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.
Anne Carson continues to redefine what a book of poetry can be; this ambitious collection ranges from quatrains studded with uncanny images (‘Here lies the refugee breather/who drank a bowl of elsewhere’) to musing verse essays, personal laments, rigorous classical scholarship, and meditations on artists’ lives, caught in the carnage of history. All are burnished by Carson’s dialectical imagination, and her quizzical, stricken moral sense.
All me have just been milked. Teats all tingling still
from that dry toothless sucking by the chilly mouths
that gasp loudly in in in, and never breathe out.
All me standing on feed, move the feed inside me.
One me smells of needing the bull, that heavy urgent me,
the back-climber, who leaves me humped, straining, but light
and peaceful again, with crystalline moving inside me.
Standing on wet rock, being milked, assuages the calf-sorrow in me.
Now the me who needs mounts on me, hopping, to signal the bull.
The tractor comes trotting in its grumble; the heifer human
bounces on top of it, and cud comes with the tractor,
big rolls of tight dry feed: lucerne, clovers, buttercup, grass,
that’s been bitten but never swallowed, yet is cud.
She walks up over the tractor and down it comes, roll on roll
and all me following, eating it, and dropping the good pats.
The heifer human smells of needing the bull human
and is angry. All me look nervously at her
as she chases the dog me dream of horning dead: our enemy
of the light loose tongue. Me’d jam him in his squeals.
Me, facing every way, spreading out over feed.
One me is still in the yard, the place skinned of feed.
Me, old and sore-boned, little milk in that me now,
licks at the wood. The oldest bull human is coming.
Me in the peed yard. A stick goes out from the human
and cracks, like the whip. Me shivers and falls down
with the terrible, the blood of me, coming out behind an ear.
Me, that other me, down and dreaming in the bare yard.
All me come running. It’s like the Hot Part of the sky
that’s hard to look at, this that now happens behind wood
in the raw yard. A shining leaf, like off the bitter gum tree
is with the human. It works in the neck of me
and the terrible floods out, swamped and frothy. All me make the Roar,
some leaping stiff-kneed, trying to horn that worst horror.
The wolf-at-the-calves is the bull human. Horn the bull human!
But the dog and the heifer human drive away all me.
Looking back, the glistening leaf is still moving.
All of dry old me is crumpled, like the hills of feed,
and a slick me like a huge calf is coming out of me.
The carrion-stinking dog, who is calf of human and wolf,
is chasing and eating little blood things the humans scatter,
and all me run away, over smells, toward the sky.
Before I was sent to Little Sir Echo I had an imaginary friend who lived in our Buffalo mailbox. His name was Mr. Bickle. When we moved to Cambridge he vanished as transitional objects tend to do although his name lives on as a family anecdote.
Strange that one half-suffocated picnic in the course of life can disappear into Lake Armington’s hanging rock echo portals. Until the replication of love prevails in art and Periscope – one of Paul Thek’s late “picture-light” paintings, bubbles up from puddle blue depths
So many things happen by bringing to light what has long been hidden. Lilting betwixt and between. Between what? Oh everything. Take your microphone. Cross your voice with the ocean.
I’m here, I’m still American
girl of surplus. girl who is made from fragments. she who can only
be spoken of by way of synecdoche. she whose name cannot be
enunciated only mouthed.
mother of that which cannot be mothered. mother who wants
nothing and everything at the same time. she who gave birth to
herself three times: 1. the miscarriage. 2. the shrunken world.
sister of forest fire. sister who dwells in the wreckage. she who forages
for the right things in the wrong places. nothing is utopia and so she
prays to a god for a back that can bend like a tree splitting open to
make room for the heat.
aunt of the sovereignty of dust. aunt of that which cannot be
negated entirely. she who is magic because she goes missing and
comes back. she who walks upside down on the ceiling of the
world and does not fall.
kookum of love in spite of it all. kookum who made a man out of
a memory. she who is a country unto herself.
father of ash. father of a past without a mouth. he who ate too much
of the sunset.