Laura Da’ | 3 poems

     I am a citizen of two nations: Shawnee and American.  I have one 
son who is a citizen of three. Before he was born, I learned that like 
all infants, he would need to experience a change of heart at birth 
in order to survive. When a baby successfully breathes in through 
the lungs, the heart changes from parallel flow to serial flow and 
the shunt between the right and left atriums closes. Our new bodies 
obliterate old frontiers.
     North America is mistakenly called nascent. The Shawnee nation 
is mistakenly called moribund. America established a mathematical 
beginning point in 1785 in what was then called the Northwest Territory.
Before that, it was known in many languages as the eastern range of the 
Shawnee, Miami, and Huron homelands. I do not have the Shawnee words 
to describe this place; the notation that is available to me is 

Timber Scribe

Between the membrane of fur 
and muscle, blades brokering hunger

dimpled the prairie with denuded bison. 
Anachronistic velum; 

abandoned maps slatted on the shelf—
bereavement in the merger of the warp.

The pick’s sharp interruption 
of the ground’s moss 

and prairie grass union
uncoupled Kansas soil.

A timber scribe
small enough to hide 

in the curve of the palm;  
portable instrument 

of the Great Reconnaissance,
subtle gouge for the lonely mind.

Eating the Turtle

These men grow thick, 
breathing a smooth brine 
of buttered meat, 
stone-fruit sweet. 

Creased and shining 
like time-greased wool,
a few see their appendages change—
hands grow hooked 
around split rail fences,
flatten and spatulate 
over the curve of a quill. 

Treaty papers pull moisture 
from the whorls 
       of index fingers.

There are others,
sleeping in rain nests 
of stolen India rubber cloaks, 
who stay dry 
for the skittish moments
of gloaming 
and then learn 
       to rise in sodden clothes.

Riding deep into the south 
along the marsh river 
thick with swans, 
       38°36’43’’N 95°15’59’’W—Starved Rock,

Lazarus wakes wet and cold 
in the open field 
and rides past a small band. Little girls 
kneel in the cane breaks, 
gigging for small fish and frogs
at the ends of rusted nails.

The men stand hunched, 
faces large on attenuated bodies 
as they pull an ancient turtle 
from the river 
once called Grasshopper, 
       now named Delaware.

They rip into its underside 
with picks and cook 
a slow stew in the 
animal’s shell.

Note: all 3 of these poems originally appeared in the International Writing Program’s Narrative Witness, Indigenous Peoples: Australia-United States portfolio.


Laura Da’ is a poet and public school teacher. A lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Da’ studied creative writing at the University of Washington and the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her first book, Tributaries [UA Press], won a 2016 American Book Award.

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