True Myth

(Photo: Bob Muschewske/

(Photo: Bob Muschewske/

Tell a child she is composed of parts

(her Ojibway quarters, her German half-heart)

she’ll find the existence of harpies easy

to swallow. Storybook children never come close

to her mix, but manticores make great uncles,

Sphinx a cousin she’ll allow, centaurs better to love

than boys—the horse part, at least, she can ride.

With a bestiary for a family album she’s proud.

Her heap of blankets, her garbage grin, prove

she’s descended of bears, her totem, it’s true.

And that German witch with the candy roof,

that was her ancestor too. If swans can rain

white rape from heaven, then what is a girl to do?

Believe her Indian eyes, her sly French smile,

her breast with its veins skim milk blue—

She is the myth that is true.


Heid E. Erdrich is author of four poetry collections, most recently Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems. She is Ojibwe from the Turtle Mountain Band, and she grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Heid is a longtime college professor and now an independent scholar, as well as a frequent ­visiting writer at educational and cultural institutions. She also curates art exhibits and runs an Ojibwe language press. A recipient of awards from The Loft Literary Center, the Archibald Bush Foundation and elsewhere, Heid has four times been nominated for the Minnesota Book Award, which she won in 2009 for her book National Monuments. She is a 2012–2013 Minnesota State Arts Board grant recipient.

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