Friday, September 9, 2016

Read a poem Friday: Louise Erdrich #poetry #fridayreads

Turtle Mountain Reservation

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For Pat Gourneau, my grandfather
The heron makes a cross 
flying low over the marsh. 
Its heart is an old compass 
pointing off in four directions. 
It drags the world along, 
the world it becomes. 

My face surfaces in the green 
beveled glass above the washstand. 
My handprint in thick black powder 
on the bedroom shade. 
Home I could drink like thin fire 
that gathers 
like lead in my veins, 
heart’s armor, the coffee stains. 

In the dust of the double hollyhock, 
Theresa, one frail flame eating wind. 
One slim candle 
that snaps in the dry grass. 
Ascending tall ladders 
that walk to the edge of dusk. 
Riding a blue cricket 
through the tumult of the falling dawn. 

At dusk the gray owl walks the length of the roof, 
sharpening its talons on the shingles. 
Grandpa leans back 
between spoonfuls of canned soup 
and repeats to himself a word 
that belongs to a world 
no one else can remember. 

The day has not come 
when from sloughs, the great salamander 
lumbers through snow, salt, and fire 
to be with him, throws the hatchet 
of its head through the door of the three-room house 
and eats the blue roses that are peeling off the walls. 

Uncle Ray, drunk for three days 
behind the jagged window 
of a new government box, 
drapes himself in fallen curtains, and dreams that the odd 
beast seen near Cannonball, North Dakota, 
crouches moaning at the door to his body. The latch 
is the small hook and eye. 

of religion. Twenty nuns 
fall through clouds to park their butts 
on the metal hasp. Surely that 
would be considered miraculous almost anyplace, 

but here in the Turtle Mountains 
it is no more than common fact. 
Raymond wakes, 
but he can’t shrug them off. He is looking up 
dark tunnels of their sleeves, 
and into their frozen armpits, 
or is it heaven? He counts the points 
of their hairs like stars. 

One by one they blink out, 
and Theresa comes forth 
clothed in the lovely hair 
she has been washing all day. She smells 
like a hayfield, drifting pollen 
of birch trees. 
Her hair steals across her shoulders 
like a postcard sunset. 

All the boys tonight, goaded from below, 
will approach her in The Blazer, The Tomahawk, 
The White Roach Bar where everyone 
gets up to cut the rug, wagging everything they got, 
as the one bass drum of The Holy Greaseballs 
lights a depth 
charge through the smoke. 

Grandpa leans closer to the bingo. 
The small fortune his heart pumps for 
is hidden in the stained, dancing numbers. 
The Ping-Pong balls rise through colored lights, 
brief as sparrows 
God is in the sleight of the woman’s hand. 

He walks from Saint Ann’s, limp and crazy 
as the loon that calls its children 
across the lake 
in its broke, knowing laughter. 
Hitchhiking home from the Mission, if he sings, 
it is a loud, rasping wail 
that saws through the spine 
of Ira Comes Last, at the wheel. 

Drawn up through the neck ropes, 
drawn out of his stomach 
by the spirit of the stones that line 
the road and speak 
to him only in their old agreement. 
Ira knows the old man is nuts. 
Lets him out at the road that leads up 
over stars and the skulls of white cranes. 

And through the soft explosions of cattail 
and the scattering of seeds on still water, 
walks Grandpa, all the time that there is in his hands 
that have grown to be the twisted doubles 
of the burrows of mole and badger, 
that have come to be the absence 
of birds in a nest. 
Hands of earth, of this clay 
I’m also made from.

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