After Words

Because the smallness of our being
is our only greatness.

Because one night I was in a room
listening until only one heart beat.

Because in these last years I’ve
worn and worn and nearly worn out
my black funeral shoes.

Because the gesture of after words
means the same thing no matter
who speaks them.
Because faith belief forever
are only words, no matter.
Because matter disappears
always and eventually.
Because action is not matter
but energy
that spent, changes being.

And if death, too, is a change of being
perhaps action counts.
And if death is a land of unknowing,
perhaps we do well to live with uncertainty.
And if death is a forested land,
it would be good to learn trees.
And if death is a kingdom,
it would be good to practice service.
And if death is a foreign state
we should loosen allegiance to this one.
And if the soul leaves our body
then we must rehearse goodbye.

More by Kimberly Blaeser

Cadastre, Apostle Islands

 

I.

A soap-opera rising and sinking of bodies,

melt of glaciers, flamboyant sculpture of waves—

west wind at thirty knots

this serial archipelago the drama of centuries.

Forgotten Steamboat Island

swallowed like the sunken ships—

one episode of tide and time,

now another buried underwater treasure.

How to plat the ancient—27,232 submerged acres;

mark or name the temporary—newly formed seastacks,

shifting sand spits and tombolos?

 

Imagine the geared toy of evolution:

twenty-two islands swimming in 40 degrees, in aqua,

honeycombed with vaulted chambers, with caverns

whose deeply carved crevices house whisper

and splash, echo cormorant and eagle scree

(breeding habitat for 150 bird species)

harbor the keening of human loss—

distress signals at 2:05 a.m..

How to measure this littoral expanse—man miles or

decibels of the drum-like surf on mythic Devils isle?

 

Imagine henna wheat copper buff and umber arches—

this billion year old layered sandstone rises

red and cathedral gothic

at Swallow’s Point, Mawikwe Bay.

Yes, each epoch a burnished stratum, a wave of color.

We flat map with metes and bounds—Manitou Island,

Hermit, Ironwood—trace ownership in treaties and deeds,

but cannot account each mystic transformation:

the graceful circumference of wind twists in white pine,

or how the friction of time and waves shape song—

emitted frequency 450 Hertz.

My feet a plectrum on the quartz lyre of Stockton Island

this globular singing sand is nature’s genius,

the whistle, squeak, or eerie bark—ephemeral.

 

II.

Beyond flat fact Apostle Island histories overlap, stack

like horse skeletons at the bottom of each ravine:

the glimpse of steamer spines in clear water,

the sunken and mummified hemlock and birds-eye maple—

salvage logs now kilned and carved to fine-grained guitars.

The past is hollow bellies of Anishinaabeg canoes

is the echo of old names and weighted fill of rocks—

birch bark given to winter waters for preservation.

The piled stone, the stories—Midewiwin lodges,

Voyageurs and fisheries, lighthouses and loggers

trace another measure, paint the palimpsest of place.

 

Among abandoned brownstone quarries on Basswood Island

each cubed hollow the math of absence and distance—

of courthouse buildings rising square by brown square

in mainland cities like Bayfield and Milwaukee.

This beanstalk-tall barter is also loss:

of peerless brown furs

traded to drape bodies of moneyed matrons,

or 500 million board feet of disappearing timber each year.

When history is a bedlam of John Jacob Astor commodity

and weather a storied purple destiny of ships run aground,

who can name island gods or number sands on Raspberry,

Otter, Gull, and Oak?

How ruler each breathless angel edge

of ledge rock, record equation for velocity of change,

mirror the fetal scroll of fiddlehead ferns—

or praise with proper song each turtle-shaped survival? 

 

 

Apprenticed to Justice

The weight of ashes
from burned-out camps.
Lodges smoulder in fire,
animal hides wither
their mythic images shrinking
pulling in on themselves,
all incinerated
fragments
of breath bone and basket 
rest heavy
sink deep
like wintering frogs.
And no dustbowl wind
can lift
this history
of loss.

Now fertilized by generations—
ashes upon ashes,
this old earth erupts.
Medicine voices rise like mists
white buffalo memories
teeth marks on birch bark 
forgotten forms
tremble into wholeness.

And the grey weathered stumps,
trees and treaties
cut down
trampled for wealth.
Flat Potlatch plateaus
of ghost forests
raked by bears
soften rot inward
until tiny arrows of green
sprout
rise erect
rootfed
from each crumbling center.

Some will never laugh
as easily.
Will hide knives
silver as fish in their boots,
hoard names
as if they could be stolen
as easily as land,
will paper their walls
with maps and broken promises,
scar their flesh
with this badge
heavy as ashes.

And this is a poem
for those
apprenticed
from birth.
In the womb
of your mother nation
heartbeats
sound like drums
drums like thunder
thunder like twelve thousand
walking
then ten thousand
then eight
walking away
from stolen homes
from burned out camps
from relatives fallen
as they walked
then crawled
then fell.

This is the woodpecker sound
of an old retreat.
It becomes an echo.
an accounting
to be reconciled.
This is the sound
of trees falling in the woods
when they are heard,
of red nations falling
when they are remembered.
This is the sound
we hear
when fist meets flesh
when bullets pop against chests
when memories rattle hollow in stomachs.    

And we turn this sound
over and over again
until it becomes
fertile ground
from which we will build
new nations
upon the ashes of our ancestors.
Until it becomes
the rattle of a new revolution
these fingers
drumming on keys.

Unlawful Assembly

Don’t hurry to safety.
Each hour your flowered room grows smaller.
Everywhere at the periphery of vision
windows shatter into triangles
of mosaic light.
There in the lonely fragments
a youtube dictator
declares victory,
blood flattens and darkens.
The scent of rebellion
smoke fire and ash
all pungent in the still images
sacrificed to history.
Somewhere the flapping door of an overturned wagon
thumps steadily
in a deserted street—
echoes absent hands.