For the People Who are Indigenous
“the rigors of an Arctic sky”
I’m tied forever to history.
We’re extinct like the footsteps
on the hardwood floor.
For my people, there are a hundred
words for snow, for reindeer.
In Islam there are a hundred words
for camel, for know.
My counselor last Thursday told me
that families with genocide
in their roots tend to pass down
the ability for muscled silence;
there are entire cities repressed in soot
and smoke. I’m sick, wishing
for a knife to slice my guts
open, pull out the forced sterilization,
the way that our bear rituals
turned into McDonald’s,
shifted our drum circles
into FM radio repetition.
I have a moon in my chest.
It is on fire.
This is the First Poem You Have Bled By Someone of Saami Descent
When you escape genocide, there is no promise of jobs—
the forced sterilization of Swedish eugenics, my grandparents
hid in the northest north of Michigan, where the indigenous shake
drums, jingle-dress bliss, full of Bamewawagezhikaquay maps.
I have bear ritual in my veins, in the rowboats of my head.
I need aurora borealis to live, to revert to Sápmi kayaks
while I struggle for food in this post-Obama mood where
the leaders haven’t stepped inside of schools, let alone
inside pow wows, where Detroit is not allowed, where my pan-
sexual affinities are proud despite the laws that low the crowd.
My Indigenous Roots Have Been Buried
Margaret Noodin says the ghosts come for bones.
In Sámi, jápmin comes for the dákti. Bones
are hard seed. We grow once we are buried,
not erased, as long as you will allow being buried
to mean that you embrace being raised as a tree.
You honeymoon with the sky. My family tree
is buried. I am digging it up. In Sámi, “to be
on the brink of death” is one word—jápmigoahtit.
Goahtit—to start to do something. To start death.
We begin to tower into the collaboration of death.
We go at it like night kicking sun. Goahtit—
we all need to “start to do something.” Or we’ll be
lost to the ghosts hungry for the world’s bones.
aboriginal. And my father says
that I have a polar bear for a mother,
a beluga father, that he is proud
to be Kainuu, Kuusamo, an inability
to trace the Saami roots, the Karelian
connections, so far, but I keep digging,
not like the grave invaders of Minnesota,
but like someone searching for home.
“No one can own a lake.” I am
growing up in a county owned by meth.
A dead man must be alone, whether he wants it
or not. You can watch the blood slowly succumbing
to gravity, the way that losing means down, how
lightning likes to tear open anything reaching
“No one can own the sky.” I am
asking the Scandinavian Studies Professor
if I can take his class.
He tells me Saami
says, What would you even
write about? My ancestors
come from the heart
of the Kalevala; I tell him
I’d like to write about
the importance of having
a literature. He tells me
that the Kalevala is stolen
from Sweden. He says
I would have to write
about that. I’ve never
heard this. He seems
like a dream of snakes,
a dream-life cliff
where serpents wait
at the edge. I want
to tell him I think in Saami,
but I don’t have the confidence,
remain silent, like the thousands
and thousands of Saami
that Sweden forced into sterilization,
trying to make a race extinct.
Sometimes I think about that empty
seat in the classroom.
“No one can own me.” I am
craving living this life over, so that
I could be more peaceful, less jumbled.
I would also sleep less.
And thank my parents
repeatedly, like a consecration.
I’d work in a homeless shelter.
No, not work. I’d joy in a home-
less shelter. I’d encourage you
to go to the homeless shelter,
to bathe in talk, to eat beans
and listen, to gut life, to kiss,
to kiss strangers, to kiss
librarians, to kiss so often
that you can feel cheeks
on your lips even here,
even now, without anyone
on your skin. Run.
Hell, I’d even kiss Death.
searching and researching and re-searching
my genealogy, finding a burial certificate
where a great-great-grandfather’s cause
of death was marked as: Drunk.
I find the ship they came on—the Mauretania—
that it was exactly a hundred years ago,
my grandfather born one year
before Sweden’s ethnic cleansing
of us, an attempt to end continuation.
I think of the family trees in our backyard
in Suomi, how I’d walk to school
in ways that no map would register,
embracing bluffs and getting lipstick
all over the clouds.
Ron Riekki: "My poetry has been published in Spillway, Rattle, Dunes Review, New Verse News, River Teeth, Little Patuxent Review, Verse Wisconsin, Beloit Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Clockhouse, Verse Daily, Main Street Rag, and many other literary journals."