"Hang Fire" by Heid Erdrich

Depth of dark air between us

we sense all things suspended

How tenderly we glance at Earth in her black velvet

Little strings of farmyard lights outside tiny prairie towns

—glitter of lit roads appear to adorn her

How tender our sentiment at cruising altitude—

as soon as we’ve taken off, we want her back

Depth of heaven beneath us

we sense nothing and all between

We wonder what’s out there—

Then intercede the flares

a hundred miles of red eyes

a forever of red lights that thin but do not end

where once the darkest dark dropped through to still more dark

where even a new moon could reflect in our eyes

where that gleam alone could be our guide

out of sage scent and tumbled canyon out of a constant quiet

Out of that profound suspension

relieved of all things human

reason became quickening became our fire

Our own fire

—lit in a pact we made with the sky

Soon our gaze strayed from the sky to flickers of ideas sparks of stories

embers of memory we banked to make a future to fashion foolish notions

How quickly we returned to gazing as if above it

turned all to sentiment all suspended

Once we own it

we cannot un-own our fire

Once we suspended fire in the night sky

we could no longer see in the dark and darkness deserted us

we knew then the infinity of our fire and how our fire hangs on us

How we must hang with fire

Our burning night sky shames us to the world. It is prairie skies

that define a prairie landscape, as well as a prairie inhabitant.

Desecration of those skies runs contrary to our conservative

character and native quickening.

--Jan Swenson, Badlands Conservation Alliance,

quoted in Native Sun News, February 2015

Reprinted with the poet’s permission, from her book Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media, Michigan State University Press, 2017. For more information on Heid Erdrich, see heiderdrich.com