cover image Instruments of the True Measure

Instruments of the True Measure

Laura Da’. Univ. of Arizona, $16.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-8165-3827-0

Adding to the work of indigenous counter-mapping taking place across many academic disciplines, Shawnee poet Da’ (Tributaries) records the logic of U.S. settler colonialism’s “frenzied sketching/ across the vellum mapskin/ of the wilderness.” Rooted in the poet’s mixed genealogy, the book combines narrative poems with short essays that bring readers into lyric contact with the traumatic history of lands seized and ceded. A survey crew “pauses/ at a bonfire rendezvous// nestled inside a horseshoe bend/ south of/ 36°35’16”N 89°32’9”W.” The call and response of the surveyors as they make their blazes and set their chains sounds like “the earth’s colicky sobs.” The work achieves an almost claustrophobic coherence as Da’ elaborates a metaphoric system that binds arithmetic, cartography, Indian removal, and personal legacy: “the walking body is fractioned/ possession following measurement—// Numerated agony made linear.” When Da’ bemoans the loss of the Shawnee language in her own family (“a starvation harvest of syntax-starved images”), readers may recognize a compensatory impulse on display in poems that hue closely to the rules of grammar. Irony abounds; as every part of speech slides into its proper place, Da’ puts English to the service of telling on itself, “like a tongue/ poking around// in the shrill vacancy/ of a shattered tooth.” (Nov.)