Suzan Shown Harjo



a child of time, naked and weeping
walked one night in my dreamless sleep
she came to claim my word of honor
the promise she heard me make to keep
her voice when she spoke
was the sound of the wind
first howling, then moaning and sighing
the sound of a storm without end

she knew of my early mourning visit
to the museum of indian dead
where i had stared at her small torn gown
of leather and beads, all stained with red
blood should mean something more than this
blood flows and lives and gives again
but here, only dead rust patterns surrounding
a bullet hole where her belly had been

to most it was merely a dress on display
placed next to the ancient Navajo loom
lighted and indexed for all the curious
patrons of this bone-chilling public tomb
this dress of dried blood does not belong here
it should be saged and secretly burned
and now, with the dawn, her voice on the wind
“I’ll walk this way ‘til my spirit’s returned.”

hush, now, my pretty, there’s work to be done
sleep on the earth, i’ll give your heart ease
your name will be claimed, now quiet the storm
and come to me next as a soft, gentle breeze



she was a Crow
and i didn’t know if i could trust her
            so i shared half a secret
            to see how fast it would return
and turn she did
            faster than a snake on hot dirt
            subtle as a trap-spider’s visit
            with all the creative flourish of the idle
                        musing like a scarecrow
                       in someone else’s corn field
            did you know
            have you heard
            can you believe
frankly, i was relieved
taking comfort in confirmation of old tales
            crows peck your eyes
            if you get too close

Martha Tabor
Spirit Boat II

2001, wood and horsehair
41" x 28" x 20"
see more work by Martha Tabor

so, i gave her one of those long-distance smiles
            exactly eight teeth
            and your time is up
another time, when the light was just right
            i turned my back on her in public
            slowly, ever so, with studied subtlety
                        just like the old aunts
                        with their younger brother’s
                        too-flaming flame
i could not remember each aunt’s lesson
but she got the point, after a while
            it took longer than i’d planned
            since i was pretty good at it
                        sometimes only i knew
                        i had counted coup

later, she asked me for a loan
hard times having set in
            after selling her land to a bordertown rancher with sweaty palms
she had someone else’s secret to sell
but i didn’t listen, not really
            having gotten bored way back with that ancient enemy
so, she switched to a tale
about her former best friend
            told with rotting teeth and a hyenic grin
i said i couldn’t make lunch, so sorry
but we’d get together soon, yes, soon
            Grandma told me never to eat with anyone that hungry
i gave her the money, no bother
after all, we’re all civilized, now
            and there’s not much call for scouts these days 




i never went to
john wayne movies
and never played
cowboys and indians

because i couldn’t stand
seeing indians 
lose all the time

so, i devoted fifth grade to jacks
and became the champion player
the runner-up called Grandma
“blanket ass”

and i never felt the same
about winning
or even playing the game




a small, gentle kicking awakens me at dawn
my little one beside me, tired from the evening’s work
chasing fireflies and snakedoctors in his sleep
now breathing in my time, as before birth
now a once, twice smile, shuddering as young ones do
warming my blanket, changing my dreams with his crawling
taking me from cold death-caves to yellow medicine-flower fields

my little son, destiny boy-child
“give me a boy,” said my man, “on my father’s day”
and it happened that way, without effort
but, before his black eyes lost their newborn glaze,
his belly felt the white man’s doctor knife
carving an early sterile scarring mark to last a lifetime
soon, after learning to stand on two feet, then to balance on one foot,
his legs began to quiver as the foul air invaded his chest
fumes from the below garage, rising in search of young bodies,
leaving one nightworker dead, another mechanic purple-faced and foaming
then, later, the corner city crashing of cars
before he had anything to say for himself

last night, we grown-ups told old stories and new tales of near misses
we drank day-old coffee and watched smoke and sadness fill the air
i saw her dry eyes form the words her mouth could not release
her knowing and forgetting eyes saw a certain kinship
in our shaking, working, living and dying-hard hands

Lakota woman, sister-friend, once-wife of my brother
i mourn your little one, burning in a closet in Kyle,
putting her clothes out with her hands, too stunned to cry out
i mourn your little one, living for so long after, her tiny body blackened
then dying, just when there was hope, they said

Lakota woman, mother-daughter, once and now family of mine,
i mourn your memories of fire, of charred hands
i mourn your todays of gunfire, of fear and threats
i know you show these midnight tears because they were absent at her feast
your broken nose making tears the more painful, an accident, they said

Lakota woman, sister in sorrow, now and then friend of mine
it is fortunate for the fine and upstanding,
those masters of cheap shots and shell games,
that flaming bodies and bloody faces leave no traces of fingerprints

Lakota woman, my little ones are yours this hour until you are stronger
or until they no longer need us in that sweet, holding-on way
let’s rest today, tomorrow you must find your own way home
to the other small ones, eating beans for breakfast, over half a world away
right under the noses of good fathers and mothers who look out for their own
tomorrow we will worry about a way to find water that is free of tetanus
on the next tomorrow we will worry about how the air will be rationed
then, on the day after that tomorrow, who will have compassion
for my sleeping one, this gift of the sun?



REGRETS ONLY - 1492-2002

it was a sorry congress in 1990   
................................................that apologized for the record
                                                for the Wounded Knee Massacre                                                                                                                    only a century too late
                                                                     only without saying they were sorry
i’m sorry the south dakota delegation     had the last word
                                                 and it wasn’t “apology”
“We’re sorry” would mean           returning the Black Hills
                                                 they were sorry, so sorry to say
“We’re sorry” would mean           revoking those medals of honor
                                                 from the sorry seventh cavalry
                                                 hung over their gattling guns
                                                                      still mad about the Battle of Little Bighorn
                                                                      (and the Cheyenne women say “Sorrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiii”)
“In Memoriam and Apologia”       we latinized one draft, sneaking in a little regret
                                                  “Sorry, nice try,” said the south dakota guys
i’m sorry i wasn’t at the Little Bighorn with my ancestors, and theirs

“Someone white should say they’re sorry”
                                                  said my good-hearted friend, chellis, in 1992
                                                                       an apology for the Invasion?
                                                                       Sorry for the 1492 holocaust?
i’m sorry the boats didn’t sink
i’m sorry the conquistadors didn’t rust on the beaches
i’m sorry the pilgrims didn’t drown in their bloomers
i’m sorry 100 million Native Peoples got killed   for gold, for skyscrapers, for poisoned waters
......................................................................and all the gifts of civilization
i’m sorry, dear chellis                         but no Native person has the right
                                                   to accept such an apology

today, i’m sorry for all the reminders of terrorism in my land
                                                   relatives murdered at Sand Creek
                                                   50,000 killed on the Trails of Tears
                                                   the quarter-million covered with smallpox infested blankets

today, i’m sorry there’s so much hopelessness        in the shadow of the capitol
                                                                         and on all the U.S. reservations
                                                                         where the privileged get cipro
                                                                         and the worker bees get taken by surprise

today, i’m sorry that the Washington Redskins won’t be going to the Super Bowl, again

........................................................................regrets only



Suzan Shown Harjo is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples recover more than one million acres of land and numerous sacred places. Since 1975, she has developed some of the most important national policy advances in the modern era for the protection of Native American cultures and arts, including: the 1996 Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites; the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; the 1989 National Museum of the American Indian Act; and the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Harjo, Cheyenne and Holdugee Muscogee, is President and Executive Director of The Morning Star Institute, founded in 1984 for Native People's traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion, and research. She is a columnist for Indian Country Today, a Founding Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian, and a recipient of a 2004 Dobkin Native American Artist Fellowship from the School of American Research. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including Antaeus, New York Quarterly, Nimrod, and the Potomac Review, and in several anthologies, including Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America, The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature, and Third World Women.


Published in Volume 6, Number 4, Fall 2005.