from “Shadow Poems”

The people believed in a future
        with her face—
                                Concealed
                   her seeds
                           stars’ dull hatchets
                   behind the black bark of the moon
        and the whole forest grew
                             when they uttered
the ancestors’ old notion
          that those who have been buried
                   with a little honey
          after marshaling a mournful sound
                              thrown in circular waves to the west
can appropriate similar words
          for Creek, like        
                              Rattle-wing
                    the flower which expresses the fruit.

More by Jennifer Foerster

Flight

As a child I tossed
all my imaginary friends
out the window of a fast moving train
because I wanted to feel my fist
break open as I freed them,
as each of their bodies
whipped against the siding,
their insides: snow
dispersing into wind,
their little heads rolling
across the yellow plains.

Because I believed they would return.
But none have since.
Not even the ones I didn’t love.

Leaving Tulsa

for Cosetta

Once there were coyotes, cardinals
in the cedar. You could cure amnesia
with the trees of our back-forty. Once
I drowned in a monsoon of frogs—
Grandma said it was a good thing, a promise
for a good crop. Grandma’s perfect tomatoes.
Squash. She taught us to shuck corn, laughing,
never spoke about her childhood
or the faces in gingerbread tins
stacked in the closet.

She was covered in a quilt, the Creek way.
But I don’t know this kind of burial:
vanishing toads, thinning pecan groves,
peach trees choked by palms.
New neighbors tossing clipped grass
over our fence line, griping to the city
of our overgrown fields.

Grandma fell in love with a truck driver,
grew watermelons by the pond
on our Indian allotment,
took us fishing for dragonflies.
When the bulldozers came
with their documents from the city
and a truckload of pipelines,
her shotgun was already loaded.

Under the bent chestnut, the well
where Cosetta’s husband
hid his whiskey—buried beneath roots
her bundle of beads. They tell
the story of our family.
Cosetta’s land
flattened to a parking lot.

Grandma potted a cedar sapling
I could take on the road for luck.
She used the bark for heart lesions
doctors couldn’t explain.
To her they were maps, traces of home,
the Milky Way, where she’s going, she said.

After the funeral
I stowed her jewelry in the ground,
promised to return when the rivers rose.

On the grassy plain behind the house
one buffalo remains.

Along the highway’s gravel pits
sunflowers stand in dense rows.
Telephone poles crook into the layered sky.
A crow’s beak broken by a windmill’s blade.
It is then I understand my grandmother:
When they see open land
they only know to take it.

I understand how to walk among hay bales
looking for turtle shells.
How to sing over the groan of the county road
widening to four lanes.
I understand how to keep from looking up:
small planes trail overhead
as I kneel in the Johnson grass
combing away footprints.

Up here, parallel to the median
with a vista of mesas’ weavings,
the sky a belt of blue and white beadwork,
I see our hundred and sixty acres
stamped on God’s forsaken country,
a roof blown off a shed,
beams bent like matchsticks,
a drove of white cows
making their home
in a derailed train car.

Hoktvlwv’s Crow

There were still songbirds then
nesting in hackberry trees
and a butterfly named Question.

I remember ivy trembling
at the vanishing point of your throat.

Then the timelines crashed.
California split into an archipelago.
Orchards withered under blooms of ash.

Now there is no nectar. No rotten fruit.
The air is quiet.

                               Once, in Russia,
Ornithologists trapped
a population of hooded crows,
transported them 500 miles
westward. Winter came.
They never caught up with their flock.

With crusts of calcified algae
we catalogue each day lost:
hot thermals, cirrus vaults,
fistfuls of warblers hurtling into dark.

There was no sound to the forgetting.
We knew the heart would implode
before the breath and lungs collapsed.

That the world would end in snow,
an old woman walking alone,
empty birdcage strapped to her back.

Related Poems

The Philosopher in Florida

Midsummer lies on this town 
like a plague: locusts now replaced 
by humidity, the bloodied Nile

now an algae-covered rivulet 
struggling to find its terminus. 
Our choice is a simple one:

to leave or to remain, to render 
the Spanish moss a memory 
or to pull it from trees, repeatedly.

And this must be what the young 
philosopher felt, the pull of a dialectic so basic 
the mind refuses, normally,

to take much notice of it. 
Outside, beyond a palm-tree fence, 
a flock of ibis mounts the air,

our concerns ignored 
by their quick white wings.
Feathered flashes reflected in water,

the bending necks of the cattails:
the landscape feels nothing—
it repeats itself with or without us.

Deception Story

 

Friends describe my DISPOSITION

as stoic. Like a dead fish, an ex said. DISTANCE

is a funny drug and used to make me a DISTRESSED PERSON,

one who cried in bedrooms and airports. Once I bawled so hard at the border, even the man with the stamps and holster said Don’t cry. You’ll be home soon. My DISTRIBUTION

over the globe debated and set to quota. A nation can only handle so many of me. DITCHING

class, I break into my friend’s dad’s mansion and swim in the Beverly Hills pool in a borrowed T-shirt. A brief DIVERSION.

My body breaking the chlorinated surface makes it, momentarily, my house, my DIVISION

of driveway gate and alarm codes, my dress-rehearsed DOCTRINE

of pool boys and ping pong and water delivered on the backs of sequined Sparkletts trucks. Over here, DOLLY,

an agent will call out, then pat the hair at your hot black DOME.

After explaining what she will touch, backs of the hands at the breasts and buttocks, the hand goes inside my waistband and my heart goes DORMANT.

A dead fish. The last female assist I decided to hit on. My life in the American Dream is a DOWNGRADE,

a mere DRAFT

of home. Correction: it satisfies as DRAG.

It is, snarling, what I carve of it alone.

Nomenclatures of Invisibility

My ancestors are made with water—
blue on the sides, and green down the spine;

when we travel, we lose brothers at sea
and do not stop to grieve.

Our mothers burn with a fire
that does not let them be;

they whisper our names
nomenclatures of invisibility
honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut,
how to tell them
the sorrow that splits us in half
the longing for a land not our own
the constant moving and shifting of things,
within, without—

which words describe
the clenching in our stomachs
the fear lodged deeply into our bones
churning us from within,

and the loss that follows us everywhere:
behind mountains, past oceans, into
the heads of trees, how to swallow
a tongue that speaks with too many accents—

when white faces sprout
we are told to set ourselves ablaze
and this smell of smoke we know—
water or fire, or both,

because we have drowned many at a time
and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding
and purple—this kind of language we know,
naming new things into our invisibility
and this, we too, call home.