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About this poet

Laura Da’ studied at the University of Washington and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is the author of Instruments of the True Measure (University of Arizona Press, 2018) and Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.  She is the recipient of fellowships from Hugo House and the Jack Straw Writers Program. Da’ who is Eastern Shawnee, lives near Seattle, Washington.

The Tecumseh Motel

In Shawnee cosmology,
a shooting star can fall to earth as a mythical panther.

            Tecumseh—
            phonetic approximation of an Algonquian name:
            Shooting Star,
            One Who Waits,
            Crouching Panther.

The first cultural event in Chillicothe
is a matinee performance
of an outdoor play
highlighting Tecumseh’s life.
We are honored guests,
ushered backstage before the show.

How to approximate a scalping at the Tecumseh Outdoor Drama:
            Hollow an egg with care.
            Fill with Karo syrup and red tempera paint.
            Soak a toupee with cherry Kool-Aid and mineral oil.
            Crack the egg onto the actor’s head.
            Red matter will slide down the crown
            and eggshell will mimic shards of skull.

Actors on horseback frame the stage.
A roan flicks his tail irritably at flies
as his rider shifts uncertainly on the saddle blanket.

How to approximate death by gauntlet:
            The victim must lead the action.
            The aggressor follows.
            Burn marks are approximated on the actor’s chest
            with burnt ends of wine corks
            hidden in the sand at his feet.
            The knife is dull edged,
            lined with a small tubing mechanism.
            The actor squeezes a pump
            of corn syrup, liquid soap, and red food dye
            in a limp arc across the torso.

At the end of the performance
the crowd turns a standing ovation
to the representatives of our tribe
sitting in the middle rows.
Are we mocked or honored with such a display?
That evening,
I rail glibly on the telephone:
            historical inaccuracies,
                        hooping and hollering,
                                    pandering to the worst stereotypes.
My husband interrupts me—
            you sound like you’ve been crying.

A Chillicothe chief to the British Army Commander in 1779:
            We have always been the frontier.

From Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Laura Da’. Used with the permission of the author.

From Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Laura Da’. Used with the permission of the author.

Laura Da'

Laura Da’

Laura Da’ is the author of Instruments of the True Measure, which is forthcoming from the University of Arizona Press in 2018, and Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). She lives near Seattle, Washington.

by this poet

poem

Seneca, Missouri—soft wash of casino jangle
seeps through the Pontiac’s cracked window.

The map flutters on the dashboard,
one corner grit-soaked.

Sparse Ozark wash of tawny green.
A herd of buffalo lowing in the side pasture.

Here is the voyage,
conjured homeland to conjured

poem

In Westport the small French cart
of the voyageurs earned the name mule-killer.

Once Shawnee was the lingua franca
up and down the Mississippi,

then mollassi became molasses.
For the bringing of the horse

it is said much can be forgiven: burn
of Missouri whiskey and

2
poem
I am a citizen of two nations: Shawnee and American. I have one son who is a citizen of three. Before he was born, I learned that, like all infants, he would need to experience a change of heart at birth in order to survive. When a baby successfully breathes in through the lungs, the heart changes from parallel