To each orphaned child—so long as you remain close enough to walk to your living kin you will dance, feast, feel community in food. This cannot stand. Eighty acres allotted.
To each head of household—so long as you remember your tribal words for village you will recollect that the grasses still grow and the rivers still flow. So long as you teach your children these words they will remember as well. This we cannot allow. One hundred and sixty acres allotted.
To each elder unable to till or hunt—so long as your old and injurious habits sing out over the drum or flicker near the fire you cripple our reward. We seek to hasten your end. Eighty acres allotted.
To each widowed wife—so long as you can make your mark, your land may be leased. A blessing on your mark when you sign it and walk closer to your favored white sister. Eighty acres allotted.
To each full blood—so long as you have an open hand, we shall fill it with a broken ploughshare. One hundred and sixty acres allotted.
To each half blood, each quarter strain—so long as you yearn for the broken ploughshare, you will be provided a spade honed to razor in its place. When every acre of your allotment has been leased or sold, you will turn it on yourself. From that date begins our real and permanent progress.
Live long enough and salt pork, beans, yearling colts, honey and butter, something will turn into a wedge to bend your will. Missionaries call for my sons to send off to school, each season when the corn is green. I tuck them into the rows farthest to the north of my cabin. Keep them busy with the threshing as I whisper their true names into the ears we consume, but I leave a path to them like a snake by slithering away through the sparse harvest. Frost breaks under my mare’s hooves when I ride to sign my name at the Neosho mission. My sons and nephews traded to industrial school in the north for the release of seven barrels of winter rations. This commerce— makes me brother to dragons, companion to owls. Riding away from the mission, I call to my sister’s youngest child, the only one still too young for school, come over here and ride with your old uncle. The boy clambers up behind me, bare toe notched into the girth for warmth and purchase. My boots quiver along the sides of the horse’s flanks as I endeavor to slip them into the stirrups that frame the ground below in jerky patches Child, I keep repeating, Nephew. The horse dances nervously, sensing my frenzy. To his credit, the boy keeps a steady hand on the reins.
Seneca, Missouri—soft wash of casino jangle seeping through the Pontiac’s cracked window. The map fluttering on the dashboard, one corner grit-soaked. Sparse Ozark wash of tawny green. A herd of buffalo lowing in the side pasture. Here is the voyage, conjured homeland to conjured homeland. No, not that clawed trajectory of the past, but a fierce conception that quickens and scrapes inside just the same. The drive to Ohio will take eleven hours and forty eight minutes, cost one hundred and ninety-five dollars in gas. Chillicothe—in the subtle semantics of Shawnee, a tightened fist of connotation: clan name and principal city, all human systems working in harmony. Limpid sashay of corn tassels along the byway. Historical markers beckon the reader to plunge an arm into the loam tweeze with fingers to feel how fecund, no rocks to bend the ploughshare. What heirloom fields of Shawnee corn hum under the crust beside the carbon of burned council houses? August wheeze of Bad Axe Creek. Drought thrusts large boulders jutting up waist-high, deep grooves in the center for grinding corn. What is owed grits in the corners of the mouth. Xenia—the influence of the pollen upon the form of the fruit. The plaque on the museum’s door extols a Revolutionary War hero: The ground on which this council house stands is unstained with blood and is pure as my heart which wishes for nothing so much as peace and brotherly love. Summer school kids mill around the museum. The teacher introduces the panel of tribal council members as remnants of the once great Shawnee tribe. Listless murmur of pencils across paper. In the front room, a volunteer curator leans over a diorama anxious to capture the real story of a Revolutionary War camp. He stipples red paint onto the sandy ground simulating the gore of a military flogging, points with the paintbrush to the next room where fifty-three letters broker captive trades with the Delaware and Shawnee: wan shades of ink from blanched olive to cornflower, blotted in the rough or refined sway of long dead hands each one made phylum by the promise of whisky. Leaving Xenia that evening on an old Shawnee trade route re-traced in concrete: Monlutha’s Town, Wapakoneta, Blue Jacket’s Town, Mackachack, Wapotomica. Thesis: I want my ink to bellow— Where is this ground unstained with blood?
Laura Da’ has had poems in Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Hanging Loose, First Intensity, and Red Ink among other places. She is a member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, has studied creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico and the University of Washington in Seattle, and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and son.