Poem: Self-Portrait as Collected Bones [Rejoice, Rejoice]

Michael Wasson’s poem uses the self-portrait to investigate identity within the legacy of colonialism and erasure of the Indigenous body. This poem relies on repeated elements, attempting to make a self out of violence — the anaphora of “For,” the colons throughout, and the repetition of “rejoice rejoice.” The speaker grapples with the challenges of passive acceptance within past and current violence. “Rejoice” is religious language that means “to be glad” or “to take delight.” This language is juxtaposed next to the theft and auction of Indigenous bones and objects: “Mother, tell me/what you remember of another man’s hand/reaching into your throat,” the speaker asks. The bones keep singing “rejoice rejoice” as a way to both lament and reclaim the speaker’s and his ancestor’s bodies. Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Self-Portrait as Collected Bones [Rejoice, Rejoice]

By Michael Wasson

after Paris auction of indigenous human remains & objects

For there’s a polished-bright medal
of honor hanging in my chest like another
man’s stilled heart: for I lie here
waiting for you in fields
broken by hands the same shapes as
howitzer blasts: for I am
learning to stand up again
with only cleaned bones: singing rejoice
rejoice are the quieted rib cages of our beloved
nation: for the massacre is only
a series of colorless photographs, archives
of snow & nothing else: Mother, tell me
what you remember of another man’s hand
reaching into your throat
like a night-frozen glove: how warm
was it? Was it him with the words
of a god beaded over his lips like sweat? For
the wounded is someone touched
& entered with the weapon we shape
into fingerprints: no matter how wrecked
or soft: we return to the field
wrapped in this one name
under god: rejoice rejoice, say the hand-
bones that want the heft of memory:
for I am a decade: a century
of openmouthed thirst
even as the snow keeps falling —
& falling through:

Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Michael Wasson is Nimíipuu from the Nez Percé Reservation in Lenore, Idaho. He is the author of “Swallowed Light” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022), “Self-Portrait With Smeared Centuries” (Éditions des Lisières, 2018), translated by Béatrice Machet, and “This American Ghost” (YesYes Books, 2017). He is the recipient of several prizes, including the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, a Native Arts & Cultures Foundation National Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Adrienne Rich Award for Poetry. He lives in Japan.

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