University of Arizona Press
88 Pages; Print, $16.95
Weaving the Boundary by Karenne Wood (Monacan) is a powerful follow-up to her first book of poetry, Markings on Earth (2001), which was the winner of the North American Native Authors Award for Poetry. The new collection is difficult to summarize due to the range of topics Wood covers; from more general overarching concepts like death or the lasting effects of colonization, to very specific meditations on individuals like Ira Hayes or portraits of moments in history, such as the Sand Creek Massacre, Wood’s writing provides poetic thought on a variety of themes. With that being said, all of the pieces that comprise Weaving the Boundary are linked together by the way Wood foregrounds an indigenous perspective, since she uses poetry to disrupt dichotomous thinking by making connections between oral traditions and cultural memory. As a result, Wood’s work makes political assertions about Native peoples, both in terms of the past and the present.
The title Weaving the Boundary might make one think of poems of formal division or poems regarding a line of demarcation. However, Wood’s poems manifest the opposite notion, since they work to blur boundaries, and typically concern the boundaries that function in dichotomies such as the binary of life and death. For example, in the poem “Boundary,” which Wood has dedicated to her father, images of the American landscape—or one might say images of the Native American landscape—such as the Badlands, Canyon de Chelly, and Bear Butte, are juxtaposed with the “stained trails on hands of those men who lowered you into the ground.” In this sense, Wood sets forth the notion that humans are part of nature, not separate from it, which is one aspect that distinguishes Indigenous worldviews from EuroWestern belief systems.
One of the most powerful ways that Wood blurs boundaries exists in her ability to paint detailed and compelling narratives, even if they are brief snapshots of scenes or individuals. For example, in “Homeland,” the opening poem of the collection, Wood presents brief character sketches to reinforce the inextricable relationship between people and place. Wood writes about “a man with braided hair / [who] tells himself stories and looks at the sky,” “A Montana woman [who] wrestles barbed wire / and drought, searching the skyline for rain,” and “the Nez Perce leader / [who] holds his hand out to the future.” In these parallel images, Wood depicts distinct individuals, not only highlighting the diversity of Native people, but also the fact that Native people are still here.
Wood’s strengths don’t exist solely in her ability to paint detailed scenes, but also in her capability to pose existential and philosophical questions. For example, in “The Egg,” Wood plays with the chicken/egg question in portraying an egg, fallen from its nest, cracked on a glass table; it’s a “potential hatchling, unhatched. It never breathed.” Wood states that the egg’s “spirit has already diffused into everything. / The continuous incarnation.” Wood subverts the chicken/egg question by contextualizing the egg within the larger scope of the universe and the continuous cycle of life, diverting the question away from what came first, and focusing on how this particular life form mimics all life forms in the interconnected world that we live in.
In fact, the continuous cycle of life, from birth to death, and all that’s in between, is a recurring theme in the text. Several of the poems in the collection are dedicated to, in memory of, or about specific individuals who have passed away. Part of Wood’s meditation on life and death really sparkles in the section entitled “Part III: Past Silence.” While all sections of the collection possess their individual strengths and points of uniqueness, Wood is at her best in this particular section because she arranges a set of poems that follow a historical trajectory. The section appropriately opens with the poems “In The Beginning” and “Sky Woman,” in which Wood presents origin stories about how the earth, plants, animals, and humans came to be. Wood then...