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About this poet

Kimberly Blaeser was born in Billings, Montana, in 1955. Of Anishinaabe ancestry, she grew up on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She received a BA from the College of Saint Benedict in 1977 and went on to study at the University of Notre Dame, where she received an MA in 1982 and a PhD in 1990.

Blaeser is the author of Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007), Absentee Indians and Other Poems (Michigan State University Press, 2002), and Trailing You (Greenfield Review Press, 1994), winner of the Diane Decorah First Book Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.

Allison Hedge Coke writes, “Kim Blaeser is a knock-out poet, bringing boxers to steal hearts, floured fists to punch dough, and a serious sense of familial White Earth beauty, hunger, and humility that’s impossible to put down.”

In 2015, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters named Blaeser the poet laureate of Wisconsin. Also the recipient of a Wisconsin Arts Board Artist Fellowship, Blaeser is active in several literary and social justice organizations, including the Milwaukee Native American Literary Cooperative. She currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.


Bibliography

Poetry
Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007)
Absentee Indians and Other Poems (Michigan State University Press, 2002)
Trailing You (Greenfield Review Press, 1994)

Prose
Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012)

Housing Conditions of One Hundred Fifty Chippewa Families

White Earth Reservation, 1938:
wigwam
peaked lodge
bark house
tipi
log house
tar-paper shack
frame house
u.s. rehabitilation house.
sister hilger
you counted each one—
seventy-one tar-paper shacks,
eight united states rehabilitation houses
two wigwams
bark houses at rice camps—
you graphed
photographed
measured dimensions
calculated cubic air space
ennumerated every construction detail—
23 with broken windows;
99 without foundations, buildings
resting on the ground;
98 with stove pipes for chimneys.
house, dwelling, place, structure—
home. Endaayaang.

June to November
the year my mother turned five,
Mary Inez you walked these lands
the fervor of your order tucked
under one billowing black-sleeved arm,
amassing details of crowded quarters,
common-law marriages, miscegenation,
illegitimate children, limited education,
economic dependence on the WPA and CCCs
for charts that have outlived
those Anishinaabeg of the
one hundred and fifty chosen families.

Now you perch in my history
at one of  71 homemade or 79 factory-made tables
sitting tall and precise on one of the 84 benches,
49 backless chairs, or 81 arm chairs,
or standing, Mary Inez, in the homes
of one of the 16 tar-paper-shack families
or 8 frame-house families
for which you record none
under the heading of chairs.

Methodically you recite
like prayers of deliverance
each prepared question:
Why are these so many
unmarried mothers on the reservation?
Why are there so many common-law
marriages on the reservation?
What do you think can be done
to stop
the drinking to intoxication among the Indians?
I hear you interrogate each family
daily gathering indulgences
or ink smudged statistics
on what you label in caps SOCIAL PROBLEMS.
Any unmarried mother in the home?
Any intoxication in the home?
So dutifully you prompt each betrayal—
Father? Mother? Son? Daughter?
and then remind yourself, in print,
in a parenthetical aside
of the unreliability of the interviewee—
(Check this information
with some outside person.)
As if anyone then or now could forget
with whom resides the authority
for your social accounting

Ah, sister, I pity you
the prickly mystery of those questions
whose answers could not be checked
nor changed
by some reliable outside person.
So confidently you asked
Would you like to leave this home?
But seventy-three per cent of the occupants
of tar-paper-shacks on White Earth Reservation
in northwestern Minnesota in 1938
said no.
No matter, you wrote, how dilapidated
and inadequate the homes were,
the tar-paper shack families
were quite unwilling to leave them.

So they were asked again
asked another way
because it was thought
knowing the alternative
might change their mind:
Would you like to move into a rehabilitation
house; one of those fine new houses
the Indian Bureau built for the Indians?
But the negative answers grew.
Fewer still would think of leaving their home.
Not thirty-five-year-old Anna,
fifty-year-old Mary,
not a widowed mother, sixty-one years of age,
living on the outskirts of one of the highway towns,
not Old Man Mink, seventy-eight years of age,
nor his wife, ten years his junior,
who agreed they liked their one-room shack,
not Mike, twenty-nine and a regular League of Nations,
nor his white wife Jane, twenty-eight,
nor their ten-year-old son.
Gaawiin. Gaawiin niwii-naganaasiin.
Like Jim, forty years of age
and Ella, thirty-eight,
they wanted to stay
in the old ramshackled, tar-paper-covered homes.

And did you hear the bullrush psalms
of Gaa-waabaabiganikaag
as you painstakingly recorded each
softly intoned explanation?
And does the land remember you
Sister Inez, of the tar-paper-shack dwellers?
As surely it remembers Mary 
who felt well acquainted with the woods,
or Anna, who believed she was living
more like the old Indian ways?
Somewhere in that rolling land of rich loam
is the adorned body of Old Man Mink
and perhaps somewhere roams the spirit
of the Midē wiwin elder who vowed
I’ll stay right here. I won’t leave here.
I’ve lived here too long.
I wonder, Mary Inez,
did your BIA-commissioned sojourn
in the land of white clay
somewhere lay its soul mark
looming crow dark
at the ruled edges of report ledgers
spilling into cautious recollection
even as the measured drip of black ink
might draw tabulations
upon white pages?

Before Minnesota winter winds
rattled the 162 full-sized, 104 half-sized,
and 47 less than half-sized unbroken windows,
before that biboon nodin blew through
those 23 houses with cardboard-covered
broken windows or blew through
your tight-lipped post-allotment spirituality
you returned to the Order of St. Benedict
and to the list of standards set out in 1935
by the National Association of Housing Officials,
those standards against which all our measurements
fall short, become sub–sub-standard, sub-human.
You left Mary Inez, the Latin Mass
and rosary zipped safely in one pocket—
the names of each Midē wiwin elder
drumming and chanting in the other.
                    

*All italicized words are taken from Sister M. Inez Hilger’s Chippewa Families: A Social Study of White Earth Reservation, 1938.

From Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Kimberly Blaeser. Used with the permission of the author.

From Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Kimberly Blaeser. Used with the permission of the author.

Kimberly Blaeser

Kimberly Blaeser

Kimberly Blaeser is the author of Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007). She teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

by this poet

poem

Don’t hurry to safety.
Each hour your flowered room grows smaller.
Everywhere at the periphery of vision
windows shatter into triangles
of mosaic light.
There in the lonely fragments
a youtube dictator
declares victory,
blood flattens and darkens.
The scent of rebellion

poem

          I.
living by your words
as if I haven’t enough of my own
ever
to make them stretch
that long distance
from home to here
from then to now.

and all the new words
i’ve ever read learned
or shelved so neatly
can’t explain myself to me
like yours

poem

The weight of ashes
from burned-out camps.
Lodges smoulder in fire,
animal hides wither
their mythic images shrinking
pulling in on themselves,
all incinerated
fragments
of breath bone and basket 
rest heavy
sink deep
like wintering frogs.
And no dustbowl