Place[meant] is a recurring series that explores identity beyond the geopolitical and physical parameters that have come to define our sense of place. From a train in Queens to the cuff of a bodily spell, the poems in this series navigate place as both material terrain and residual traces of one’s memory. Place[meant] delves into how migration, diaspora, borders, technologies of power and control, biopolitics, and historical violence shape our identities, the powers of which are anything but benign.
Before the Gnadenhutten Massacre
From Washington, a town in western Pennsylvania,
Wissameking in Lenape, Catfish Camp, starting point
of their war pilgrimage: Destined killers saddle horses here,
pack provisions. Most are from Scotland borders and Ireland.
They believe Indians are Canaanites without souls.
Second stop is Cross Creek, over the mountains and down.
They follow waterways through West Virginia’s panhandle
to the Ohio. Some volunteers walk. They are two-hundred
or more men strong. Wheeling, third stop, is Wih link, “Place
of the Head.” A settler’s decapitated head once hung here
where Wheeling Creek joins the Ohio. Horses and men
swim across. Springtime water is cold. At night comes frost.
After the Ohio, the footpath cuts north to the Muskingum.
They stop last near Gnadenhutten and camp quietly.
Perhaps they pray this last night before the killings.
They are just men a while longer. Some mourn wives.
Some seized Delaware land and want to keep it.
Small fires warm them. They drink whiskey and eat
before one of my grandfathers murders another.
Trail Marker Tree
Where did I read about young birch limbs
bent sideways to point trails in forests?
As the tree grows the deformity grows,
an obvious sign in heavy snow or fog.
White bark glimmers against night’s dark.
Which history? But now I remember
we found one on Lake Michigan’s shore
between Egg Harbor and Sister Bay,
its enormous arms stretched in a salute
waiting for us to reach its safety.
You told me how to stake a sapling down,
bend it askew, what your uncle explained
when you lived here. Maybe you climbed
this one, “Indian” trail marker tree,
its own archive, alive, not folded pages.
You paused, looked down, traveled years
back to your big family, Menominee,
a troupe of summer migrant workers,
in orchards, you a boy among them.
This tree even then rose above floods.