It was the time before
I was born.
I was thin.
I was hungry. I was
only a restlessness inside a woman’s body.
Above us, lightning split open the sky.
Below us, wagon wheels cut land in two.
Around us were the soldiers,
young and afraid,
who did not trust us
with scissors or knives
but with needles.
Tear dresses they were called
because settler cotton was torn
in straight lines
like the roads we had to follow
to Oklahoma.
But when the cloth was torn,
it was like tears,
impossible to hold back,
and so they were called
by this other name,
for our weeping.
I remember the women.
Tonight they walk
out from the shadows
with black dogs,
children, the dark heavy horses,
and worn-out men.
They walk inside me. This blood
is a map of the road between us.
I am why they survived.
The world behind them did not close.
The world before them is still open.
All around me are my ancestors,
my unborn children.
I am the tear between them
and both sides live.

Tear dresses are traditional Chickasaw women’s clothing.
Linda Hogan, “Tear” from The Book of Medicines. Copyright © 1993 by Linda Hogan. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press. www.coffeehousepress.org
Source: The Book of Medicines (Coffee House Press, 1993)
More Poems by Linda Hogan