To-Do List before Writing a Poem:
Recall the words we want her to teach
nookomis, niigiizis, zaaga'igan
affix them to photos
the picture-words imagined in blood.
Trace the footprints of shadows;
she washes her hair at night
in lakes that have always bathed us,
children asleep, four to a room.
Build the house again, creak of floorboards
birchbark cauldron to hold manomin.
A butter moon
says it's going to be fall.
Feel her wrist and forearms ache
the years of flour biscuits
scrubbing screen doors; oscillating fan
whirling furious, sandy air.
Name the sons she buried early:
one's decay in the VA hospital
agent-orange-riddled; the other crashing
to asphalt, atonement.
Listen when she says.
Evince the scars.
Return. [End Page 200]
She knows the length of each day
in shadow-slants across her bare floor.
They grow longer as the pain
in both knees festers—
metal balls marbling beneath cap and skin,
jingle dress dancing
in the marrow of her bones,
the discomfort that comes from a woman's lifetime
of building her family—
she stiffly moves her chair to follow
what is left of the lingering November sun,
closes her eyes as she has always done
to recount stories:
Recipes for fried walleye
standing on solid brown legs
over boiling pots of potatoes;
grandchildren at a table, some with green eyes
and some with eyes like black magpies;
acheless hands to weave braids
in honeyed hair, tie ribbon at each end,
shuck corn in mid-July;
the year she mourned two sons—
she raises hands like the old-time dancers.
Here, in an afternoon that extends itself [End Page 201]
as memory exploding in the half-light of her mind,
she recalls it was four women
in the dream
tiers of seven rows of jingle cones
ring healing for another sacred day.
Molly McGlennen is of mixed heritage (Anishinaabe, French, Irish), born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She presently is the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Native American Studies at Vassar College. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis (2005), with her dissertation work on contemporary indigenous women's poetry. She also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College (1998). Most recently her poetry was published in Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing, edited by MariJo Moore, (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003),