laura da'


I am a citizen of two nations: Shawnee and American. I have one son who is a citizen of three.  Before he was born, I learned that like all infants, he would need to experience a change of heart at birth in order to survive. When a baby successfully breathes in through the lungs, the heart changes from parallel flow to serial flow and the shunt between the right and left atriums closes. Our new bodies obliterate old frontiers.

North America is mistakenly called nascent. The Shawnee nation is mistakenly called moribund. America established a mathematical beginning point in 1785 in what was then called the Northwest Territory. Before that, it was known in many languages as the eastern range of the Shawnee, Miami, and Huron homelands. I do not have the Shawnee words to describe this place; the notation that is available to me is 40°38’32.61”N 80°31’9.76”W.


timber scribe


Between the membrane of fur
and muscle, blades brokering hunger

dimpled the prairie with denuded bison.
Anachronistic velum;

abandoned maps slatted on the shelf—
bereavement in the merger of the warp.

The pick’s sharp interruption
of the ground’s moss

and prairie grass union
uncoupled Kansas soil.

A timber scribe
small enough to hide

in the curve of the palm; 
portable instrument

of the Great Reconnaissance,
subtle gouge for the lonely mind.


Eating the Turtle


These men grow thick,
breathing a smooth brine
of buttered meat,
               stone-fruit sweet.

Creased and shining
like time-greased wool,
a few see their appendages change—
hands grow hooked
around split rail fences,
flatten and spatulate
over the curve of a quill.

Treaty papers pull moisture
from the whorls
               of index fingers.

There are others,
sleeping in rain nests
of stolen India rubber cloaks,
who stay dry
for the skittish moments
of gloaming
and then learn
               to rise in sodden clothes.

Riding deep into the south
along the marsh river
thick with swans,
              38°36’43”N 95°15’59”W—Starved Rock,

Lazarus wakes wet and cold
in the open field
and rides past a small band. Little girls
kneel in the cane breaks,
gigging for small fish and frogs
at the ends of rusted nails.

The men stand hunched,
faces large on attenuated bodies
as they pull an ancient turtle
from the river
once called Grasshopper,
now named Delaware.

They rip into its underside
with picks and cook
a slow stew in the
animal’s shell.




Harvest’s punctuation—
slender metal posts

buried deep and braced
               with wood frames.

Some are capped in numbered brass.

Washington’s winter dreams
are laid down
Rigs and parallel lines
               of railroad tracks: 
               gloaming verges. 

Fresh ligatures of telegraph wires unspooling.

I do not like
            the survey lines
                           running so close.

Soft fall of pale stone-fruit
blossoms unfurl
loosely on the land:
public auction and pre-emption
scatters two million
Delaware and Shawnee acres.

The frontier’s jittering threshold
on the map moves
at a rate of ten to forty miles each year
and fifty cents an acre.

They dig out
the granite corner markers
blaze random marks
in the haggard stands of trees
through the berry months,
unearth the lot stakes
only to find them
again, bristling
with new beads of morning dew
the following week.

Squatters take the orchard land.

1856 brings forth a winter
so bitterly cold—

               deerskins hanging in the trees freeze hard.

               All signs for an auspicious
               planting failing
               in cold, dry weather
               and marshy prairie.

Lazarus holds his fistful
of broken nails and obliterated
government corner markers in one hand
and a troublemaker’s allotment in the other.

His daughter wears new brass earrings;
               etched numbers bracketing her round face.

The only velvet warmth to be found
in the territory
is in the crook of a horse’s mouth
               at the bottom of the bit.


The Immaculate Grid


From the red river
northward to 36° 30’and thence westward

Stick then stuck. What feature
trapped the surveyor’s greeting call?

Bars, basins, falls, flats
gaps, guts, ranges, rapids,

springs, swamps, summits.
Intersection of the Indian Meridian

and the Indian Base Line.
Arrowheads articulated

by size and point
count slick coup

on museum walls.
The word for the pin

that held the surveyor’s chain
in place was arrow.