Live long enough
and salt pork, beans,
yearling colts, honey and butter,
something will turn into a wedge
to bend your will.
Missionaries call for my sons to send off to school,
each season when the corn is green.
I tuck them into the rows
farthest to the north of my cabin.
Keep them busy with the threshing as I whisper
their true names into the ears we consume,
but I leave a path to them
like a snake
by slithering away through the sparse harvest.
Frost breaks under my mare’s hooves
when I ride to sign my name at the Neosho mission.
My sons and nephews
traded to industrial school in the north
for the release of seven barrels of winter rations.
makes me brother to dragons, companion to owls.
Riding away from the mission,
I call to my sister’s youngest child,
the only one
still too young for school,
come over here and ride with your old uncle.
The boy clambers up behind me,
bare toe notched into the girth for warmth and purchase.
My boots quiver along the sides of the horse’s flanks
as I endeavor to slip them into the stirrups
that frame the ground below in jerky patches.
Child, I keep repeating, Nephew.
The horse dances nervously,
sensing my frenzy.
To his credit,
keeps a steady hand on the reins.
From Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Laura Da’. Used with the permission of the author.