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Laura Da'

Instruments of the True Measure


Moving lines of settlement 

are baptized in the bile 


of their own digestion. 

Chickasaw in the northern parcel of the state 


Choctaw in the central.

Domesday Book scrolls meld into the 


linen press 

of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.


Reliance on the crude materials of measure 

bows to precision. Watery ink 


like corn mash bourbon haloing the mouth:

dress the shale in a trickster’s uniform,


stretch marked by the moving zeniths:

the First, Second, Third, Fourth Principal Meridians.


Thence west on a blank line

to the Indian Meridian.



Onion Skin


Portents of fierce winter

undermined by movement:


the age-old songs 

of chill warning 


grow sparse

over stretched miles and 

vexing meridians.


Corn that sprouts lushly 

then offers abundant ears 


on the banks of the Scioto 

gives way 


to the thin skins 

of allotment onions 

along the lower banks 

of the Kaw.


A subtle conjuring 

winds under the skin


when the tract 

severed in twain 


twangs within the body; 

            new lots break 

into fractions 

alongside the nations.


Of the thousand

who walked from Ohio,


Lazarus, his wife 

and three of their children 

drop a loose square 

of foundation logs —

36°50′25″N 94°36′36″W


A prairie wolf 

at the edge of the camp 


grows bold enough 

to gnaw at the dried blood


that still clings

to the saddle’s rawhide ties.


Some say an onion, 

halved and burned 

black over hardwood 


then pressed 

to the torso 

will lift the wet rack 

of consumption.  


When the first spring breaks, 

the survivors 

wear a layered blister 


straddling the hollow of their chests;  

green corn sprouts slender.



Timber Scribe


Between the membrane of fur 

and muscle, blades fevered by appetite


dimpled the prairie with denuded bison. 

The pick’s sharp interruption 


of the ground’s moss and prairie grass union 

uncoupled Kansas soil.


A timber scribe,

small enough to hide 


in the curve of the palm;  

portable instrument 


of the Great Reconnaissance,

subtle gouge for the lonely mind.

-from Instruments of the True Measure (University of Arizona Press, 2018), selected by Fall 2021 Guest Editor, CMarie Fuhrman 

A member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Laura Da’ is a poet and teacher. A lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Da’ studied creative writing at the University of Washington and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Eastern Shawnee. Her first book, Tributaries, was published by the University of Arizona Press and won a 2016 American Book Award. Da’ has held residencies at the Richard Hugo House, Tin House,  and Jack Straw. Her newest book, Instruments of the True Measure, is the winner of the Washington State Book Award. Da’ lives near Seattle with her husband and son. 


Victoria Chang


Victoria Chang

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