At Standing Rock

Vets Stream into Standing Rock. Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr
“Vets Stream into Standing Rock.” Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr

for Zhooniyah Ogitchida, with gratitude

He walked to the frontline in his Army combat shirt.
On it, his sergeant badge, name tape, US Army tape, and flag. 
                                                They were praying together
Behind him stood hundreds of water protectors. 
He walked up alone. Police took their positions. Armed and defensive. 
                                                Protecting the water
In front of him, concertina razor wire. Around him, ashes, wet abandoned clothes. 
                                                A song to heal water
A few sheriff captains and officers approached. He said to them,
“I am a ten-year, two-time war veteran. I am not a protester, I am Ogichidaa.”
                                                Let our earth cleanse itself
“I am here to protect these people from you. To defend the Constitution. 
To see this for myself. I seen your rubber bullets, the gas, the attack dogs.”
                                                Let the earth cleanse its creatures
“I seen your water hoses, people freezing. Your riot gear, your violence.
 I seen how you’ve mistreated my people. I am the first of many warriors to come.”
                                                So many of us have felt unholy lately
Then what looked to him like a thousand water protectors
came walking toward the front line, behind him.
                                                Let winter return us to the bones of what matters
As he stood on that concrete divider with the razor wire, he told them,
“If you’re going to shoot, shoot at me, at this uniform.”
                                                Ancestors who loved us 
The captain and the other officers told him they appreciated his service.
He answered, “I wish I could say the same.”
                                                The sacred instructions we almost forgot 
Ogichidaa. Warrior. Sworn to protect. Behind him, hundreds of headlights,
a line of cars three miles long. The veterans, arriving.
                                                The waters that heal us and carry us home

Karenne Wood, an enrolled member of the Monacan Indian Nation, holds an MFA in poetry and a PhD in linguistic anthropology. She is the author of two poetry collections, Markings on Earth (2000) and Weaving the Boundary (2016). Her poems have appeared in such journals as the Kenyon Review, Orion, and Shenandoah.