Judith Prest

There’s a Poem in this Place

Alumni of Chilocco Indian Boarding School
list the names of former students.
They do not know the names of children
buried in the school cemetery.
And then there are the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe’s
two hundred twenty-nine dead children
at Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School.
Are there poems in these places?

What about the Carlisle Boarding School:
“kill the Indian-save the man”
            39 years of operation
            140+ tribes
            186 graves of children who died there.

What about LaPush, home of the Quileute Tribe,
and my friend DeAnna, who walked on this past July,
             whose grandfather could remember hunting whales
             at sea in a hollow-log canoe?
What about her sister, who in 1972,
            after the birth of her last child
           woke up sterilized
at the hands of the Indian Health Service?
La Push, land of the thunderbird and sacred salmon,
where I heard spirit drumming in the woods
uphill from Second Beach,
where I spent a beer-soaked January night in 1973
            trading life stories with Boo, who died
            two weeks later in a bar fight in Forks.
            He joined his brother John who drowned,
            and another brother who died drunk
            in his car on the way home after closing time.

Is there a poem that can do justice
to the trauma rolling down the generations
on any rez?
            Pine Ridge, La Push, Wind River,
            Fort Peck, Akwesasne…

Was there a poem in the Indian Relocation Act?
            You can ask the old guy panhandling
            in the Seattle Greyhound station in 1974.
            I didn’t have the nerve to ask,
            so I gave him five bucks.

Are there poems in clogged arteries, in diabetes
            from generations of commodity
            flour, fat and sugar?
            And is there even one poem
            in that liquor store
            in White Clay, Nebraska?

Indigenous ways are their own poem, written
            in the scent of sage and Sitka spruce,
            in raven call and whale song.
Those poems ride the wind.

But where are the poems for boarding school children,
            for sterilized women?
            for smallpox blankets?
            for broken treaties?



Cento for a Dying Planet

when the last loon calls at sunset
in the alleys of memory
we shall never again be as we were

sometimes the men – they come with keys
there are locked rooms inside all women
lungs full of song, our broken smiles
glitter on the ground

listen to the voices under the wind
geese calling wake the ancestors
we carry much more than blood
in our veins-each of us
a living body of stories.

A slant of light stirs
something deep and ancient
We shall never again be as we were
If time could only become liquid
future and memory would dance
to the place where dreams are born.

I wear black every day
because the corporate military
industrial complex wants
to remove you.
all of you–tribes, herds,
stands of redwood,
frogs and fireflies.
We shall never again
be as we were.

*Line references:
Joel Dias-Porter “alleys of memory,” “our broken smiles glitter on the ground” and “I wear black every day”
Warsan Shire “there are locked rooms inside all women” and “sometimes the men – they come with keys”
Henry James “we shall never again be as we were” (last line of “Wings of the Dove”)

Judith Prest bio:
I am a poet, photographer, mixed media artist and creativity coach. I have been writing for most of my life, with a 20+ year gap while I finished grad school, started a career and a family. In the mid-90’s, midlife hit me like a freight train and I started writing again. Since then, my work has been publisihed in eight anthologies and in literary journals. I have two poetry books published by Finishing Line Press: After (chapbook), 2019 and Geography of Loss (poetry collection), 2021. I live in rural upstate NY with my husband and 3 cats.