NDN Homopoetics

I hoard dirt in my ears; months later, I pull out a summer dress. The dress is not a dress to be worn but to be hung, like a flag on a wobbly pole that is noticed only when crowded in the mouths of those near it. The dress is not a dress to be worn but to be hung, like an NDN condemned to death by the judiciary of historical ignorance, an enactment of white fellowship and care. We all bear the dress, not as an article of clothing, but as an ontological imprint. To bear is not to wear, of course. To bear and to birth, however, are from the same neighborhood of experience. It is there, in the neighborhood of experience, that my childhood home is nowhere to be found. And so, my childhood home could be anything, even a dress made out of dirt.

Boy becomes a 3-D printing of a man. It brings me comfort to think of my gender as a farmer’s field already rototilled, already cleaned up. I become less of who I am by the second. Look at the branches growing from my teeth! Then there’s the mare, tipsy on me, grazing to no end. If I were to speak, I’d sound like a cracked windshield, typo-ridden. These 206 lonely bones have each gained a type of consciousness; they pretend not to harbor hard feelings about me, my ungodly molecularity. What can I say about my shadow? It loves the unlit street more than it does me. Sometimes a body is that which happens to you. Everyday, dime-sized holes proliferate on my flesh, as if I were trying to free myself from myself. I will go on like this forever: with the earth ringing in my chest.


I am a body of knowledge, not one of chemical compounds. Which is to say that I live as ideas do. This is the fate of NDNs. It is on the rez that one can hear sentences speak as though in a chorus. To tear the page is to tear our world apart. What shame to be a sentence on its knees! The day I obtained my driver’s license, I followed a cumulus cloud through a maze of dirt roads until it evaporated. Forty minutes. That was all it took. I bore witness. It did not ask this of me, but I wanted to keep watch of the dying everywhere, so I could figure out how to care for a bleeding sentence.


What to an NDN is the intrinsic goodness of mankind? Maybe justice is a lover who regurgitates the English language so it comes back sweeter. Canada, why are your elevators filled with mud water? What is it about a palm that makes a country feel like a garden? I dug and dug. I pulled out a bouquet of skyscrapers. I kissed each window softly. Is this not what an NDN does in a poem?

Copyright © 2019 by Billy-Ray Belcourt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.