American Muse: Laura Da’

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“Measuring the Distance to Oklahoma”

Driving past Vantage:
   damp sign proclaiming ginkgo fossils
and iron sculpture of wild horses on the ridge.

At the turn of the last century,
Cayuse ponies were bred with European draft horses.
   A leaner, tougher work animal for the logging fields.

Trumpeter swans stitch
   the sallow slab of sky.
       Two birds swap point position
       to cut the air’s polarity.
Path that pulls the taste
of mixed blood into my mouth.
Late February
and I am three weeks pregnant. I drive
   and the Columbia loosens
       my dad’s easy silence.
He talks about his grandfather:
star musician of the Haskell Indian School Marching Band,
       telegraph operator, rodeo cowboy?
Tracking his family across
three states to hunt for big game
was habitual.
My grandfather,
dead within a week of my birth;
   I am told
       he looked at a Polaroid
       and proclaimed me an angry little Indian.
Late August in a post-depression labor camp
in the Mojave desert.
   My dad was born; he might have been premature,
       covered with dark hair and sick enough to die?
Terraced sun shower wading through the cloudbank.
   Recollection becomes embrace?
At twenty-nine weeks,
the doctor’s chart advises me—
   my child is two and a half pounds, like a Chinese cabbage.
Blinking heavy eyes and fluttering his newly formed lashes.
My hair still damp from swimming laps.
   Warning signs:
       severe headaches, excessive nausea, a change in reflexes.
Feel of the doctor’s hand pushing me back onto the table.
In the hospital, I ask for books.
   Posters from old rodeos.
A photo of a Mimbres pot
from southern New Mexico
black and white line figures—
   a woman dusting corn pollen over a baby’s head
   during a naming ceremony.
Medieval women
   ingested apples
       with the skins incised with hymns and verses
as a portent against death in childbirth.
Heparin Sodium
injected daily and nightly
   in a slow abdominal arc
incising my skin
   like a creation spiral; my hope apple.
Say splitting the rails of the body
to lay down a fence
between harm and one’s young.
Terraced sun shower wading through the cloudbank.
My son at ten months
staring calmly at morning stars
during his naming.
The faint trail of corn pollen suspended
   in his fine, dark hair.

Below – A Native American woman scoops corn pollen out of a pouch in order to use it in a blessing ceremony; Vantage, Washington.
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