Indie Author

Finding & Creating Beauty in Unlikely Places

Month: June 2016

For Wounded Knee


For Wounded Knee

I wrote this poem while I was sitting in the Cedar Pass Amphitheatre in Badlands NP, watching a red sunset. The air smelled of prairie warmed by the sun. It was beautiful; I couldn’t get Wounded Knee out of my head.


My husband tried to prepare me. The majority of the people there live in extreme poverty. Tourists have complained about locals wanting to share their stories and then asking for money. We need to get permission before we take pictures of anything.


I was immediately uncomfortable, but more because I felt intrusive. And because I’ve studied our country’s history and have—arguably—a more educated, less propaganda-influenced awareness of our country’s origins, I find it hard to swallow the idea of political pride. When my ancestors committed genocide in order to get it. When we praise our freedom from oppression on the Fourth of July yet neglect to acknowledge that we were not only oppressors but thieves, rapists, and murderers, who not only nearly drove an entire culture into extinction but choose to “sweep it under our patriotic rug”. I find it hard being a white person and visiting Naive American reservations, speaking to the people, without feeling the weight of my ancestors’ shame and guilt.


However, the people of Pine Ridge Reservation could not have been more kind, gracious, or endearing. J and I asked politely if we may walk through the cemetery that houses the mass grave where hundreds of men, women, and children were slaughtered, shoveled in, and forgotten. Sound familiar?? The gentleman we spoke to smiled shyly and said of course. Take all the time you want. When we asked if it would be disrespectful to take a few photographs he said no, and most tourists don’t ask anyway.


The grief that hangs in the quiet of that cemetery is nearly oppressive. It is powerful to feel. I have never been to the concentration camps in Europe, nor have I been any other place where such crimes against humanity were committed. I often wondered how people could be moved to tears by just the memory of a place, but the earth remembers. It’s present. And it took all of my self-will not to weep as if my own family had been slain there.


I wrote this poem for the people of Pine Ridge. For their ancestors. For their continued suffering. For all the injustices—least of all my still living on lands my people stole from their people—that can never be righted.


For me, Independence Day is a sober holiday. I hope that if my readers will hear these words and give a moment’s consideration to the true Founding Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children of this country, then perhaps the next time we wrestle with fear or indifference, we will see families not savages, cousins not slaves, fellow human beings not enemies—and remember that we are no different.


For Wounded Knee:


How do you apologize

for something

like that? I think as the

bones click softly in the

desert sun breeze over

the grass ocean once the waves

were only yours to see. You speak

almost apologetically; most people

don’t know what they’re looking at

you say. And I imagine your ancestors

marred in bloodshed

bloodshed brothers

and bloodshed mothers

thought the same

as they watched the last prairie sunrise

the red sky reminded them of their

spirit god

the earthen wool once kept them warm

His body scattered to four corners

those lifeless masses shipwrecked

in that golden sea

your murderers whaled for them

before making you the trophy of

their Manifest Destiny

the crimson paint on your cheeks

smeared black

black as trailed tears

black as the hair they cut

black as the homes they burned

black as the bones they buried and

the ground remembers this

Tatonka remembers this with every

stupid white body bearing a camera and

a dream that He gores

a recompense for all those white ghost devils

with dreams of native cries dancing in their

phantom heads

those spirit songs rise, quietly, and linger in the

smell of sage and the rainbow of prayer cloths

and the click of those bones

as quiet with proud dignity

as your gracious air and they ask

what they have always asked: Great Spirit,

Have mercy on us! Take us back to the place

we called home! Restore the hope of our people!

Even as they know

as you know

There is no going back. There is no going home.


Poem of the Week: Summer Rehab

Trying to climb back into

the what was before

like constricting my skin

into clothes that don’t fit anymore

It’s hard to believe that nine months

could manifest such emptiness in

spaces that didn’t exist before

But you came into my life

like a gift un-foretold
blessings I didn’t earn

so shocked to discover this
hold they have on me this
infinite yearning to take care of you
sketched into my life oceans
of meaning heretofore unclaimed
watching you fight those black days
so familiar to my own unforgotten
nightmares I held my affections out
with incredulous fingers figuring
my love a paltry thing ineffective as
gauze to a gunshot I thought would
never ease your pain but had to try
had to let rhymes and oils and paint
do what my arms ached to had to
acknowledge all the beauty I see
in you and I will forever be on the
quest to be the one who doesn’t
disappoint you to be a fixed light
in a starless sky to honor this love
I’m entrusted with to do right by this
gift of your kinship I find I am pained
that circumstance is such a fickle bitch
that time is the fix I can never force
through enough veins to sustain the
high your smile gives just know that
my heart-strings will stretch galaxies
in symphony with yours and if it hurts
the symptoms are worth the source
that you are precious to me that soulmate,
mother, and brothers aside I have not
been so afraid to lose someone not
been a slave to that resurrected dread
that the wound would (once again)
be almost too much to bear
so I cling to what I know is true
that God does not give us gifts to
be cruel that our story is destined
to be beautiful and the joy is in the
journey and for you, Blood Brother,
my devotion is as unfailing as the
current it flows from my spirit’s song of
freedom from the monsters that crave to
haunt us I love you from a place of calm
of peace amidst the storms of quiet amidst
the mourning I’ll take your hand and we’ll both
walk this path with heart-strings stretched and
syncopated steps from present endings to even
greater hereafters.

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