Native Poets Torchlight Series, Poems

Three Poems


Muskeg consists of dead plants in various states of decomposition (as peat), ranging from fairly intact sphagnum moss, to sedge peat, to highly decomposed humus.

That brown water++++++++there’s nothing in it++++no fish

That brWater brown with tannin++++shot through with golden light
green moss below++++seen through reflection 
+++++++of blueness grayness redness   

greennmossbelowsgraynesssrThere’s nothing in it 
where it’s water
where it is not
greennmossbelowsgraynesssrDeeper than it looks
the gathering ground 
the medicine place
greennmossbelowsgraynesssrThere’s everything++++in it 
that place++++++++++++++++++ithat water

mashkiig – a swamp, a muskeg 
(verb of abundance) mashkiigokaa – there are muskegs, it is marshy
mashkiki – medicine, a medicine, a drug 
(verb of making) mashkikiike – s/he makes medicine
(applicative) mashkikiikaazh – doctor h/, treat h/ medically
(verb of being) mashkikiiwi –  s/he is a medicine; s/he has medicine on h/ self

Not the Memory but the Memory of Remembering

Sailboat curtains +++++white triangles in a blue field++++++++++coded flags 
on our porch our glassed porch or storage porch++++roll-aways boxes bikes barrels 
on a mattress on our porch besides sailboats when just before I hurt the worst 
went limp when just before light hurt through me so hot went white behind my eyes
against the pipe the burn now opened below my belly eye my button shut 
against+the+pipe+the+burn+now+ope+One of the boys laughs at ++++boy pokes at
seared full thickness +++my flinch ++++salve smells looks like mustard ++++++++how did it 
against+the+pipe+the+i+hold her +++++crawl space dark +++++so small++++++++ikick away 
then limp+++++ the pipes jump in that old house ++++++the boy didn’t know 
how hot++++++i how dark ++++++how small ++++++how scarred 

Women of Water: Run Dry

++++++Work days: 

The well of work’s so deep++++I never saw the bottom++++yet

Our job++++they say+++++i++++to care for the water +++we women 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++In this desert we women take care 
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++of what water may be


++++++Nights later:
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++smell of desert sky
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++everything inverted
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++sky the water
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++earth full of metal

Earth maps an unknown world
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Moon is not working any lake I can hear
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++I wonder how she waves

When we see each other
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Moon turns the blue of day
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++over spikes of plants I once knew 
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++in another desert

Turned upside down ++++++++++++glad for my heaviness
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++my willingness to cling and climb
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++nothing rooted here makes a handhold
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++all thorn and barb+++++++++++iiI cannot fall
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++until I sleep++++++++++++++++++I can’t let go


++++++Perhaps the Same Day: 

Doves talked to me ++++++++++++++Why people say they cry or sob or mourn or coo
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++I do not know
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Listen ++++++they said ++++and I heard 
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++She-birds+++the roar of a crowd at kids’ sports
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++then the strangled sound of males approaching 

How does that racket attract?  
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++It does not++++she and she and she say
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Watch us now+++++do we submit?
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++You do not+++I note+++disturbed

The He-dove cries as if yanked by the throat++++++he dives
She-doves scatter and then+++in fact
they do complain
sound plaintive communal 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Hurry over here dears
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++He’s come for another one of us
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++This way, oh- go away! You see? 
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++We are never free of him!


+++++++Another Day: 

A knotted juniper tree++++++offering tree+++++its own tree


+++++++Final Day: 

The well of work’s so deep++++I never saw the bottom++++++yet

This desert++++and I+++one of the women of water

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++We have one concern
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++as above as below
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++wide and worrisome
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++—all we know is to run and run and run
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++and even when we can no longer run
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++still we run when we run dry

Heid E. Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton North Dakota and is Ojibwe enrolled at Turtle Mountain. Her new poetry collection Little Big Bully won a National Poetry Series award in 2019 and was published by Penguin in 2020. Heid edited the 2018 anthology New Poets of Native Nations which won an American Book Award. Heid’s work has won awards including a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Fellowship and two Minnesota Book Awards for poetry. Heid teaches in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program of Augsburg University. She is the 2021 Glasgow (virtual) Visiting Professor at Washington and Lee University.