaning.
— Laura, Big Sur Firefighter, Mother of new born Charlee, owner of Jake

Ivan takes us into the world of teaching children, hiking Navajo canyons and laughing at himself. The poems explore the mystical reality of our lives, others point us toward the moon. There is great joy here and wisdom.
— Mike Heller, Professor of English, Roanoke College

Ivan BrownOtter exemplifies the power of writing from the heart. His poems will touch you as he ponders his physical and spiritual realms on the high mesas of Navajoland.
— Lynn Nelson, Professor of English, Arizona State Univ. (Emeritus)

The voice of Ivan BrownOtter couldn’t be more perfect for delivering the Native American wisdom he has gleaned from teaching in a Navaho school and from marinating in the culture. His vision is clear, his wry humor a gift.
— Jane Elsdon, San Luis Obispo Poet Laureate 2005

Ivan leads us to where dreams and reality flow together in brilliant images of an introspective spirit world. Stripped of the white culture the poet enters the deepest silence of the Navajo Way and we go with him. Wonderful.
— Anne Candelaria, Poet Laureate 2002, San Luis Obispo, CA

Ivan tells us to write from the heart. These poems are right from the heart, his heart. Through his eyes we experience Mother Nature and native American culture up close and personal. Thanks for these heartfelt stories.
— Janejane

Had Hillerman chosen reservation school teachers rather than police officers as heroes for his novels, the stories of their lives, culture and struggles of Indian peoples no doubt would have followed Ivan BrownOtter’s path.
— Ed Musolff, MBHS teacher and Cuesta CC Basketball Coach (Retired)

The dreams, the beauty, the history, the connections among all beings of our world—these are in Ivan’s book. Thank you for your thoughts on paper!
— Vera Wallen, Retired Superintendent of Schools

Other books by Ivan BrownOtter