Poetry Inspired by Pine Ridge

My proposed idea for this project was to write several poems and then use Native American and poetry analysis to analyze them. The goal was not to suggest our week in Pine Ridge had made me Lakota, but I was interested in seeing if there were some elusive aspects of the indigenous experience that may have snuck into my consciousness and could be expressed through writing abstract poetry. I was also curious to see if this analysis would suggest that some aspects of my experience were more universal than others.

I did this by first finding a couple articles I thought would be good to use as the basis of analysis, and without reading them, then wrote several poems to attempt to remove some sort of bias in my writing towards a certain form of writing. After completion, I read the articles and noted aspects that seemed important to the authors, and checked to see if there were themes that were in my own poetry.

There were not. The first article I read, Borderland Voices in Contemporary Native American Poetry by Robin Riley Fast was about borderland mentality and was largely about reconciliation for indigenous tribes trying to find a way to reconcile western America with their own traditions. The second article, “Another Kind of Violence: Sherman Alexie’s Poems” by Ron McFarland seemed to question the very notion of Native American poetry, but what it did timidly suggest defined the genre was a contrast between individual achievement and social responsibility to represent indigenous people. This is not present in my poems. There was also a suggestion that the Native American poetry contains, shockingly, imagery and themes of indigenous tradition such as respect for ancestors, connection to the earth, etc. Some of my poems seem to include some of this in the animals I mention and in grandfather stone, but this is information I already held before going to Pine Ridge, so I don’t consider it to have been influenced by our time at the rez.

The analysis part of the project did not go as I planned, but some post-presentation conversation made me realize that it was okay, maybe even good, that it didn’t work out. The validity of the significance of my experience does not to be found in the connection my own work has to other’s form of analysis. Instead, I am valuing more the observation of a peer, that the poetry I produced, along with all the other projects, are great reformulated expressions and reminders of our experience at Pine Ridge, that at their best evoke the experience again, and maybe provide even more insight into it’s significance.

Anyhow, here are the poems that I wrote, hope they can be a sliver of a reminder as to what Pine Ridge was all about.


Instructions on Sweatlodge


Enter darkness, foolish steps

No point in knowing what you’ll get

Sit down close to those you’ve met

And knowledge that you’ll soon forget

Look around the common space,

Fueled by fire, matched with grace

And strain to see the others faces

And pain to see in others faces

And faced with pain, yet feeling free

And this, you see

Is simply me

With shaken feelings, every plea

Every thank you, every please

Empty substance, burning water

Father and mother, sister to brother

Seeing darkness, every color

Light not provided, but discovered

Rainbow smiles, itchy toes

A world inside, a world below

Sacredness for spirits growth

And all the eyes begin their flow

From lit up faces

To the ones we know

To the ones we knew past visual aid

To thoughts we’ve held and thought we made

To recognizing truth in bare form

Truth in eagle, hawk, and new-borns

Nevaeh, Heaven and everything between

The simple pleasure of living a dream

Privilege and the guilty streams

Of mud and dirt and things unseen

Graciousness in walls forseen

Walls built up, tipis forsaken

T.P.s unfortunate connotation

And tipis strength in standing still

Stillness, land, and deep landfills

To efforts made to go underground

Visit the place where darkness bounds

And in this darkness return at last

To the present, and therefore the past

Yes, return to darkness again at last

Darkness where no time has passed




The Eyes Burn


Brave fools

Fall in the pool

Can’t see cus the eyes burn

Can’t breathe cus the earth turns

Who knew water was so SPICY


Fall in the pool

Dive to the deep

Can’t breathe cus the earth turns

The heart, burns with blood

Who knew water was so SPICY


Dive to the deep

Find what the dusty sand hides

The heart, burns with blood

The earth beats below the ocean

Who knew water was so SPICY


Find what the dusty sand hides

Excavate the relics of the mind

The earth beats below the ocean

Shellmounds crackle with broken shells

Who knew water was so SPICY


Excavate the relics of the mind

Hold space sacred of what’s inside

Shellmounds crackle with broken shells

Fire crackles far from hell

Who knew water was so SPICY


Hold space sacred of what’s inside

Can’t breathe cus the earth turns

Fire crackles far from hell

Brave fools

Who knew water was so SPICY




Red People


Transpose the song

And I’ll sing it to you

One of ballad, temper, and fear


Transpose the song

And the singer will come down to you

And in his language

Speak to you about forgotten people


The red people, you see

Were once real,

And were red because

Their skin was translucent.

Blood was their substance

Sun was their only fuel.


Then skin became beautiful

And colors emerged

People wore new colors

Black, yellow, white

Some even wore red skin

But blood became hidden.


It is true about inner beauty

Take a slice and see

The same beauty in you

Runs under all other skins


Transpose the song

And the singer will sing it to you

In the native tongue

So that each ear might hear


Transpose the song

And I’ll sing it to you

So that you might temper

Your ballad of fear





Flap opens, hiss of air

Steam rises to kiss the cool

Hey! There are the spirits



Pink walls, broken floor

And the real founding fathers

Heritage passed on



Seconds of Mt. Rushmore

Sacred land capitalism

Crazy Horse much bigger

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