Instruments of the True Measure charts the coordinates and intersections of land, history, and culture. Lyrical passages map the parallel lives of ancestral figures and connect dispossessions of the past to lived experiences of the present. Shawnee history informs the collection, and Da’s fascination with uncovering and recovering brings the reader deeper into the narrative of Shawnee homeland. Images of forced removal and frontier violence reveal the wrenching loss and reconfiguration of the Shawnee as a people. The body and history become lands that are measured and plotted with precise instruments.
Surveying and geography underpin the collection, but even as Da’ investigates these signifiers of measurement, she pushes the reader to interrogate their function within the stark atrocities of American history. Da’ laments this harsh dichotomy, observing that America’s mathematical point of beginning is located in the heart of her tribe’s homeland: “I do not have the Shawnee words to describe this place; the notation that is available to me is 40°38´32.61´´ N 80°31´9.76´´ W.”
Laura Da' University of Arizona Press, 2015 Library of Congress PS501.S85 vol. 78 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
In Tributaries, poet Laura Da’ lyrically surveys Shawnee history alongside personal identity and memory. With the eye of a storyteller, Da’ creates an arc that flows from the personal to the historical and back again. In her first book-length collection, Da’ employs interwoven narratives and perspectives, examines cultural archetypes and historical documents, and weaves rich images to create a shifting vision of the past and present.
Precise images open to piercing meditations of Shawnee history. In the present, a woman watches the approximation of a scalping at a theatrical presentation. Da’ writes, “Soak a toupee with cherry Kool-Aid and mineral oil. / Crack the egg onto the actor’s head. / Red matter will slide down the crown / and egg shell will mimic shards of skull.” This vivid image is paired with a description of the traditional removal path of her own Shawnee ancestors through small towns in Ohio.
These poems range from the Midwestern landscapes of Ohio and Oklahoma to the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of place is apparent. Tributaries simultaneously offers us an extended narrative rumination on the impact of Indian policy and speaks to the contemporary experiences of parenthood and the role of education in passing knowledge from one generation to the next. This collection is composed of four sections that come together to create an important new telling of Shawnee past and present.