Laura Da’

Why Lazarus

Because a woman was disinherited 
            by a disinterested witness
            in Turkey Ford, Oklahoma
            because she married 
            in the Indian way 
            and zinc was found 
            on her allotment.

For the sake of the sixth born child.
            Last of the animal surname, 
            son of he named 
            for the third son 
            of Jacob and Leah, 
            who ran from home chased 
            by a flickering length of leather.
            Like a contrary land breeze 
            from mountain to sea, 
            not stopping until he 
            hit salt water.

Because my own father’s father
            was made citizen 
            at age fourteen. Beneath the land 
            he tended for his children 
            covered rivers flow 
            under suburban foundations.

Because a park, reservation, or monument bears the same official 
            symbol on the map:

Park, reservation, or monument     .   

            A lonely figure surrounded by endless fields.

Because in removal, 
the Shawnee were not permitted 
            to carry any tools
            that could be used 
            as weapons.

So Lazarus broke ground 
            with his fists and toes, raked red earth
            with a gar’s jaw. Peeled limbs
            from the trees to burn for warmth, 
            slid corn kernels down the side 
            of his forearm into holes 
            quarried with his bare hands.

Because the cougars extirpated 
            from Shawnee homelands 
            track me in my sleep 
            and a knot in a tale 
            shows that the story could go either way.

For the sake of the words of faith:
            no talk, instruction, or translation 
            in native language was permitted
            to the daughters of Lazarus
            at the Seneca Indian School
            even for the youngest pupils. 
            The Shawnee bible 
            being the only exception.

Because an ancestor was the twelfth 
            child of that year 
            and the missionaries 
            tallied the twelfth letter 
            of the alphabet
            and went thumbing 
            through the bible for a name.

Because the etymology 
            of the word martyr is to bear a witness:
            Indian trails holding steady 
            under concrete highways.

Because Lazarus made Jesus weep 
            as a friend and call him 
            back to the world.

For we, the resurrected, 
            so solitary in our vast fields
            need to call out to one another
            by name in this new territory 
            where the fee simple is neither.


Laura Da’ is a poet and teacher who studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is the author of Tributaries, American Book Award winner, and Instruments of the True Measure, Washington State Book Award winner. Da’ is Eastern Shawnee. She lives near Seattle, Washington.