Native Writer Jennifer Elise Foerster
Jennifer Elise Foerster is a member of the Muscogee (Creek)
Nation of Oklahoma. Her poetry has been published in Ploughshares,
Passages North, Many Mountains Moving and Drunken Boat. She
was awarded her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine
Arts. She is working on a chronicle of poems in Muscogee, German
and English, through a grant from the San Francisco Arts
Commission. Her poems have been described as "hot and beautiful
A few lines from her poem Mexican Hat:
flour sacks across two donkeys' backs
strapped a mast from a cracked
television frame. Pearled the starboard
with red and blue trade beads, bottle caps
stickered with white-bearded faces
ripped from the capsized mission.
This is her poem Gaslight:
like fish adrift in trade winds.
A crab marches its marbled shell
across the ocean floor –
as if the body were ensnared
by its own memory.
Body, I drag you like a shipwreck.
Pluck the pelican-trammeled weeds
from the cracks of the gas-lit shore
to fasten into your hairnest.
It is here we will die – grassbound by bees,
counting the fractals of falling hours,
watching tin clouds rust in the rain
as the fish-shaped bath soap
bleeds into the gutter.
A freight train of pottery and bits of teeth
steams through the terrain of the in-between
where I wait at the station catching dust,
holding a suitcase and your clammy hand –
where the eyes of fish
are not windows, just dreams
the world has forgotten. Like a bone
afloat on a darkening sea
the arroyo’s fluted surface whistles:
Is it you again?
Drowned night. Or like lantern fish
strung into stars
have you so soon forgotten me?
This is her poem The Lost Book:
Almost home –
pavement of the gas station steaming.
On the side of the turnpike
west of Tulsa, brushing dust
from a tattered spine, a Chevy truck
spills cantaloupe, cicadas
deafen the sultry twilight.
It smells of mesquite, sweet-grass,
expanse of farmland
where footprints scribble
the star’s path
Am I just another lost American
smashing locusts on her windshield
addicted to a damaged range
and the highway that seams it –
that I would name you Magdalena
your prairie dress hemmed
with a gasoline rainbow
that a fire brims the distance
as you fill up my tank
for another hundred miles
of the night-light’s
host of neon buffalo
that California fades away
my Grandmother’s backfields,
black horse, silo
like a woman in a trailer window
tumbler in one hand, cigarette in another
her broke-down ark of dust,
dogs, and birds’ nests,
flames rimming the hillside,
lace fringe of nightdress –
Crossing the Rockies, Rio Grande,
windswept plains, aspen stands
I pocket a scrap
of your country of ash,
azure coasts, manzanita groves,
tangled swamps and marbled sands –
that I would promise to re-write
the pages left behind
strewn across highways
of Oklahoma – the land
where gold snakes
ripple across the on ramp
where guttered armadillos
drown in oil
god’s green country
where one little girl
at the Cherokee Trading Post
slamming stall doors and
screaming at the mirrors—
Where what remains of the green
becomes two women
on an empty highway
since the churches were raised
lighting up Anthems
windows smashed –
He would name in an old tongue:
like moths captured
by the moonlit passage
occupied territory –
they flick off the stolen Chevy’s
busted front lights
buried beneath another god’s
and drive on, blinded,
swallowed by night.
This is her poem American Coma:
I believe in the burned field,
the sailboat on the sill
of a desert farmhouse.
That stars on the undersides of our skulls
can spell the way home
even when the lights have gone out,
the maps again erased.
The fray of a rope. Chafe of my hands.
Black horses broken loose
over a trampled dawn – your body
beneath the tin of a bent truck grating.
Footprints at the edge of the earth
where they found you. Magdalena
I believe you became the clouds,
the Sangre de Cristos pink rim of morning,
the musk of blood on my t-shirt as I drive away,
all smoke and sooty desert in my rearview.
That it’s not the fantasy of a land
but its rocks, redwoods, ghosts,
armadillos crushed in roadside gutters
through Texas –
I believe their blood can stay with you
six hundred miles to the Mexican gulf,
that you can use their remains
to bind bear claws, cowrie shells,
something to dance with.
That when you awake you will not remember
any of this: the sirens, sticky
tubes they cocooned around you,
the way you looked at me from behind
the in-patient door, eyes
empty boats dozing on the edge
and I on the rocks peering into waves
piecing together fins out of crushed armadillos
picked up from the roadsides
I traveled to find you
where Chevy appendages, cigarette-butts,
the birdfood of petrified Wonderbread crusts
are the songs of detached, mechanical wings –
I believe, Magdalena,
when America awakes
it will not remember any of this:
you smashed over the precipice –
a pipe dream hinged upon a dead saguaro root.
Your pages flapping, tar-stained
blown into shadows of buttes.
How I gathered you like kindling,
set you on fire, the fugue of black
horses drowning in the surf.
This is her poem Return Passage:
from a fluted plain.
Dragon scales like plucked stars
glimmer on the sill
from where the boats docked
2. Fireworks fizzle in the silver waves.
I examine the expanse left for us:
stars. You had said we were meant to be
walking among them,
a flux of us like milk streams
pouring across the sky.
But here on this windswept
ledge of land, no footprints.
Just armies of ghosts
ferrying the coast
with a flourish of sparklers
and flags, bracelets of trade beads
flung to the shore
my restless waves hum over.
3. Sweet Chariot – I also sang
as your bones were drained.
Platelets of seedlings
compressed into jars, cyclones
sketched onto screens.
You had said they were meant to be
swirled into my blood. The songs.
The interior map of the seed.
Only a conch shell remains.
roosting in a shopping cart,
the rusted tin of a Texaco star
jutting upwards from the sand,
with Pegasus gas cans
framing the blue hands of the sea.
4. Who named the map of you as “vanishing”?
Who cut the sandstone tablet
then engraved your secrets there?
Traitor, your seeds have been stolen.
The encodings inside them
5. Because you have no burial place, I stand
in the mirage that marks you: a smoke tree
billowing from splintered mud.
I trace your alluvial face in the sand,
twine your wing with reed grass –
on the breast of a lava stone
weave you a nest
out of saltbush branches,
bread crusts, blood.
6. Beneath the patchwork
quilt of your deathbed: dunes.
Shutters of the rotting lighthouse
flap open in the wind.
Behind me ashen fields,
names that have burned in them.
7. They carried us in cedar caskets. Marched in droves to beaches. Like crabs they fastened tin to their
backs. I recorded their stacks of maps and clocks; car scraps, tire swings, smashed and rusted airplane
wings; the last cans of tuna fish, jelly jars, Kodak film, batteries –
they rigged a radio
from electrical debris,
sewed our skin into sails.
8. I remember the afternoon
it arrived – the tempest
that tore the roots
from their holding.
In emboldened winds,
Fires swept the plains.
their soot-black ribbons.
I tracked the burnt-out
stars on pavement,
flat on their backs, black
shadows of leaves.
The last of the oil lamp
dims – a passage
Bloom, H. Native American Women Writers. 1998.
Leaving Tulsa (Sun Tracks) by Jennifer Elise Foerster (Mar 21, 2013)
Tohe, L. Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers On Community. 2002