Grandmother Eliza

It’s been a busy summer, very little poetry reading or teaching, but plenty of repairing things at home and in my heart. In June, after a trip to Alaska experiencing Juneau and Sitka and the in between, I came home wanting to know more about the Tlingit people: their art, totem poles, lives, history before assimilation, connection to animals, etc. etc. Yesterday it came to a bit of a full circle after googling contemporary Tlingit poets. (See below.)  I have two more related -to -Alaska books to read, and then I guess I’ll have to come back to my own culture.

Grandmother Eliza                          Nora Marks Dauenhauer

My grandmother Eliza
was the family surgeon.
Her scalpel made from a pocketknife
she kept in a couple of pinches of snoose.
She saved my life by puncturing
my festering neck twice with her knife.
She saved my brother’s life twice
when his arm turned bad.
The second time she saved him
was when his shoulder turned bad.
She always made sure
she didn’t cut an artery.
She would feel around for days
finding the right spot to cut.
When a doctor found out
she saved my brother’s life
he warned her,
“You know you could go to jail for this?”

Her intern, my Auntie Anny, saved my life
when I cut a vessel on my toe.
While my blood was squirting out
she went out into the night
and cut and chewed the bark
of plants she knew.
She put the granules of chewed up bark
on my toe before the eyes of the folks
who came to console my mother
because I was bleeding to death.
Grandma’s other intern, Auntie Jennie,
saved our uncle’s life when his son
shot him through the leg by accident.
A doctor warned her, too,
when he saw how she cured.
Her relative cured herself of diabetes.
Now, the doctors keep on asking,
“How did you cure yourself?”

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