—Bjöm Håkansson

The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak
      she burns like a piece of paper.
She burns like foxfire
in a thigh-shaped valley.
A skirt of flames
dances around her
at dusk.
          We stand with our hands
hanging at our sides,
while she burns
          like a sack of dry ice.
She burns like oil on water.
She burns like a cattail torch
dipped in gasoline.
She glows like the fat tip
of a banker’s cigar,
      silent as quicksilver.
A tiger under a rainbow
   at nightfall.
She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
She burns like a field of poppies
at the edge of a rain forest.
She rises like dragonsmoke
    to my nostrils.
She burns like a burning bush
driven by a godawful wind.

Copyright © 1988 Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 1988). Used with permission of the publisher, Wesleyan University Press.

This path our people walked
one hundred two hundred              endless years
since the tall grass opened for us
and we breathed the incense that sun on prairie
                                                             offers to sky

Peace offering with each breath
each footstep           out of woods
to grasslands plotted with history
removal   remediation                     restoration

Peace flag of fringed prairie orchid
green glow within white froth
calling a moth who nightly
seeks the now-rare scent                 invisible to us

invisible history of this place
where our great-grandfather         a boy
beside two priests and 900 warriors
gaze intent in an 1870 photo         
                                                             his garments white as orchids

Peace flag                                           white banner with red cross
crowned with thorns                       held by a boy              
at the elbow of a priest   
beside Ojibwe warriors                   beside Dakota warriors

Peace offered after smoke and dance
and Ojibwe gifts of elaborate beaded garments
thrown back in refusal  
by Dakota Warriors                         torn with grief  
                                                             since their brother’s murder

This is the path our people ran
through white flags of prairie plants
Ojibwe calling Dakota back
to sign one last and unbroken treaty

Peace offering with each breath
each footstep                out of woods
to grasslands plotted with history
removal   remediation                     restoration

Two Dakota    held up as great men
humbled themselves
to an offer of peace
before a long walk south

before our people entered the trail
walking west and north
                                                           where you walk now
where we seek the source

the now-rare scent
invisible as history
history the tall grass opens for us
                                                            Breathe the incense of sun on prairie
                                                            Offer peace to the sky


Copyright © 2016 by Heid E. Erdrich. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Where have you been the long day through, 
      Little brothers of mine?
For soon the world shall belong to you,
Yours to mar or to build anew—
Have you been to learn what the world shall do,
      Little brothers going home?

We have been to learn through the weary day
Where the great looms echo and crash and sway—
The world has willed it, and we obey,
      Elder brother.

What did you learn till set of sun,
      Little brothers of mine,
Down where the great looms wove and spun,
You who are many where we are one
(We whose day is so nearly done),
      Little brothers toiling home?

We have learned the things that the mill-folk said,
How Man is cruel and God is dead…
And how to spin with an even thread,
      Elder brother.

What did you win with the thing they taught,
      Little brothers of mine,
You whose sons shall have strength you brought,
Fashion their lives of the faith you bought,
Follow afar the ways you sought,
      Little brothers stealing home?

Shattered body and stunted brain,
Hearts made hard with the need of gain,
These we won and must give again,
      Elder brother.

How shall the world fare in your hand,
      Little brothers of mine,
When you shall stand where now we stand?
Will you lift a light in the darkened land
Or fire its ways with a burning brand,
      Little brothers creeping home?

What of the way the world shall fare?
What the world has given the world must bear…
We are tired—ah, tired—and we cannot care,
      Elder brother!

This poem is in the public domain.