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National Poetry Month, 2014 Louise Erdrich

On the River
On the River
Catherine Al-Meten

National Poetry Month, 2014 Louise Erdrich

Advice to Myself



Leave the dishes.


Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator


and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.


Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.


Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.


Don't patch anything.

Don't mend.

Buy safety pins.


Don't even sew on a button.


Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead


foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.


Talk to them.

Tell them they are welcome.


Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles


or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs,

don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything


matches, at all.


Except one word to another.

Or a thought.


Pursue the authentic-decide first


what is authentic,


then go after it with all your heart.


Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.


That closet stuffed with savage mementos.


Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth


or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner


again.

Don't answer the telephone, ever,


or weep over anything at all that breaks.


Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons 
in the refrigerator.

Accept new forms of life
and

talk to the dead


who drift in though the screened windows, who collect


patiently on the tops of food jars and books.


Recycle the mail,

don't read it,

don't read anything


except what destroys


the insulation between yourself and your experience
or

what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters


this ruse you call necessity.

I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move

We watched from the house
as the river grew, helpless
and terrible in its unfamiliar body.
Wrestling everything into it,
the water wrapped around trees
until their life-hold was broken.
They went down, one by one,
and the river dragged off their covering.

Nests of the herons, roots washed to bones,
snags of soaked bark on the shoreline:
a whole forest pulled through the teeth
of the spillway. Trees surfacing
singly, where the river poured off
into arteries for fields below the reservation.

When at last it was over, the long removal,
they had all become the same dry wood.
We walked among them, the branches
whitening in the raw sun.
Above us drifted herons,
alone, hoarse-voiced, broken,
settling their beaks among the hollows.
Grandpa said, These are the ghosts of the tree people
moving among us, unable to take their rest.

Sometimes now, we dream our way back to the heron dance.
Their long wings are bending the air
into circles through which they fall.
They rise again in shifting wheels.
How long must we live in the broken figures
their necks make, narrowing the sky.

Louise Erdrich’s writing is lyrical regardless of what type of writing she does, is has a poetic quality as in this excerpt from The Antelope Wife:

“We have these earthly bodies.
We don't know what they want.
Half the time, we pretend they are under our mental thumb,
but that is the illusion of the healthy and the protected. Of sedate lovers. For the body has emotions it conceives and
carries through without concern for anyone or anything else.
Love is one of those, I guess.
Going back to something very old knit into the brain
as we were growing.
Hopeless.
Scorching.
Ordinary. ”

For more information on Louise Erdrich, visit the website of the Poetry Foundation for biographical information:

Visit Louise Erdrich’s bookshop, BirchBark Books in Minneapolis, or her online store to see the full array of her work