once you leave

chippewa-baby

Once you leave your mother’s breast for the garden
you must learn to grow yourself.
All greensticks and gangly
you will climb fences like ivy and reach for the light
or you will crawl the dark way of wolf’s bane
skinwalker, shape shifter
yee naaldlooshii
going to ground on all fours.

The latch of love draws blood
First milk is not white, but pink
not the the fluff of flamingo down
nor the the girl child’s bassinet blanket.
papoos, you are the swaddle of deer skin
lashed to a cradleboard
so you remember your connection
to the animals who clothe and feed you
and the trees give who you shelter,
a table to eat upon and dress the dying,
the ancestral trees who honor you with their breath
so that you may breathe.

This is the way blood works,
even at a distance from the mountain.
You skin your knee, and taste your own
to confirm that you are alive.

This is the “mama bear” instinct housed within,
the mother who knows about her children.
You must remember to ask your mother,
not for permission, but for the vision.
She would give you her own eyes
so that you will not go blind to danger.
So listen when she warns you.

Mother knows the smell of wolf piss on his heels
despite the diamond collar around his neck.
She knows the curve of the crow’s beak
that means to peck at her child’s eyesight
and take her heart in carrion chunks
so that she is no longer able to see or feel
what he truly is.

Once you leave the mountain and go to the city,
the instincts weaken. These new animals with teeth.
They are hidden . . .
You will be bitten and scratched by things
that don’t wear fur or scales or wings.

You must not assimilate
the knowledge of things to come;
bring the medicine horn spoon to lip,
protect your hungry spirit from
the plastic spork in cellophane.

Once you leave the forest for the schoolyard
you trade your moccasins for new, brown shoes.
The eye holes, brassy and gaping, looking up you
unfeeling and unconscious, the rope laces
stiff as nooses as they burn through curled fingertips.
Prison with a ribbon.
Build a tee pee
Come inside
Close it tight so we can hide.
Over the mountain
And around we go
Here’s my arrow
And here’s my bow!

The round hood of school shoes
sheltering toes in an empty dome,
like small children afraid in church.
You can no longer feel
the connection to the ground
or see what is above you
in a vaulted ceiling without stars.

The natural becomes unnatural,
when you get distance from it.
Once you leave, you must always know
the way back to the mountain,
to the forest, and to the mother.

One thought on “once you leave

  1. WORD. As a city-dweller and as an expat of a shire, I found this poem fascinating. This line especially resonated with me: “The natural becomes unnatural / when you get distance from it.” I like the suggestion that a “natural” thing might be an ambivalent concept given one’s background.

    Like

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