Sacagawea emerges from the hedgehog cacti
in the lot behind our crumpling house
heavy with cradleboard & mistaken
for a token of peace. Listen
to the rustling in the sagebrush.
Nights earlier, the children, accustomed
to planting where scant grows, nodded
their grave approval as I plucked
the eye-sized coins from my pockets
then dug into the worthless dirt, burying
half a dozen of her, six dollars I’d saved since
liberating the second-born from my body:
& what is the body but a slave? What
can I teach but traitorous love for each other?
We put one gold coin into the dirt
eagle-head up toward the muddy sky,
an experiment in variation or luck.
Listen: she died first when she was 22
of putrid fever, leaving orphans
for Clark while her trapper-
husband captured younger Shoshone brides
then again when she was 94,
after she’d spent seventy-two years
on Wind River.
We watered the dead
earth with a bright orange pail.
We watched it break open.
When one of her flew away, we turned
to the mounds, waiting for the other
five. Sometimes we catch her staring into the sky
& counting the countless birds, crying.
The boys next door are ignoring my son.
It’s playground politics, the fragile and shifting
power dynamics of these early friendships…
I’m leaning on a stucco patio column beside our blue
clay water fountain, crying. He doesn’t understand
they’re not listening on purpose: Mom, they just can’t
hear me. I’ll talk louder. He doesn’t understand why
I’m crying: Did I hurt your feelings, mom? He’s perched
on the red brick wall that separates our small
patches of yard, laughing at jokes he’s not
a part of. Calling out punchlines no one asked
of him. I try coaxing him in. Clouds are moving
lower in the humid summer sky. Afternoon
monsoons. Let’s finish Harry Potter together,
I call, trying to remove the quaver from my voice.
He’s pulling greenish-black leaves from a tree
I’ve kept insisting to my husband is sick and should
be dug up, something newer and brighter planted,
but he always says there’s nothing wrong: It’s just
burning in the sun. Well, burning isn’t normal, is it.
My boy brings me an impossible blossom
from his tree, for perhaps it was his all along,
the tree that didn’t even bud springtime when
all the other neighborhood trees were proud, colorful
with blooms. I’ve carried these hurts since childhood
like large plants in deep ceramic pots. I keep
them in the shade of a spare room that cannot get
enough light. I water them too often, and they sag.
I search our parched corner of the backyard
but cannot see where he found it—this gift
he’s still new enough to accept, and he’s giving me.
A PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow, Jennifer Givhan is a 2015 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, as well as the 2013 DASH Literary Journal Poetry Prize winner, an Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist, and a 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize finalist for her collection Karaoke Night at the Asylum. She received her MFA program from Warren Wilson College, and her work has appeared in over seventy literary journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2013, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Rattle, The Collagist, cream city review, and The Columbia Review. www.jennifergivhan.com