indian jewelry

            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
            as embers."

            A few lines from her poem Mexican Hat:

              In the red desert where you were last seen, sails were heaving. Children had stretched
              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:

              We swim in the density of light
              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,
              the orange-tinged
              expanse of farmland
              where footprints scribble
              the star’s path
              maize stalk
              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
              Grandfather called
              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
              aluminum quilt
              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
              that survives
              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:

              1. After the fugue, only echoes
              from a fluted plain.
              Dragon scales like plucked stars
              glimmer on the sill
              from where the boats docked
              and sailed.

              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.
              Tattered pigeons
              roosting in a shopping cart,
              the rusted tin of a Texaco star
              jutting upwards from the sand,
              refrigerator stocked
              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
              transcribed. Forgot.

              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,
              rooftops lifted.
              Fires swept the plains.
              Highways loosed
              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
              Clenches open:

            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
              Jennifer Elise