Rituals, Yours—and Mine

Kimberly Blaeser

          I.
living by your words
as if I haven’t enough of my own
ever
to make them stretch
that long distance
from home to here
from then to now.

and all the new words
i’ve ever read learned
or shelved so neatly
can’t explain myself to me
like yours always do.

sometimes that one gesture
of your chin and lips
my memory of
that sideways movement of your eyes
are the only words
from that language
i can manage
put things in their place

          II.
walked in on you today
closed the screened door quietly
so you wouldn’t notice
just yet
stood watched you
mumbling shuffling about the kitchen
your long yellow gray braid
hanging heavy down your back 

wanted to see you turn
just that way
hear that familiar exclamation
you snapping the dishtowel
landing it just short of me
shame on me for surprising you

you walk toward me laughing
don’t change anything i chant silently
wiping your hands on your faded print apron
you lay them gently still damp cool
one on each side of my face
for that long long second

When’d you come? Sit down, I’m making breakfast.
i watch the wrinkled loose flesh jiggle on your arms
as you reach to wind and pin your braid
hurry to find your teeth behind the water pail
pull up your peanut butter stockings
pull down your flowered house dress
and wet your fingers
to smooth the hair back behind your ears

          III.
smoothing away time with the fluid line
of your memory
i am in place at your table
in the morning damp of your still dark kitchen
i wait for you to come

stepping through the curtained doorway
you enter intent on this day
restart the fire
fill place the kettle
pull open the kitchen door
inviting daylight to come
welcoming it into your house—
bringing it into mine.

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.

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.