Language and Thunderbird Egg


I do not know how to speak
the old language, only grasp

fistfuls of dirt searching
for the scent of childhood—

prickly pear and juniper
and sticky summer tar,

a land of ancient sea beds
where trilobites sleep.

Soon, we too will add our salt,
let it steep in the soil

while we sleep eternal,
starmilk in the darkness

until light pours over newly
exposed deer bones.

There is only the new language,
pebbled and opal in our mouths.

Thunderbird Egg*

Nearly in the woods, the sweat lodge dome
of bent and lashed-together saplings
seemed to balloon out and fill with bees.

I felt the prayers creeping, buzzing
like a fucking hive up my spine, a shock
that registered as a surface prickle and then

went deeper, cutting through the night
along the Milk River. And now, if I dived
down and passed my hands along the muddy,

weedy, silty, snail-rich bottom, there it would be—
a thunderbird egg. The stone was one of those
found at the base of a lightning-struck tree

still smoking. A rain-bearing wind called
the turtle’s message over and over, that
a thing can grow so powerful, even when planted

in the wrong place. I buried my face to breathe
burning sage, faint undertones of hay,
a wilted flower, some private erotic decay.

*All lines taken from Louise Erdrich’s novel The Roundhouse.

Genevieve Betts is the author of the poetry collection An Unwalled City (Prolific Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in The Tishman ReviewHotel AmerikaThe Literary Review, and in other journals and anthologies. She teaches creative writing for Arcadia University’s low-residency MFA program and lives in Santa Fe.