Yes, this year has been hard on all of us. The
antelope have taken to crossing the lake, maybe
attempting an instinctual, yet impossible move to
warmer climates. Just last week the ice gave way and
more than eighty were lost to the lake’s cold water, limbs
and hooves torn from the fight to break free. Those who
had been spared stood looking on in both misery and
curiosity. When the rescue team and boats arrived, they
rushed to pull as many as possible to safety. Then in so
short a time the only work left was loading heavy
carcasses and hauling them to land. Quickly, as it does
this time of year, evening came and the crews moved
toward their vehicles, the bloated antelope piled in the
beds of their pickups. Only when the engines started did
the animals left on the lake’s dark shore stir, their gaunt
faces lingering and unafraid in the red glow of taillights
moving back toward town.
-For Carl Lithander
We talked once of driving all the remote gravel
roads, writing from here and there, a little like Hugo,
though neither of us had read his poems yet. Today I am
wondering about those unwritten drafts. Could they
Have predicted the severity of this drought, would they
have spoken to our own landscape, one of anger,
sympathy and remorse: You, the eventual heir to your
family’s homestead; and me, an Indian woman who
leases her land to white men made up of the same storm
and grit and hunger as your grandfather. What if we had
found a message in verse written from some small
town - abandon this place. Would we have listened and
turned the car east or south and left behind the land our
families have lived on for generations? But where could
we travel and not long for the ache of wind blowing over
open land? And how long could we have held ourselves
back, away from our need to feel claimed by a place we
can only, with our limited tongue, call home.
Call It Instinct
-For Rob Schlegel
Earlier today when I crossed the Rockies at MacDonald Pass
I realized how beautiful graffiti can appear on boxcars
moving carefully in this early winter.
Our friend’s poems were lying on the truck’s dashboard
and I saw the word ‘fantastic,’ spelled there with a ‘c,’
talking about polished secrets,
and again later, crafted by a tagger in spray paint,
Each time I return to Missoula
it gets more and more difficult to leave for home.
This is not a betrayal of home:
It means I am resorting to standard forms of expression
for missing people and now knowing how
to finally arrive at (depart for) some other place.
I have been meaning to tell you that early
one morning on my drive to the school
I too saw a coyote, her matter fur whitened
for movement across this patchy, snowy plain.
She stood there just a short distance off the highway
and I saw her eyes, just in that moment
of passing. I saw her eyes but I will tell
you nothing of their color: Call it instinct.
What are we native to? All along,
I have said it was landscape and the language
wrought there according to wind and need.
But I have begun to change mo opinion, not of where
and who i come from, but of how
we might establish a particular resonance:
As in coyotes and stones and the full
relationship between thought and deed.
The ‘fantastik’ we all might choose - if given the change -
to name ourselves over again.
-from Another Attempt At Rescue (Hanging Loose Press 2005) selected by Spring 2022 Guest Editor, CMarie Fuhrman
M.L. Smoker is a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana in Missoula, where she was the recipient of the Richard Hugo Fellowship. Her first collection of poems, Another Attempt at Rescue, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2005. In 2009, she co-edited an anthology of human rights poetry with Melissa Kwasny entitled, I Go to the Ruined Place. She received a regional Emmy award for her work as a writer/consultant on the PBS documentary Indian Relay. Smoker served as the Director of Indian Education for the state of Montana for almost ten years. In 2015 Smoker was named the Indian Educator of the Year by the National Indian Education Association and was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education by President Barack Obama. She currently works at Education Northwest as a practice expert in Indian Education. She currently serves as co-poet laureate for the state of Montana, alongside Melissa Kwasny. In 2021, Smoker and Kwasny were named Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellows. Smoker's graphic novel, co-written with Natalie Peeterse, Thunderous, is forthcoming in April 2022 with Dynamite Entertainment.