Poems from Bestiary


        Anna Kyle Brown. Osage.
        1896-1921. Fairfax, Oklahoma.

Because she died where the ravine falls into water.

Because they dragged her down to the creek.

In death, she wore her blue broadcloth skirt.

Though frost blanketed the grass she cooled her feet in the spring.

Because I turned the log with my foot.

Her slippers floated downstream into the dam.

Because, after the thaw, the hunters discovered her body.

Because she lived without our mother.

Because she had inherited head rights for oil beneath the land.

She was carrying his offspring.

The sheriff disguised her death as whiskey poisoning.

Because, when he carved her body up, he saw the bullet hole in her skull.

Because, when she was murdered, the leg clutchers bloomed.

But then froze under the weight of frost.

During Xtha-cka Zhi-ga Tse-the, the Killer of the Flowers Moon.

I will wade across the river of the blackfish, the otter, the beaver.

I will climb the bank where the willow never dies.


“There’s a moth trapped inside the fire,”
my daughter says, but I explain,
“No, it’s an ash.” She asks, “Like Paba?”

A month before, we had transported
my father’s ashes on a plane
to Oklahoma. When we boarded,

Airport Security insisted
on viewing my father’s remains
inside the urn. After they pried

the lid, the crack kept fissuring.
The day before my father died,
a tree surgeon hacked down the Ash

which towered tall above our house.
Struck by lightning, the tree had split
in two, about to strike the roof.

My father, cut down by disease,
could no longer swallow or speak,
yet he wanted to sit upright

in his cane-back chair. I knelt on
the oak floor, holding his gnarled hands.
We shuddered to hear the buzz-saw

chop down the branches. Early June.
Outside my father’s house, the wood
shavings hovered in air like moths.

Barn Owl and Moon

Night-fall, we stretch and tumble under rafters,
beneath the moon. Bats’ breath against our lips.
                The barn owl and the moon.

A scream, a snore, a hiss, a click, a scratch.
Duets of eyes ignite, burn out the night.

Your heart-shaped face, talons, and tawny skin.
My crescent arc – waxing – all marrow, pearl.

Fixed in the sky. A scythe. Afraid to cut.
We hide. This flash might blind and talons strip.

It’s dark. A drumbeat of feathers scales up
my spine. Rapt, out-of-breath, we tilt, take wing.

You clasp a shell of skin. I shed more light
tucked between claw and claw. Rise above earth:
                the barn owl and the moon.


Armored in red, her voice commands
every corner. Bells gong on squares,
in steeples, answering the prayers.
Bright tulips crown the boulevards.

Pulled from the womb she imitates
that mythic kick from some god’s head.
She roars, and we are conquered.
Her legs, set free, combat the air.

Naked warrior: she is our own.
Entire empires are overthrown.


From milkweed to lupine a woman shadows
a monarch. Slowly makes her way, conveys

her weight with care. Inside the womb her son
flutters, then butterfly-kicks against walls.

The woman tracks a trail of burnished wings,
migrating into the heart-notch of forest,

then settles on a lichened tree-trunk where
underground rivers flowing out of snow-

mountain lakes rumble the decree of her
unborn son: “Journey farther, journey deeper.”

Into darker woods she transports a monarch
ruling, even now, unnamed territory.

Pond in Winter

Throughout the night deliberate steps of mammals
leave an impression upon the sheer sheet

of pond where the Great Blue Heron once dipped
its beak, where the Wood frogs jumped from the hands

of the children, where, in the dead of summer,
a Northern Water snake coiled on the bank,

alive in the sunlight, but now lies buried
beneath the glass. Where do the fish escape,

the minnows, the blue gill? Angels inhabit
the willow trees where Orb Web spiders wove

their evanescent graves. Above the house,
a secret of smoke. The wood burns inside

the grate as it once smoldered under leaves.
From the winter forest a solitary

light rises through a window in thick dusk
as if surfacing, again, out of water.

From Bestiary (Red Hen Press, 2009). By Elise Paschen © 2009. All rights reserved.

Poems from Infidelities


The woman sleeps in a pearl-white bathtub:
her skin, basin, and water remind you
of conch or cowrie, of your son inside,
nacre in shell. She dreams she dives

off a boat holding bucket to ribs, free-
falling until the smack of water, releasing
the pail, a parachute, then spiraling,
swathed now in transparent white, protected

like a surgeon or larva, twisting through
sea depth, boring home; imagining how
her skin will glow near seaweed fires,
she resists the pull of water, the cold.

Her body plummets, a pearl dropped in liquid;
the world is green and filled with ghosts.
Just there one glimmers.
She loosens shell from sand. It is your child

she must let go before resurfacing.

Two Standards

        – at a Native Writers’ Conference in Norman, Oklahoma

Joan's one eighth. I'm a quarter.
When we walk into Billy's
I want to look like her,
full Osage. "You wouldn't find
an Indian here," she tells me,
"if not for the conference."

And the cigar-chewing driver
shuttling in from the Will
Rogers Airport confides:
"I never seen so many
Indians all in one spot."
The bar's packed like a bar

should be. Joan shows me off,
introducing her friends
to a light-haired, East Coast
educated outsider
whose mother, Betty Tallchief,
is Oklahoma's pride.

"At that table are some
Osages you should meet."
They know my relatives
in Fairfax, though they come
from Pawhuska, Pawnee.
Angela says the Tallchiefs,

the keepers of the drum,
will host the Osage dances
next June. "Will you join us?
You'll be given your Osage
name." Even though my grandmother
Tallchief’s daughters became

well-known as ballet dancers,
she displayed photographs
of my mother and aunt
when they were twelve, eleven
in Osage ceremonial dress,
performing at a powwow.

My mother said her father's
mother taught her those dances.
I say, when asked, I never wanted
to dance, but here, in Billy's
with the jukebox repeating
the Beatles' "Twist and Shout,"

all I want is to dance
and to adopt my mother's
Osage name "Wa-Xthe-thon-ba":
"Two Standards." All I want
is to return to Oklahoma
and answer Angela "Yes,"

though New York City's half
a continent away.
I am my mother's daughter,
"Two Standards," and tonight,
forgetting my given name,
I will take that ancestral one.


Why don’t we cruise
Times Square at noon
enjoy the jam
I’m not immune
to your deft charm
in one stalled car
I’d like to take
you as you are

From Infidelities (Story Line, 1996). By Elise Paschen © 1996. All rights reserved.