Louise Erdrich is a brilliant author of Chippewa and German descent. She’s a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and was among the first group of freshman women admitted to Dartmouth college in 1972.

In her poem below, she illuminates the connection between the muscle memory and wounds of our flesh and those of creation among so much more.

Indian Boarding School: The Runaways

Home’s the place we head for in our sleep.
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
don’t wait for us. We catch them on the run.
The rails, old lacerations that we love,
shoot parallel across the face and break
just under Turtle Mountains. Riding scars
you can’t get lost. Home is the place they cross.

The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards
as the land starts rolling, rolling till it hurts
to be here, cold in regulation clothes,
we know the sheriff’s waiting at midrun
to take us. His car is dumb and warm
the highway doesn’t rock, it only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts
of ancient punishments lead back and forth.

All runaways wear dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub
the sidewalks down because it’s shameful work.
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.

These excerpts below, from The Round House, are representative of Erdrich’s amazing ability to put some raw and living flesh on the truth.

“And then after that you have to look at that person’s blood quantum, how much Indian blood they’ve got that belongs to one tribe. In most cases, the government will call the person an Indian if their blood is one quarter- it usually has to be from one tribe. But that tribe has also got to be federally recognized. In other words, being an Indian is in some ways a tangle of red tape. On the other hand, Indians know other Indians without the need for a federal pedigree, and this knowledge- like love, sex or having or not having a baby- has nothing to do with the government.”

“I stood there in the shadowed doorway thinking with my tears. Yes, tears can be thoughts, why not?”

“When you are little, you do not know that you are screaming or crying- your feelings and the sound that comes out of you is all one thing.”

 

 

 

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