Mn poetry: Meridel Le Sueur’s “Dead in Bloody Snow”


Audre Lord, Meridel Le Sueur and Adrienne Rich at a writers' workshop in Austin, Texas

(source: Wikimedia commons)

Born into a family of social and political activists, Meridel Le Sueur is best known for her books North Star Country - a history of Minnesota - and the novel The Girl. An actress and a journalist, Le Sueur was blacklisted in the 1950s as a communist, but by the 1970s she was hailed as a proto-feminist for her writings in support of women's rights. In her later years, Le Sueur lived in St. Paul, and wrote popular children's biographies. She was heavily influenced by poems and stories that she heard from Native American women, which you can see in this poem, "Dead in Bloody Snow:"

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Dead in Bloody Snow

I am an Indian woman

Witness to my earth

Witness for my people.

I am the nocturnal door,

The hidden cave of your sorrow

Like you hidden deep in furrow

and dung

of the charnal mound,

I heard the craven passing of the

white soldiers

And saw them shoot at Wounded Knee

upon the sleeping village,

And ran with the guns at my back

Until we froze in our blood on the snow.

I speak from old portages

Where they pursued and shot into the river crossing

All the grandmothers of Black Hawk.

I speak from the smoke of grief,

from the broken stone

And cry with the women crying from the marsh

Trail and tears of drouthed women,

O bitter barren!

O bitter barren!

I run, homeless

I arrive

in the gun sight,

beside the white square houses

of abundance,

My people starve

In the time of the bitter moon.

I hear my ghostly people crying

A hey A hey A hey.

Rising from our dusty dead the sweet grass,

The skull marking the place of loss and flight

I sing holding my severed head,

to my dismembered child,

A people's dream that died in blood snow.

- "Dead in Bloody Snow," by Meridel Le Sueur, as it appears in the anthology The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks: Poems of Loss and Renewal by Minnesota Poets, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the editor.