I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich’s books, but I had never looked into her poetry. And yet, now that I’ve read several, her voice is SO in her poems it’s almost comforting.
That being said, I felt this poem, “Captivity,” almost viscerally. Louise has such a brilliant way of bringing you into the story, and this poem feels the same, I got pulled in. But I also felt manipulated. Trapped. Assaulted. Not in a negative way. But I found myself trying to skip over phrases to shield myself.
This is one I would love to read again when I’m in a less vulnerable place. I think reading this at a point of safety would probably change the poem itself for me.
He (my captor) gave me a bisquit, which I put in my pocket, and not daring to eat it, buried it under a log, fearing he had put something in it to make me love him.
—From the narrative of the captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, who was taken prisoner by the Wampanoag when Lancaster, Massachusetts, was destroyed, in the year 1676
The stream was swift, and so cold
I thought I would be sliced in two.
But he dragged me from the flood
by the ends of my hair.
I had grown to recognize his face.
I could distinguish it from the others.
There were times I feared I understood
his language, which was not human,
and I knelt to pray for strength.
We were pursued by God’s agents
or pitch devils, I did not know.
Only that we must march.
Their guns were loaded with swan shot.
I could not suckle and my child’s wail
put them in danger.
He had a woman
with teeth black and glittering.
She fed the child milk of acorns.
The forest closed, the light deepened.
I told myself that I would starve
before I took food from his hands
but I did not starve.
he killed a deer with a young one in her
and gave me to eat of the fawn.
It was so tender,
the bones like the stems of flowers,
that I followed where he took me.
The night was thick. He cut the cord
that bound me to the tree.
After that the birds mocked.
Shadows gaped and roared
and the trees flung down
their sharpened lashes.
He did not notice God’s wrath.
God blasted fire from half-buried stumps.
I hid my face in my dress, fearing He would burn us all
but this, too, passed.
Rescued, I see no truth in things.
My husband drives a thick wedge
through the earth, still it shuts
to him year after year.
My child is fed of the first wheat.
I lay myself to sleep
on a Holland-laced pillowbeer.
I lay to sleep.
And in the dark I see myself
as I was outside their circle.
They knelt on deerskins, some with sticks,
and he led his company in the noise
until I could no longer bear
the thought of how I was.
I stripped a branch
and struck the earth,
in time, begging it to open
to admit me
as he was
and feed me honey from the rock.
Louise Erdrich, “Captivity” from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. Taken from The Poetry Foundation.