Published in 2002, A Thousand Ghosts is a collection of revelations about life as poet Leah Angstman travels to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and learns about the hardships of the people there while providing assistance in building everything from bunk beds to unloading mattresses to kids in need at the reservation. A Thousand Ghosts is published by Alternating Current’s Propaganda Press and I am happy to share a few poems below:
death softness but black pitch
white crosses of children dying
far too young—
so scared in love with life
and all the people who have lost their lives
before the age of my heart.
bury my heart at wounded knee –
that’s the battle cry here.
no sign, no tourist trap
no campy souvenirs,
only honesty (so hard to find)
and mass graves and ill-marked
no names only 43 of 150-odd something
not named not found not honored
in any way other than a white stone grave marker.
white like the men who put it there,
placed there years later
saying they “died here innocent”
and oh, how i hate my fellow countryman
of white from years ago
for making me feel his guilt
for forcing me into their history textbooks—
i cannot stop the tears
the salt drops,
i can taste them running through my mouth
down along my taste buds.
i wish that i could
fly from here.
Leah Angstman’s recurring use of the word “white” fits well here, it captures the stark contrast of life and death through unmarked graves, tying in both the present and the past of tragedies at the reservation, whether through alcoholism or persecution. While the vision of the graves makes her cry, it is also a place to be respected and reflected upon through the lines “no campy souvenirs/only honesty…” Instead of passing through or near the reservation as so many of us experience, Ms. Angstman brings us to the inner world of the reservation and their tragedies in this poem.
sun is setting
pink orange skyline stretches out
as far as eye can see.
I am the loner of the herd,
more among the wild horses
than the humans,
watching the cultured ones
soak it in
and the drones sing songs about commercials.
this sunset is the most beautiful thing i have
it saddens me.
sunsets always mean the end
of another day.
the end of another day
of my life.
i am now one day closer to dying
and one sunset richer of life.
I love the description of the sunset and that she notices its beauty while the others in her group are busy talking about things that aren’t as poignant, such as songs in commercials. The poet soaks in the scene and realizes the meaning of life through an every day occurrence, knowing that the sunset is the close of another day and that life is enriched by such beauty.
thirty cents to another state
proof that you can pick up roots
and run at any minute
oh, how i love freedom of america
only toll roads
to block my passage
from running too far from me.
I like this poem because there are days when we feel trapped where we are, that there is no escape, and Leah Angstman points out clearly that it is just a matter of escaping down the road with pocket change from where she is. Thirty cents to the next state, a way out, but that there are limitations in that escape: “only toll roads/to block my passage/from running too far from me” so that in reality she cannot really escape herself and that each stop at the toll will remind her what she is escaping, thereby she is not really escaping at all.
If you enjoyed this small sample of poems from A Thousand Ghosts and would like to learn more about the reservation and read more poems, you may purchase a copy for yourself for a mere .25 cents (not including Shipping and Handling) at:
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Thanks always for reading, please click in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…