I do not know this place

I do not know this place.

Every telling of history tastes an awful lot like past-tense with the qualifying pre-tense:

“was, were, no longer theirs, stolen” with the underlying tone of a little more than


I do not know this place. Because knowing requires understanding and distance limits

connection with what it feels like for you heart to stop beating momentarily as the truth

is reinforced beneath cinderblock archways:


I do not know this place.

Perpetuating cycles of poverty inflicted upon people by institutions of “protection” for the

sake of human progress; move forward, up, on, over, through to the means of destruction

because there’s a highest peak somewhere and the victor’s flag must occupy it.

Push out for preservation.

I saw this land for the first time beside a gas station and a tombstone; everything moves

around a center.

I looked upon this place as an outsider. I do not know this place. But the concentric

circles show themselves as songs raised up through the willows beneath soaring moons,

receiving the voices drifting the only place they can: up.

Blurring boundaries between realms unknown but so saturated with life that I felt they

must be there. Everything moves in circles.

Sacred land people sacred song prayer struggle sacred balance struggle struggle balance

word prayer song people land.

The layers remain beyond my comprehension with the language I have.

Without words, ungrounded.

My eyes fell upon this place as my eyelids hung heavy beneath the dark heat of the womb.

The skin of the Mother bursting with the ability to live again.

Resilient and ancient, pulling through to present.

Voices calling four ways to four directions of the earth and the spirits, they came in circles

of song around a center.

Beneath my eyelids, I looked up circles within my horizon.

Concentric circles dancing around a fiery center.

Open spaces were sharp edges introducing tension toxic stretching thin.

I do not know this place. But I saw this place in the messages that sink below the skin,

blood, bones, soul. Every breath a prayer exhaled to the winds.

I do not know this place.

But I saw this place. My eyes fell upon the beauty, strife, and struggle to back everything

that rightfully belongs.

I do not know this place.

But I saw this land breathing, pulsing, stirring alive. This place is real.

Everything moves around a center.


-Emma Brachtenbach

(A spoken word piece attempting to put words to the lack of language and understanding available to describe what I saw while staying at Pine Ridge.)

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One Response to I do not know this place

  1. helenwick says:

    Hearing and reading this poem was a highlight of my entire block. Your ability to capture our experience, our discomfort, our inability to easily express ourselves and our thoughts about the res, completely resonates with me. You say this was your attempt to talk about how you don’t know how to talk about it, but I think it is clear to everyone that this is your way. This poem is absolutely beautiful in structure and message. You communicate something truthful and important through your words. Thanks for sharing your creativity with us, it has been a pleasure getting to know such a beautiful and talented person.

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