By Jenny L. Davis

I didn’t carry my ancestors’ bones with me
to this Midwestern place.
I could not hear their voices.

I asked Rabbit to carry a note to them
but he baked it into cookies
and ate them with rosehip tea.

I asked Woodpecker to pound a song for them in cedar,
but the songs
could not cross the Mississippi.

I scratched a song in four lines for our ancestors
I wove a lullaby of yarn for our descendants, and
I stomped for all of us moving counter-clockwise in between.

Finally in the still of night
Cicada buzzed answers
in a tree beside my ear

“We left our bones
because we do not need them
to dance along the white dog's way.
You do not need them
to dance along
beneath us.”


To the youth of Attawapiskat and our Native & Two-Spirit youth everywhere,
hold tight to the things that tether you.

Half a lifetime ago
I sat on the edge of a bed
holding cold gun metal until it turned warm
I sat there for hours.
I am sitting there still.

I could not move past the beings that tether me here.
are the beings that tether me here,
caught in a patch of briar so thick
I can’t break away without tearing a hole.
You are the beings that tether me here
And I hate you for it.

I can’t move past the beings that tether me here.
Are the beings that tether me here.
A sapling in the forest
Sharing water and gossip across our rooted toes.
You are the beings that tether me here
And I love you for it.

The girl who loves turtles
Summer is her favorite season
with its heavy shawl of water in the air
and sun that can scorch the skin in minutes.
But most of all
She loves summer for the turtles
answering the call to
come out from under shell arbors,
from behind winter aprons
and spring cotton ruffles.
Loksi’! Loski’! Loksi’!
Such strength in the way their legs move,
hips and shells rolling with each step
to rhythms old as the ground itself.
No sharp edges, just
the curves of muscle and bone and
light bouncing across browns, reds, and yellows
in the heat of summer when
turtles are called to each other to dance.

Let Us Rest
My people
were no strangers to disasters—
the fires, tornados, floods, and droughts
that scorch, bury, and reshape the earth
where they laid our ancestors to rest.

So dig up the bundles.
Test samples from bones,
cloth, and clay—
for the good of science,
toward that next publication,
or a new grant.

But don’t pretend that
it’s what my ancestors would have wanted.
We interred our loved ones
under our homes or within the great
mounded houses of earth
knowing, when the time came,
they’d be returned
to the water, mud,
and to the stars.

© Jenny L. Davis. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny L. Davis is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and originally from Oklahoma. She is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign where she lives with her partner and spends most of her time tending her cats (and cat-sized Chihuahua), plants, and the students in her American Indian Studies and Anthropology classes. Both her research and activism center contemporary indigenous identity, indigenous language revitalization, and the Two-Spirit community.

She is the author of Talking Indian: Identity and Language Revitalization in the Chickasaw Renaissance. 

River, Blood, And Corn: A Community of Voices

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