“The Uneasy Voice of the Grass: Cuwignaka Duta Tells Her Dream” by Lisa Ress

Ress-Uneasy Voice1

Dakota Territory, 1864

In my dream I am walking there
where the north fork of the Platte
and the Laramie meet, where the grass

grew thickest, tender and green.
as the dark heart shapes of cottonwood leaves,
as lacewings, delicate dragonfly needles,

fat hoppers, the killdeer’s sweet home.
I know red as the buffalo’s flesh,
woodpeckers’ crests flashing bright

tied in our warriors’ black hair, I know red
as blood, the color of my skin,
and my name: Red Dress.

And white I once knew as ice on the buffalo grass,
the winter cottonwoods’ ermine bones,
knew it sometimes as hunger.

Now I know white as treaties, as
bible tracts, bills of sale, the mission
schoolbook’ s icy pages,

In my dream I am struggling to walk
across endless white ground,
forcing my legs between stalks of ripped

parchment, the wind howling
around me, clawing to rip
sheets from the ground. This whiteness

has spread, it eats at the land. I look back
at my footsteps. “Tate,” I say to the wind,
I am here for a reason.

–After Susan Power’s The Grass Dancer (G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1994)

Lisa Ress first came to Appalachia (Blacksburg, Virginia) in the early 1960s and fell in love with the region, returned to go “back to the land” in Floyd County in the ‘70s and ‘80s and finally was able to retire to a co-housing community in Blacksburg after teaching college and university English and writing courses for a number of years. Over 100 poems have been published in a variety of magazines. Her first book, Flight Patterns, won the 1982 Associated Writing Program prize and was published by UVa Press. She was also awarded an NEA grant. Her second book, Object Relations, has just been published by Wilder Publications and is available at Banres & Noble and Amazon.