In anticipation of Tupelo Press’s forthcoming anthology project, Native Voices, I’m pleased to continue a series of posts honoring Indigenous poetry from North America.
But first, I’d like to say a few words about this exciting and necessary anthology. Tupelo Press is eager to celebrate a more complete version of the story we tell—about ourselves, our past, and what is possible in language. In this book, the first of its kind, every poet will present new poems, as well as an original essay, and a selection of resonant work chosen from previous generations of Native artists. Our anthology is intended to embody the dynamic and ongoing conversations that take place in Indigenous poetry through writerly craft across generational, geographic, and stylistic divides.
With that in mind, I'm thrilled to introduce another one of our talented contributors, Michael Wasson. Michael is the author of This American Ghost (YesYes Books, 2017). His poems appear in American Poets, Beloit Poetry Journal, Drunken Boat, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, Best New Poets, and Bettering American Poetry. He is nimíipuu from the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. I'm pleased to present his poem, "Mourning Ceremony." Enjoy!
hipe’síweme kaa wáaqo’ ‘ilcwéew’cixnim cilakátki
‘iceyéeyenm wéetesne péetek’ene. They carved and now
Coyote distributed Monster’s body to various lands.
When grief is allowed to us it’s in the stern shape and voice of a man
who walks around ‘n yells at us and his hollering holds our faces
while we are handed polaroid photographs and old portraits
and lip-stained cups with either coffee or red Kool-Aid rings inside
and dirty paintings and ashy ashtrays and almost clean enough pots
and iron skillets and washed pans and jean jackets still glazed
with the scent of sweat ‘n armpits and pine-rubbed flannel coats
and pants so dirty when you glide your hand across ‘em dust slips off
and fades into the blaring gymnasium lights
and cracked and bent glasses frames with a little resin of ear oil
and a smear of dried blood still in the screws and plain moccasins
and porcupine quill roaches ranging from child-size to adult-size
worn out shoes and torn boots and a wristwatch an elderly woman
puts to her ear and keeps it there like a phone and a phone
though we don’t have enough money to buy an answering machine
to record your lost breathing soft into some spooled static
and a collection of tapes and your Black Sabbath and Beatles
and Jimi Hendrix and the Eagles and Led Zeppelin and Credence
Clearwater Revival and the blankets you took with you
when you ended up homeless for a little while and slept along
the Clearwater River and baskets with nothing inside them
and door knobs and rugs and your dirty shirt that had Mickey Mouse
adorned in a headdress and more blankets and letters and notes
and he’s yelling at us that this is the only time we get to mourn for you
for this loss and for this collection of your life that we broadcast
across this throbbing I feel up here in these wooden bleachers
and across the sudden loneliness taking ahold of our burning throats
that you need to hear us and that you are never coming back
that we are weak people who are holding your separated body
in our wrecked arms ‘n hands and on our laps ‘n behind our eyes
and we grip onto these monstrous pieces of you until we break
into this ancient song now flooding the air and shaking the overhead lights
burying you beneath this rush of desperate longing
and face your bright and drawn-out vanishing of ‘ilcwéew’cixnim tim’íne
your sáw’is kaa sayaqi’sníx kiké’t núunim ‘ipsúusx pipísne pawic’asc’asnóoya
and sound our tightening ribs so wide even all the long dead ones can hear
each of our gym-lit bodies bursting and wailing and blooming open.
Grateful acknowledgments to As/Us, where this poem first appeared.
For more information about our mission, and how you can help, please visit our Kickstarter page.