White Earth, June 2018
A country road takes us through
a resort between two lakes, then
past a rustic convenience store
until it’s the rez and the graves
of my grandfather and favorite
cousin, buried blocks apart in
a small Ojibwe town. A Great
War veteran, he’s dead since
1936, and buried Catholic, as the
Jesuits insisted on conversion.
My cousin practiced the ancient
faith. Her spirit house is with a
dozen others in an overgrown
clearing, deep in the tick-rich woods
and tall grass. Dead ten years, buried
in a shroud with her leather jingle
dress and pearl-colored Stetson,
her rib cage collapses and the
sunken earth accepts her bones.
My father and I then witness my
great-aunt’s one hundredth birthday
party. Wheel-chaired, she laughs,
asking, whose big cake is that?
They tell her. Oh, no, she says,
my birthday is Christmas, with
Baby Jesus! Eighty-five years before,
at her boarding school, punished
for speaking Ojibwe, she whispered
it at night, and kept her sacred
There’s a drum circle for her.
Standing outside it with the other
hard listeners, we soak in the
high cries and pounding as it
courses through skin and then,
skull, until finally recollected, it
flows through us into the night.
Bruce Pemberton: "I am a retired high school English teacher, tennis coach, and Gulf War veteran. My work has appeared in Snapdragon, Palouse Journal, Northern Journeys, The Redneck Review of Literature, Third Wednesday, Sky Island Journal, Foliate Oak, American Life in Poetry, and the anthologies, In Tahoma's Shadow, and Spokane Writes. I live on the Palouse, in rural eastern Washington state."