Apprenticed to Justice
Author: Kimberly M. Blaeser
Publisher: Salt Publishing (2007)
Apprenticed to Justice is a collection of vividly rendered lyrical and narrative poems that trace the complex inheritances of Indigenous America, this “strange map drawn of blood and history.” It opens with intriguing glimpses of individuals—a mother “born of dawn / in a reckless moon of miscegenation,” cousins “who rotated authority / on marbles sex and skunk etiquette,” women “planting dreams with dank names like rutabaga and kohlrabi”—and it turns on the notion of legacy. From what dark turmoil of earth do we emerge? How and what do we inherit? To what mesh of tangled origins do we live apprenticed? These are the literal and the metaphorical questions Anishinaabe author Kimberly Blaeser asks in this, her third collection of poetry.
Grounded in rich details of places from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the arctic region of Kirkenes, Norway, the poems link the people and the landscapes through storytelling. Narratives range from the comedy of a missing outhouse floor to the longing for the return of an MIA. The storied landscapes of the poems, the “Rocky bottom allotted land(s) / twenty-eight slow horse miles / from the village store,” also become intertwined with tribal history. And the remembered tribal accounts of scorched earth campaigns or the Trail of Tears in their turn become enmeshed with contemporary justice issues including Potlatch’s relentless clear cutting of forest lands and the strange cannibalism inherent in Sr. Inez Hilger’s study of “other” cultures like that at Blaeser’s home, White Earth Reservation. Ultimately, attention to these justice issues invoke the lives of tribal elders whose figurative “fragile houses / pegged at the corners with only hope” somehow represent and teach survival. Finally, each movement in the book connects back to the act of writing, to the poems themselves as both remembrance and a kind of revolution—“these fingers / drumming on keys.”