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.
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.