Captivity

By Louise Erdrich b. 1954 Louise Erdrich

He (my captor) gave me a bisquit, which I put in my pocket, and not daring to eat it, buried it under a log, fearing he had put something in it to make me love him.

—From the narrative of the captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, who was taken prisoner by the Wampanoag when Lancaster, Massachusetts, was destroyed, in the year 1676

The stream was swift, and so cold   
I thought I would be sliced in two.   
But he dragged me from the flood   
by the ends of my hair.
I had grown to recognize his face.
I could distinguish it from the others.   
There were times I feared I understood   
his language, which was not human,   
and I knelt to pray for strength.

We were pursued by God’s agents   
or pitch devils, I did not know.
Only that we must march.
Their guns were loaded with swan shot.
I could not suckle and my child’s wail   
put them in danger.
He had a woman
with teeth black and glittering.   
She fed the child milk of acorns.
The forest closed, the light deepened.

I told myself that I would starve
before I took food from his hands   
but I did not starve.
One night
he killed a deer with a young one in her   
and gave me to eat of the fawn.
It was so tender,
the bones like the stems of flowers,   
that I followed where he took me.   
The night was thick. He cut the cord   
that bound me to the tree.

After that the birds mocked.
Shadows gaped and roared
and the trees flung down
their sharpened lashes.
He did not notice God’s wrath.
God blasted fire from half-buried stumps.
I hid my face in my dress, fearing He would burn us all   
but this, too, passed.

Rescued, I see no truth in things.   
My husband drives a thick wedge   
through the earth, still it shuts   
to him year after year.
My child is fed of the first wheat.   
I lay myself to sleep
on a Holland-laced pillowbeer.   
I lay to sleep.
And in the dark I see myself   
as I was outside their circle.

They knelt on deerskins, some with sticks,   
and he led his company in the noise   
until I could no longer bear
the thought of how I was.
I stripped a branch
and struck the earth,
in time, begging it to open
to admit me
as he was
and feed me honey from the rock.

Louise Erdrich, “Captivity” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Source: Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003)

 Louise  Erdrich

Biography

Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota in 1954. As the daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father, Erdrich explores Native-American themes in her works, with major characters representing both sides of her heritage. In an award-winning series of related novels and short stories, Erdrich has visited and re-visited the North Dakota lands where her ancestors met and mingled, representing Chippewa . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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