i fall into the opening between subject and object
and call it a condition of possibility.
when i speak only the ceiling listens.
sometimes it moans.
if i have a name
let it be the sound his lips make.
there is no word in my language for this.
sometimes my kookum begins to cry
and a world falls out.
grieve is the name i give to myself.
i carve it into the bed frame.
i am make-believe.
this is an archive.
it hurts to be a story.
i am the boundary between reality and fiction.
it is a ghost town.
you dreamt me out of existence.
you are at once a map to nowhere and everywhere.
yesterday was an optical illusion.
i kiss a stranger and give him a middle name.
i call this love.
it lasts for exactly twenty minutes.
i chase after that feeling.
which is to say:
i want to almost not exist.
almost is the closest i can get to the sky.
heaven is a wormhole.
i first found it in another man’s armpit.
last night i gave birth to a woman and named her becoming.
she is four cree girls between the ages of 10 and 14 from northern saskatchewan.
we are a home movie
i threw out by accident.
all that is left is the signified.
people die that way.
With the glove on, her pixellated breast every
demonstrably offensive line about young plums
and buds budding. With the glove and helmet on, “her”
is a proposition. With the helmet on she likes it when I
read to her from the book of desires I wrote
with the helmet on. Under the glove and helmet,
day indiscernible from night and want from love.
The other helmet cues God whispering in his quadrant.
There’s no visor or need of one on the God helmet;
face a mask of contemptuous ecstasies, road
map of heaven on earth and the helmet on.
There’s a crash helmet and infantry helmet
over in the corner that no longer fit as the head
of the poem has developed macrocephallicly.
Our universe, said to be coming apart at the seams,
poorly made, a Jofa from the mid-eighties, placing
us, like Butch Goring’s head, at no small risk.
Jousting viable with the helmet on with the helmet
on time soups finally and selves sift. Horizons converge
in the mouth under the helmet and the glove
grips them like floss. This is Helmut Lang; I got
it at a consignment store. There’s a Spartan
helmet behind glass; there’s not much on it.
The helmet you were born
with very nearly obsolete, its list of incompatible
attachments growing longer by the day. Take trees,
for instance. Think of all the songs. Think of all the songs
without a helmet on and how they seem to weep
torrents over nothing for no reason. Put this on. Put
this on feel time die bewildered, binary, purchased
but no purchase gained, drainage
streaming out over the chinstrap.
He has to bray.
To pull his rope leash in the light.
He did it again in the black-blue sky
Of my leaving.
It is death.
He has to fucking bray
Because he is alive
I asked Fadwa what
A phrase meant;
It had hooked my bad ear and what
She said is it meant
You should be
And then Manuela said my buns were horns
Were my tied-up
I released them.
Je ne sais pas how to say this en anglais mais
I suppose we
Gave me a course
Making our soul of a fitness enough
To scorn you
But not enough to
Not scorn you –
Vastness of dusk, after a day –
what is a person? Too late
to ask this now. The court has ruled
a corporation is a person.
Persons used to be called souls.
On the avenue, a lucky person
stands in a convenience store
scratching powder from his ticket –
silver flecks fall from his thumbs
to galaxies below.
Deep in the night
a trough of chaos forms;
your lover’s body stops it every time.
Meteors of the season over minnows
in the creek with two kinds of crayfish,
tiny mouths & claws
– nervous, perfect, perfect
life – the flesh of a dreamer,
facing the wall –
Around each word you’re reading
there spins the unknowable flame.
When you wake, a style
of world shakes free
from the dream. It doesn’t stop
when you go out;
it doesn’t stop when you come back
as you were meant to-
On my desk there is a stone with the word “Amen” on it,
a triangular fragment of stone from a Jewish graveyard destroyed
many generations ago. The other fragments, hundreds upon hundreds,
were scattered helter-skelter, and a great yearning,
a longing without end, fills them all:
first name in search of family name, date of death seeks
dead man’s birthplace, son’s name wishes to locate
name of father, date of birth seeks reunion with soul
that wishes to rest in peace. And until they have found
one another, they will not find a perfect rest.
Only this stone lies calmly on my desk and says “Amen.”
But now the fragments are gathered up in lovingkindness
by a sad good man. He cleanses them of every blemish,
photographs them one by one, arranges them on the floor
in the great hall, makes each gravestone whole again,
one again: fragment to fragment,
like the resurrection of the dead, a mosaic,
a jigsaw puzzle. Child’s play.
I don’t want to see the city through
myself anymore. I imagine an open body
stuck with pins and flags ready
for labelling. The city is a city of constant
sidewalk repairs and household renovations.
If I could lay my hands on the interior walls
I would know enough to miss myself.
The city is a city of streets named
after saints and explorers. On the dock
I am cold. I imagine myself
at an art gallery looking at installations
and not pretending there can be
any sort of understanding.
But somewhere the water
may meet the unseen shore
and someone like you believes
it happens. There
is a line where they touch.
I would like to speak
to that line and have it speak
to me in return.
So I will recount facts as best as I can, given limited resources and understanding.
Before Minnesota was a state, the Minnesota region, generally speaking, was the traditional homeland for Dakota, Anishnaabeg and Ho-Chunk people.
During the 1800s, when the US expanded territory, they “purchased” land from the Dakota people as well as the other tribes.
But another way to understand that sort of “purchase” is: Dakota leaders ceded land to the US government in exchange for money and goods, but most importantly, the safety of their people.
Some say that Dakota leaders did not understand the terms they were entering, or they never would have agreed.
Even others call the entire negotiation, “trickery.”
But to make whatever-it-was official and binding, the US government drew up an initial treaty.
This treaty was later replaced by another (more convenient) treaty, and then another.
I’ve had difficulty unraveling the terms of these treaties, given the legal speak and congressional language.
As treaties were abrogated (broken) and new treaties were drafted, one after another, the new treaties often referenced old defunct treaties and it is a muddy, switchback trail to follow.
Although I often feel lost on this trail, I know I am not alone.
However, as best as I can put the facts together, in 1851, Dakota territory was contained to a twelve-mile by one-hundred-fifty-mile long strip along the Minnesota River.
But just seven years later, in 1858, the northern portion was ceded (taken) and the southern portion was (conveniently) allotted, which reduced Dakota land to a stark ten-mile tract.
These amended and broken treaties are often referred to as the Minnesota Treaties.
The word Minnesota comes from mni which means water; sota which means turbid.
Synonyms for turbid include muddy, unclear, cloudy, confused and smoky.
Everything is in the language we use.
For example, a treaty is, essentially, a contract between two sovereign nations.
The US treaties with the Dakota Nation were legal contracts that promised money.
It could be said, this money was payment for the land the Dakota ceded; for living within assigned boundaries (a reservation); and for relinquishing rights to their vast hunting territory which, in turn, made Dakota people dependent on other means to survive: money.
The previous sentence is circular, which is akin to so many aspects of history.
As you may have guessed by now, the money promised in the turbid treaties did not make it into the hands of Dakota people.
In addition, local government traders would not offer credit to “Indians” to purchase food or goods.
Without money, store credit or rights to hunt beyond their ten-mile tract of land, Dakota people began to starve.
The Dakota people were starving.
The Dakota people starved.
In the preceding sentence, the word “starved” does not need italics for emphasis.
One should read, “The Dakota people starved,” as a straightforward and plainly stated fact.
As a result—and without other options but to continue to starve—Dakota people retaliated.
Dakota warriors organized, struck out and killed settlers and traders.
This revolt is called the Sioux Uprising.
Eventually, the US Cavalry came to Mnisota to confront the Uprising.
More than one thousand Dakota people were sent to prison.
As already mentioned, thirty-eight Dakota men were subsequently hanged.
After the hanging, those one thousand Dakota prisoners were released.
However, as further consequence, what remained of Dakota territory in Mnisota was dissolved (stolen).
The Dakota people had no land to return to.
This means they were exiled.
Homeless, the Dakota people of Mnisota were relocated (forced) onto reservations in South Dakota and Nebraska.
Now, every year, a group called the The Dakota 38 + 2 Riders conduct a memorial horse ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato, Mnisota.
The Memorial Riders travel 325 miles on horseback for eighteen days, sometimes through sub-zero blizzards.
They conclude their journey on December 26th, the day of the hanging.
Memorials help focus our memory on particular people or events.
Often, memorials come in the forms of plaques, statues or gravestones.
The memorial for the Dakota 38 is not an object inscribed with words, but an act.
Yet, I started this piece because I was interested in writing about grasses.
So, there is one other event to include, although it’s not in chronological order and we must backtrack a little.
When the Dakota people were starving, as you may remember, government traders would not extend store credit to “Indians.”
One trader named Andrew Myrick is famous for his refusal to provide credit to Dakotas by saying, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.”
There are variations of Myrick’s words, but they are all something to that effect.
When settlers and traders were killed during the Sioux Uprising, one of the first to be executed by the Dakota was Andrew Myrick.
When Myrick’s body was found,
his mouth was stuffed with grass.
I am inclined to call this act by the Dakota warriors a poem.
There’s irony in their poem.
There was no text.
“Real” poems do not “really” require words.
I have italicized the previous sentence to indicate inner dialogue; a revealing moment.
But, on second thought, the particular words “Let them eat grass,” click the gears of the poem into place.
So, we could also say, language and word choice are crucial to the poem’s work.
Things are circling back again.
Sometimes, when in a circle, if I wish to exit, I must leap.
My right hand is Nessie’s head,
her neck my dripping arm. How old
is the dinosaur? Forty
or fifty million years. Can the dinosaur sing? No,
too old; but likes to be soothed
by others singing.
I open her thumb-
at least to let her speak
in her quavery Triassic,
‘Take me to your leader!’
—to which you instantly, I haven’t got any leader.
What, meanwhile, are my own terms?
Suspicious argot I used to spy on.
Strange, that we dwell so much
sometimes, on self and such,
that we can spend an age without
a clear view out:
when, if I asked the mirror once
in the way of an old queen,
to frame how things might look
twenty or thirty visits thence,
all it reflected back was white
and unrefracted light, the mean
prophetics of a closed book.