Three Poems from Jenny L. Davis

The poetry and prose that I read each month in my capacity as editor of North Dakota Quarterly often speaks to me, but it rarely speaks to me on a professional level in my day job is as a field archaeologist and historian. Jenny L. Davis’s poems in issue 86.3/4 manage both to speak to me as someone concerned with the past as someone who thinks about how issues of presentation literally inform the present. It was a privilege to publish her three poems in NDQ, and I’m excited to share them here on the NDQ page.

Remember that NDQ relies on our outstanding contributors, editors, and subscribers to thrive. Please consider submitting to NDQsubscribing, or downloading our previous volume.  For some content from NDQ 86.1/2, click here, and for content from our most recent issue, 86.3/4, click here.

~

Lullaby For Bones

If you were standing
in a room full of
Ancestors, stacked in boxes
four shelves high, what song
would you sing for them?
They wouldn’t know the
tune or even the language
but maybe the sounds would
be familiar enough.
A lullaby? For all
the infants—there
are so many infants on
the inventory sheets.
What’s the traditional song for
“I am so sorry
but we’ll figure this
out together”? I laughed once
when I realized this was
a rare moment I wasn’t
the only native in the
room. Or maybe I was crying.
These days it can be hard to tell
the difference. Hard
to tell which of us is
more grateful for the company.

 

Saint Pocahontas

I am not
your Indigenous
confessor. I am not
celibate, nor have I
been ordained to the priesthood
of Anthropology. They
canonized Kateri Tekakwitha—

maybe she can help you. You
can find some statue
of her to stand in my place,
absolve your guilt,
pardon the sins
of our field and
prescribe twenty-five hail
Pocahontases.

 

Trickster Story

I’m going to tell you a story about why the Tricksters no longer talk to each other:

Hopaakikaash nannimilhlha’ alhihaat hooittimanopolinattook
(They say long ago that the animals used to talk together),
just like people do today.
One day, Rabbit, Coyote, Raven,
Spider, Buzzard, and Fox
all took seats around a table together
for the first time in a long while
eying each other warily.
Finally, Fox cleared her throat and said,
Thanks for coming—
As you know, the point of today’s
faculty meeting is to decide who
among us gets a merit raise this year.

~

Jenny L. Davis (Chickasaw) is a Two-Spirit/queer Indigenous writer from Oklahoma and a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her work has most recently been published in Transmotion; Anomaly; Santa Ana River ReviewBroadsided; Yellow Medicine Review; As/Us; Raven Chronicles; and Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance.

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