Sunday Aug 20

low.jpg Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, has fifteen books of poetry, essays, and criticism. Natural Theologies, essays about Plains-Midwest literature, is forthcoming from The Backwaters Press. She has been a faculty member and administrator at Haskell Indian Nations University for 25 years. Her blog is http://deniselow.blogspot.com, and her website is www.deniselow.com
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A Lenape Indian Grandfather’s Biography
 
 
He worked his mother’s ranch, then set out.
He opened a garage and went broke.
He worked at a meat packing plant and quit.
In Oakland he worked the docks.
 
He traveled the four directions and hoboed.
He worked on the railroad and got maimed.
He clerked for a Kansas City pharmacy.
He left for Oregon, had trouble, and returned.
 
He clerked for a liquor store and stayed.
He smoked, he drank, he gambled
and came up a winner at last —
two of his children lived.
 


 
 
Photograph of The Kansas Anti-Horse Thief Association Annual Convention
 
 
I search the crowd of men for faces
I might know, Great-Uncle Edd who was
a drover and gunfighter, but not the Quaker Isaiah.
Among the hatless black-suited men might be
the Delaware grandfathers—former Indian scouts
who fought Spanish, Pawnees, Ruffians and now
horse thieves and rustlers. It is 1913
on this frozen page, and a “vigilance committee”
meets annually, well after the Civil War,
here on the borderland of central Kansas,
Harvey County on the Chisholm Trail.
 
My father was born into this place. I remember
his violence-laced language, with vignettes
of lawless alleys, broken arms, and the phrase
“He’d as soon kill you as look at you.”
I remember playing mumblety-peg, the game
where we took turns throwing knives as close
to each other’s feet as we could without blood.
We prepared for marauders who might engage
us in hand-to-hand combat as others stole horses,
burned buildings, and would not leave until
our brothers and uncles met at Sixth and Main,
posed, and for all time, stood in force.
 
And you, my reader, might find yourself within
this framed frame, my wording of an image
viewed a century later, and you,
unexpectedly, now stand among that throng
on a windless moment, mild October,
when several hundred warriors gather.
You too might remember outlaws
who shot your grandpa as he rode the train
or the games you played when a child,
the ones with dunking, thumping, stoning, shooting—
everything that readied you for this world.
 
 

 
Willows
 
In bed my husband spoons my length, his backbone a jagged parallel to mine. We sleep through the night as one figure.
            Yet in this pose are differences. My hip-bowl rises at an angle. His legs stretch the length of the blanket. Asleep, my breath chases his all night, in a contrapuntal rhythm.
            A painting suggests reflections in a painted pond’s surface. It matches the willow leaf or the mackerel cloud formation above. But finally, water is not air. Even two sides of a tree are different, as one faces windward and another hangs over water. Paint is alive in its own plane, and also it is illusion.
            My husband and I walk through different dreams. When awake, we change landscape: We sit together at the side of a tree or alone, centering different worlds. The painter’s view is a third image where we are lost in the periphery.
            In a picture of a tree or a pond or a sky, outside the frame, we are together, turning ourselves into another kind of mirror. We turn and look into each other’s unmatched eyes.