Home’s the place we head for in our sleep.   
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
don’t wait for us. We catch them on the run.   
The rails, old lacerations that we love,   
shoot parallel across the face and break   
just under Turtle Mountains. Riding scars
you can’t get lost. Home is the place they cross.

The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark   
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards   
as the land starts rolling, rolling till it hurts   
to be here, cold in regulation clothes.
We know the sheriff’s waiting at midrun
to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.
The highway doesn’t rock, it only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts   
of ancient punishments lead back and forth.

All runaways wear dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub   
the sidewalks down because it's shameful work.   
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs   
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark   
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.

  • Louise Erdrich, “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

  • Source: Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003)

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