Grandmother Eliza

By Nora Marks Dauenhauer b. 1927
My grandmother Eliza
was the family surgeon.
Her scalpel made from a pocketknife
she kept in a couple of pinches of snoose.
She saved my life by puncturing
my festering neck twice with her knife.
She saved my brother’s life twice
when his arm turned bad.
The second time she saved him
was when his shoulder turned bad.
She always made sure
she didn’t cut an artery.
She would feel around for days
finding the right spot to cut.
When a doctor found out
she saved my brother’s life
he warned her,
“You know you could go to jail for this?”

Her intern, my Auntie Anny, saved my life
when I cut a vessel on my toe.
While my blood was squirting out
she went out into the night
and cut and chewed the bark
of plants she knew.
She  put the granules of chewed up bark
on my toe before the eyes of the folks
who came to console my mother
because I was bleeding to death.
Grandma’s other intern, Auntie Jennie,
saved our uncle’s life when his son
shot him through the leg by accident.
A doctor warned her, too,
when he saw how she cured.
Her relative cured herself of diabetes.
Now, the doctors keep on asking,
“How did you cure yourself?”

Nora Marks Dauenhauer, “Grandmother Eliza” from Life Woven with Song. Copyright © 2000 by Nora Marks Dauenhauer. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: Life Woven with Song (University of Arizona Press, 2000)

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Poet Nora Marks Dauenhauer b. 1927

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries


Nora Marks Dauenhauer was born in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up in Juneau and Hoona; her father was a fisherman and carver, her mother a beader, and the family lived at times on a fishing boat and in seasonal camps. As a member of the Tlingit tribe, Dauenhauer’s first language was Tlingit; she did not learn English until she was eight. She earned a BA in anthropology from Alaska Methodist University in Anchorage and is the author . . .

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Poems by Nora Marks Dauenhauer

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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