South Dakota Public Radio tells this story
as I drive Route 79 in all her slick, frozen glory.
I know there is a poem in the unfolding drama
about loss and the great zone of the near- forgotten.
The Public Health Service had sent seventeen
infant, Native American brain stems to Boston
for a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome study.
A woman tells of bringing them home.
The tribe had agreed to let the little ones go
after death, to a place of study and learning.
Generosity as wide as these plains, as fierce
a gesture that turns water to ice, hosanna.
Ashes let loose in a windy homecoming,
fly from the urn in a long ribbon, gleeful
as kites on the breath of ancestors.
Seventeen glories race to the light.
The hills to my right percolate in fog.
I open the car window for a glimpse
of color; a fleck of rainbow or black
sooted dust with obsidian polish. Amen
wrapped me in long bolts of fabric.
Swaddled me in play, gently, as a newborn.
She taught me color with canvas bags of scrap
fabric she saved for a quilt, a pillow, any rainy day
project. So I would remember their names, she told me
purple was like rain on the fire escape, yellow was
in the company of noisy brothers, and red smelled like
the beach before the tide remembered it needed to hurry.
When I sewed next to her she would brush against
my fingers with a pin cushion wrapped around her
right wrist. She told me to tug, pull, slide, twist
the fabric. Pointed out how all this mattered,
how I would learn the old way, the way of her mother.
Use old army surplus blankets for quilt batting. Cut
up thrift store clothes, to make do with what's here.
"I don't know much about the proper way to sew," she
"I do what I like." Wool coats she designed cascaded
from faux black fur collars the way a bride would
glide from the top of a glass stairway.
Years later, her quilts warmed me during long winters.
Wind howled, snow drifted in pointed hats along the
window sills. White was a tired, sneaky yawn caught by
To The Survivors
In the throes
of a language I struggle
to understand, I hold my hands clasped
tightly on my lap, as if they would flap about
confused, or betray me.
Triggers, perpetrators, intrusive thoughts,
cognitive and exposure groups, the wretched
leftovers of An Army of One and A Few
Good Men. Buckle up, buckaroo, My heart
the romp of a black steel toe boot.
As one of the female veterans in the
VA Women's Trauma Clinic, I learn
how to remember, so that I can forget.
I want to speak the tongue of my country:
the coded ache of what I carry.
Part of me wants to embrace the sorrows
that surround us. Shoulder for another woman
what burdens her. Part of me does not want
to know that any of us exist, because by giving
us a name, I call out to myself. The hole wider
than what I have closed.