The Book of the Missing, Murdered and Indigenous—Chapter 1

The winding cord of highways, unkempt
gravel roads and the trails of animals—
a record of who and what has passed over,
an agony of secrets.

In the end, they have all borne witness,
eyes like glass beads that can never blink.
The dull light of motel neon shines ominously.
An engine growls across the landscape.

Brittle men who are splintered like glass
thrown from a second story window
and we are the room they leave behind.
They are pathetic husks, feeble in spirit.

Fragments fall along fields and shallow ditches,
in overlooked alleyways or underpasses.
A cold, empty breeze rising from the debris.
The first and last moment of her.

It is rage that pulls her up from this place.
She spews out the wretched and miserable
as particles of dawn-lit soil illuminate her skin.
Her hair is a two-edged sword.

She stitches together the collective story of origin,
her body a map: descended from the stars,
on the backs of animal sisters,
carried to safety in a bird’s beak.

Another Attempt at Rescue

And to think I had just paid a cousin twenty dollars to shovel the walk.
He and two of his buddies, still smelling of an all-nighter,
arrived at 7 am to begin their work.
When I left them a while later I noticed their ungloved hands
and winter made me feel selfish and unsure.
This ground seems unsure of itself
		    for its own reasons.
Real spring is still distant
and no one is trying to make themselves believe
this might last, this last unreasonable half hour.
It is six-thirty in eastern Montana and the cold
	has finally given way.
The time is important not because this has been a long winter
or for the fact that it is my first here
since childhood, but because there is so much else
to be unsure of.
	        At a time like this
how is it that when I left only a week ago
there were three feet of snow on the ground,
and now there are none, not even a single patch
holding on in the shadow of the fence-line.
          We do not gauge enough of our lives
     by changes in temperature.
When I first began to write poems I was laying claim to battle.
It began with a death and I have tried to say it was unjust,
not because of the actual dying but because of what
was left.  What time of year was that?
I have still not yet learned to write of war.
I have friends who speak out--as is necessary--with subtle
and unsubtle force. But I am from
this place and a great deal has been going wrong 
	        for some time now.
The two young Indian boys who might have drowned
last night in the fast-rising creek near school
are casualties enough for me.
          There have been too many
just like them and I have no way to fix these things.
A friend from Boston wrote something to me last week
about not have the intelligence
to take as subject for his poems
anything other than his own life.
For a while now I have sensed this in my own mood:
this poem was never supposed to mention
itself, other writers, or me.
          But I will not regret the boys who made it home,
or the cousins who used the money at the bar.
Still, something is being lost here and there are no lights
on this street; enough mud remains on our feet
to carry with us into the house.

Heart Butte, Montana

The unsympathetic wind, how she has evaded me for years now,
leaving a guileless shell and no way to navigate.  Once when I stood
on a plateau of earth just at the moment before the dangerous,
jutting peaks converged upon the sway of grasslands, I almost
found a way back.  There, the sky, quite possibly all the elements,
caused the rock and soil and vegetation to congregate.  Their prayer
was not new and so faint I could hardly discern.  Simple remembrances,
like a tiny, syncopated chorus calling everyone home:  across
a thousand eastward miles.  And what little wind was left at my back.
I could not move and then the music was gone.
All that was left were the spring time faces of mountains, gazing down,
their last patches of snow, luminous.  I dreamed of becoming snow melt,
gliding down the slope of history and in to the valley.  With the promise,
an assurance, that there is always a way to become bird, tree, water again. 

Meditations at Tabexa Wakpa (Frog Creek)

We have taken the long highway home again. The grass is tall,
cobwebs and the husks of yellow jackets ornament the basement.

While we were away our neighbor and friend who always invited us over
for salmon and potatoes died in his sleep on the couch.

Two healthy babies have been born, twins and nephews.
Someone broke in through a window downstairs–

took three televisions, two star quilts, a Pendleton shawl, the chainsaw
and one large bottle of laundry detergent.

They smoked cigarettes on the couch and drank pop from the fridge.

The way the horizon bends itself around 
our lives here might make us think 
we are exceptional. Walking the giant plain, 
wind-drenched, we found the fox kits 
we had been watching the previous summer.
Small bodies at the bottom of the open well. 
Probably at play, lost their bearings, 
and still too young to know any better.

Almost as ghosts, we come and go from this place, not at all 
like the known spirits who reside here, some at tranquil rest, others– 
one man died who died here fifty years ago poisoned his young wife
and raised their newborn son in a neglectful and angry home.
The boy grew up neglected and angry and killed his father.

Oh, the sum of these moments and our own, atoms and particles in constant motion.
Peel back their stratum, hang them on the clothesline in the breeze.  
Let their shadow shapes build nests finally out in the open.