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About this Poem 
“I am always trying to understand myself better. This poem is one of many poems I've written in that attempt. The seed for this poem came from a dream, which I consider one of the most surreal and truthful sources for writing.”
—Layli Long Soldier


* bring us to dark knots the black 
eyes along white aspen skin to scrape 
with a rock on surface where I press 
I carve the initials of all and  **
***  bring us to a returning 	  no 
an urning a vessel of corpse
ash in the active state of being
held by two hands positioned 
gripping the sides to tip 
and scatter my night dream
of an acquaintance who
presented me a ledger opened
to a page handwritten in pencil
dates names and meetings  ****
*****  I said I don’t want to 
see it I don’t want to know
if my father betrayed me
as the words left 
my dream mouth I woke I shook
to the bone a hot line notched 
from heart to elbow throbbing 
vein-ache in my body how
I’d replaced another man’s name 
-a man I once loved I mean to say-
with the word father in a flash 
the sleeping eye ripped me 
from denial I’m not so complex
see my mind unclothed 
is a crying newborn 
aspen leaves in untimed 
wind-filled rhythm my mother 
turned eighty what at that age is left 
to surprise though 					

the tone here shifts to listen 
she said I don’t know if I ever said
when I was pregnant with you
I found out he’d cheated
I threw  ******  into the yard 
I locked him out 
pregnant with you I cried 
and I cried so long and hard
I thought I was going to
die yes she said it a heavy bass line 
beneath aspen music and timbre
I sit on the patio to smoke I think
at night always at night maybe
cause I was born / at night or 
my name means night God bless
my mother she believed
my name meant pure 
spirit so it may be the darkest 
hours are when I’m purest 
when I am I 		I am fluid
a clear stream over rock or
as poetry goes   ********
I think about a baby in utero I can’t help 
but wonder what the baby knows 
a study says babies and toddlers 
through impression not specifics
I rummage the syllables and stress
of each line in  *********
impression is a mark
on the surface 
caused by pressure or
a quick undetailed sketch or
the imitation 
of someone / I
carried her nine months 
beneath my own skin her small toes 
relaxed her eyes shut 
within me her fingertips
pressed into palms she made 		
                                                    a fist 
                                                    or was it 
a symbol
for the Sun what rising
what of battle my child knows 
scares me to the pure 
the one I 	    I burn in question	

* 		may all the grief
** 		may all
*** 		the loss
**** 		all your misdeeds
***** 		love of my soul
****** 		all his things
******* 	spit in a cup
******** 	night is a womb
********* 	the definition

Copyright © 2018 by Layli Long Soldier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Layli Long Soldier. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Layli Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier is the author of WHEREAS (Graywolf Press, 2017).

by this poet


Inside the wheels of wrists and hands, a white shore of book and shell.
I kneel in the hairline light of kitchen and home
where I remember the curt shuttle of eyes down, eyes up—
where I asked, are you looking at how I’ve become two?


I wake to
red sand I
sleep here
coral brick
hooghaan I
walk thin
rabbit brush
trails side-
step early
pick desert
white flowers
on full days I
inhale fe-
male rain
I stop wheels
slow sheep
bounce drop


Because drag changes when spoken of in the past i.e. he was dragged or they drug him down the long road, the pale rock and brown. Down dust, a knocking path. And to drag has a begin point (though two are considered): begins when man is bound; begins also with one first tug.