Kimberly Blaeser is the author of three books of poetry: Trailing You, winner
of the first book award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas,
Absentee Indians and Other Poems, and Apprenticed to Justice. Of Anishinaabe
ancestry and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe who
grew up on the White Earth Reservation, Blaeser is also the editor of Stories
Migrating Home: A Collection of Anishinaabe Prose and Traces in Blood, Bone,
and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry. She is a Professor at University of
Wisconsin, Milwaukee where she teaches Creative Writing, Native
American Literature, and American Nature Writing. Her scholarly study,
Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition, was the first native- authored
book-length study of an Indigenous author. Blaeser's poetry, short fiction,
and personal essays have been widely anthologized with pieces translated
into several languages including Norwegian, Indonesian, Spanish, Hungarian,
and French. A former journalist, Blaeser continues to indulge her interest in
nature photography. She lives with her husband and children in the woods
and wetlands of rural Lyons township Wisconsin in the U.S. and spends part
of her year in a remote cabin in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
of Northeastern Minnesota. Current projects include collaborating with her
son and daughter on books for children and a mixed-genre collection,
Tinctures of a Family Tree.
Four in Bronze
hills like smudged copper
canyon drum sounds in evening
air holds scent of sage
small fox backward glance
tail glows rust in evening sun
feet first into leaves
when snow warms like breath
vague gusts rise on flat expanse;
ghosts in ocher light.
mane tangled with winter sky,
hooves stamp ancient ground.
Summary Tabulations Descriptive of One Hundred and Fifty Chippewa Indian Families on the White Earth Reservation
An anthropologist in Ojibwe country
black-robed and wimpled,
Mary Inez, you cast yourself among tribal clans.
Summer and fall you study count collect and tally,
in appendices and tables you set your faith.
Housing conditions, retention of the Chippewa language,
religious affiliations, the liquor problem,
household equipment, unmarried mothers.
size and use of rooms.
Outside White Earth lakes lap mildly
amidst tamaracks and the graceful bow of white birch,
close among the call of checker-backed loons
whose vowel song ripples the blue edges of eternity.
Methodically, you collect data on doors:
find inside doors absent in 44 homes.
find 99 homes with unscreened outside doors.
Carefully you accumulate details of floor coverings:
count 8 traditional bulrush mats,
79 braided rag rugs of six or eight ply.
Sister, with pink Lady Slippers opening at your feet
how can you march booted and laced among the columns
and lead-pencil precision of mathematical statistics?
Smallest tar-paper shack, 630 total cubic feet of airspace,
Largest tar-paper shack, 5940 total cubic feet of airspace.
And if you do not count each tinkling silver cone
worn on the dream-born jingle dress in June,
and if you do not stay to weigh block ice
cut with chainsaw from Sugarbush Lake in winter,
can you believe you calculate culture?
Note: All italicized words are taken from Sister M. Inez Hilger's Chippewa Families: A Social Study of White Earth Reservation, 1938.
In the blaze orange of autumn
tall marsh grasses lie flattened.
Close here where deer will bed
I bend, sniff, search for other sign.
This safety where I too have sheltered
cast in the hollow of other lives.
Burst milkweed pods spill white
and burrs cling like unrecited prayers.
Hunter's air taunt now with expectation,
and cardinal, too, wearing Christmas red
for protection, as some crisp fear lingers
ever at the edge of boot steps and finite vision.
This earth will always vibrate with absent names
called in autumn and scented with gun shot.
In glacial kettles old grasses reseed each season:
where deer bed, some like wolves will wait.
Naming the Light
Seeping in cracks of the old brick windows, January's winter breath etches lacey images across the darkened glass canvas. Occasionally night nurses peek in. Doing okay? Need anything.
I'm fine. I've got everything I need.
Everything. I sit in the mechanically tilted bed. Magazines and water glass on the table. The thin hospital gown layered with my softest robe. On my lap rests a bundle of flannel blankets. Warm. Blue. The steady weight of contentment.
I move one corner of the flannel. Bend my cheek to the tiny huffs of grace. Alive. 8 lb. 13 ozs. Not just another dream of birth. A dimple-cheeked wonder. Five hours and twenty-two minutes old.
When the nursery attendant brought him in to me at 2 a.m. hungry, I pushed out of a deep sleep. I am not a supplicant, but this is how I reach out my arms. I've wanted to explain. He is swaddled and red-faced with impatience, but despite his cries, in that moment everything fills with unearthly stillness.
When a child crosses into this world, enters through the bruised orchid fissure that is eternity, some holiness abides. In the half-darkened room, as I untuck baby hands, fingers, the flannel spreads like wings around his form. His eyes widen, blue glistening moons, and his choir-boy mouth begins its search.
Life's hardest journeys we undertake on faith alone; but this one opens before me effortlessly. I do not think about the parade of 2 a.m. feedings to follow. Nor even of the haberdashery of elfin hats waiting in an alphabet room. I can almost trace the lighted edges of belief that surround my son. They envelop me. The scuffs of my life, tabloid errors petty or towering, all lift away. Erased in some mysterious scale of justice.
Later, in the thralls of dictionary logic, I seek its name. Self-forgiveness. Ecstasy. Motherhood. Grace. Some days I come close, huddle around the light. Remember. A tiny hollow. Purist ache of longing. My arms filling. Gavin, White Hawk.
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