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Native Women On Death's Cycle Of Life

Denise Low

My mother once told me that women who garden can reconcile themselves to the cycle of life and death more peacefully. I have kept up gardening, perhaps because of that advice. Here are poems by Native-heritage women, including myself, that draw on nature to reconcile death’s paradox.

The Cherokee and white European writer Linda Rodriguez grew up in the Flint Hills and writes Cherokee detective novels featuring Skeet Bannion.

Here she writes a charm to link life and death:

Love Takes Us by Linda Rodriguez from Dark Sister: Poems (Mammoth Publications 2018, 86)

Love takes us

from wing to root,

from seed to wood,

from night to rot

from bed to bone.


And life, bearing death like a seed,

enters and re-enters this river

where time and water wash

a maze of secrets. . ..


Having the same heart,

we stray like a river,

trying to find

where sun and stars go

while we stay in the dark.


There is darkness in me.

The new moon rides the river,

clinging to every ripple,

rapid, and shallow.

What has been loosed cannot be leashed.


I conjure you

by the Star Hunter

in the core of the night.

Love will do the deed.


Love takes us

from root to seed,

from wood to wing,

from rot to bone,

from night to bed.

The continuity of women’s generations is another perspective on death, as Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, a Delaware (Lenape) Indian, describes in her poem about art created by Stanley Herd of Protection, Kansas. Jeanetta is poet laureate of Oklahoma:

An Ekphrasis on Stan Herd's Kansas (Kaw) River Levee below Bowersock Dam

by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

In a tiny cafe near the verdant banks of the mighty Kaw River,

a joyful ebony family, five powerful girls whose glistening dark

eyes see far beyond my own senescent, foreshortened gaze.


We hike up the levee, my chosen older sister and me, envisioning

Lenape women, their cornfields planted in the floodplain, recalling

those who remain. We listen for their prayers singing among reeds.


A copse of cottonwoods anticipates bald eagles who will return

to their ample branches come January. Turkey buzzards tilt and whirl

far above our heads—their presence and our gray hair, portents.


An earthwork construction of tinted stones—white flowers, golden

stems—reaches down to water; moccasin designs or grandma’s quilt,

rip-rap monument to women’s art, to women’s footsteps, ours echoing.

I keep seeing my dead father’s presence in crowds, in red-tailed hawks, and here, in petals of wild plums, that bloom first in the spring, before green leaves emerge, and so are ghost-like presences:

Where the Dead Go by Denise Low

Snow petals ghost

the northern wind.

Among wild plums

my father’s face kites


in wickerwork limbs

gray-eyed, trapped,


no escape as trains

huff roadside tracks.


Within twist of this,

a chill flounce.


Beneath     below     within

where does he anchor?

Death unsettles us, because no one comes back from the afterlife to explain its mysteries. We can learn, nonetheless, by the examples of other natural beings and understand that we are not separate from the generations nor from other forms of life.

“Love Takes Us” by Linda Rodriguez from Dark Sister: Poems (Mammoth Publications 2018, p. 86). See more about Linda Rodriguez: http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/p/books.html

“An Ekphrasis on Stan Herd's Kansas (Kaw) River Levee Below Bowersock Dam, Lawrence, KS (1988), Red River Review (Nov. 2017, http://www.redriverreview.net/ ). See more about Jeanetta Calhoun Mish: http://jeanettacalhounmish.com/ . The poem is dedicated to Denise Low.

“Where the Dead Go” by Denise Low, Shadow Light: Poems (Editors’ Choice Award, Red Mountain Press, 2018, p. 66). See more about Denise Low: http://www.deniselow.net