Two poems by Heather Bourbeau

Items Found on Angel Island

black-tailed deer bones, sea lion whiskers, bat ray caudal spines,

bird bone tubes, bone needles, flat pins from large mammal long bone shafts,

polished bones, butchered bones,

isolated human bone fragments, presumed grave goods,

shell beads, shell ornaments, shell fishhooks,

net and fishing weights, milling slabs, mortars, pestles,

handstones, hammerstones, stone beads, pendants, charmstones,

awls, arrowheads, baked clay,

ceramic doll parts, a mother-of-pearl brooch,

buttons, belt buckles,

hardware from clocks, miniature teacups,

milk bottles, beer bottles from the 1890s, liquor bottles from World War II,

Indian head penny stamped with “Liberty”,

military cartridge from when the island was training ground for US soldiers serving in campaigns against the Apache, Sioux, Modoc, and other Native American tribes,

220 Chinese poems, 96 Chinese inscriptions, 89 English inscriptions, 62 Japanese inscriptions,

33 Chinese graphic images by immigrants prevented from entering the United States.

If I Could Weave My Family’s Migrations

I would separate strands of fear and wanting and hope,

the warp of wool to mark long buried clans,

barley and heather, sea kelp and oak,

the weft of baptismal lace bloodied and torn.

I would honor the ghosts of forests, familiar and forgotten,

wood from boats that crossed the Atlantic,

wood of wheels that claimed Algonquin and Nez Perce land,

wood from trees we felled until there were no more.

I would dip worn cotton into maple sap,

braid desiccated stalks of rice and wheat,

dye them green again with juniper berries,

string the bones and beads of those left behind.

I would layer gold and pewter, pine and white sage,

scatter the dust of deserts, the powder of guns.

I would christen with the salt of seas and tears,

gratitude and grief.

Heather Bourbeau’s work has appeared in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly ReviewThe Kenyon Review, MeridianThe Stockholm Review of Literature, and SWWIM. She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. Her collection “Monarch,” a poetic memoir of overlooked histories from the American West she was raised in, comes out in Spring 2023 (Cornerstone Press). 

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