Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media

Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media

by Heid E. Erdrich


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Heid E. Erdrich writes from the present into the future where human anxiety lives. Many of her poems engage ekphrasis around the visual work of contemporary artists who, like Erdrich, are Anishinaabe. Poems in this collection also curate unmountable exhibits in not-yet-existent museums devoted to the ephemera of communication and technology. A central trope is the mixtape, an ephemeral form that Erdrich explores in its role of carrying the romantic angst of American couples. These poems recognize how our love of technology and how the extraction industries on indigenous lands that technology requires threaten our future and obscure the realities of indigenous peoples who know what it is to survive apocalypse. Deeply eco-poetic poems extend beyond the page in poemeos, collaboratively made poem films accessible in the text through the new but already archaic use of QR codes. Collaborative poems highlighting lessons in Anishinaabemowin also broaden the context of Erdrich’s work. Despite how little communications technology has helped to bring people toward understanding one another, these poems speak to the keen human yearning to connect as they urge engagement of the image, the moment, the sensual, and the real.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611862461
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 03/01/2017
Series: American Indian Studies Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 100
Sales rank: 817,677
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Collaborative artist, filmmaker, and independent curator Heid E. Erdrich teaches in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program of Augsburg College. She is the author of five collections of poetry, including National Monuments, which won the 2009 Minnesota Book Award. Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and is Ojibwe enrolled at Turtle Mountain.

Read an Excerpt

Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media

By Heid E. Erdrich

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2017 Heid E. Erdrich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62895-298-8


Curatorial Statement for Wiindigo Eye

Viewing this work through the lens of Fresnel, an oblique critical angle might be arrived at, and we may appreciate the layers of flat and curved surface, the distinct cultural experience refracted in black and white. Each section of the whole builds imaging and non-imaging so that areas of text, "there's a picture opposite me / of my primitive ancestry / that stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free," might act as non-image. Convexly, the artist's DNA — left as she crimped the paper, sucked the brush to a fine tip, hiccupped, tore a nail — creates an image of the indigenous corpus. That this image arises entirely from non-visible elements, and yet we see figures we relate to our engagement, surely shows the work itself commands us to interact with it. That the type of interaction is not specified means less than that we viewers scrape the underside of well-muscled 100 pound paper, send the sample, and await results. Or as critic Jessica Kolopenuk asserts: ... they can learn their "true ancestry" — they can now feast on the genetic contents of their own flesh. They have themselves become host to the wiindigo.

The Honey Suckers

We drank the nectar left there for you
We grew drunk on doom

There was never enough

Down by the river of our youth
we pulled love with our tongues

We took something from you

Green-groping in reeds and stink
river slow in its drive-by saw us

said nothing rWe could say
we were young — young was once true

We took all that was sweet and all that would be
We left no excuse

We ignored the body-made call the sweet text
its subtle, alien speech

We beseeched! We beseeched!
Did you not get our message?
It tasted of many grasses drunk
clover bud, sepal, petals —
then panic, then wrath, then the end

All that we read
we misread

Come hither, help us! Come-come!
Did you not get enough?
Taste in the grass, be drunk —
Taste many times over taste more
taste in hurry in passion
taste to the end of all tongues and be done

Autobiography as Gesture

All that I meant All my intent What I had to say
carpal tunnel pulses a flow of sparks so I print with light on light indelible
information encodes then deletes still the paths in my hands
faint remains no not as if sparks in the dark liquid of mind could
express impress this last medium —
delete to the bone bone's deep chambers down to what's left what's been left
our bodies nothing less
our hands the thumb beloved gesture trace — other's touch destroying breath
fluted traces in ancestral caves women and children on rainy days finger waves
in clay a mania of hands akimbo askance verbal as dance
they touched and touched and touched
do not touch
What I had to say I intend not portend

  in sign and shrug implied vibe eye-stray key cached digital capture
  smoke and signal blown through hand-formed bone hoop
  bite and bark birch cutouts of my dream-song template for black bear
  humpback and hunch of wolverine —

My head tilts my eye bats my breath lets frets across millennia delicate
antiquities try not to breathe future fragility not to touch

All that I meant All my intent What I had to say I
stroked instead.

Wireless Handshake

Drums talking they say or smoke signals we used long ago
like Pope Smoke dark or white

or the prairies fired to say we've entered near we are here we are here we are here
Whale Smoke when we needed crowds to take the meat before the tide

or the Noon Gun signaling military time
  ancestor of the factory whistle school bell

What we wanted to know I asked

Now give me your reply pick your mode sync syn

Photophone Radiophone Videophone Satellite stuttering high

Shortwave Microwave

Heliograph of sun and mirrors or moon and mirrors

Lighthouse Beacon fire Balefire
a pillar of cloud by day ... a pillar of fire by night
Landing lights Aldis lamp shuttering flashes of code

What we wanted to know I ack I ask I syn ack you know

Now give me your reply pick your mode
Cellular Mobile Device
Or come quite close
  stroke my hair aside
    buzz the cilia deep in my ear

my neck your Vampire Tap Lightning Thunderbolt

Unless too wired too tied to copper you choose to co-axially
to Cat 5 Your choice
Unshielded Twisted Pair or Shielded Twisted Pair

We be either or both just text me which so we sync
  what we wanted to sync
    so flood follows serves us for you
      not one thing would I deny

Undead Faerie Goes Great with India Pale Ale

Pale and smoky eye
  puny bruised bully
thin as a wingvictim
  in a fierce corset

That look, I've never liked

Shards of black lace or
tattered chiffon trailing
over an arm brace
  and a crossbow

Lidded glances, that look I know
That look comes around
  every decade or so

Panting waxy vampires, sexy undead

Hipster Zombies
Ravishing Aliens
  Punk Voodoo Queens

Goth go-eth before
  and after
  the fall

And we've seen it all before
Only this time the tenor shifts —

What we know: we are already eating each other
We are already part of this

Plaid-skirted co-eds at colleges in the seventies
  we ate them
Drunken Midwestern youths by the quarry we devoured
  by the score

We are already eating each other
We are already part of this

Mother's veins open, bleed copper and black
  leave a sheen on our lips
We lick, then start in again
Machines drink and drink what we think is clean

Already eating each other we are already
part of this

Mouth-feel is all, gorgeous umami,
tender children, veal in a school bus
  we are eating you all right now

I myself have eaten you all already
  with fries and a beer

You did not satisfy

What I want now is an Undead Faerie —
  a palate cleanser
a poof of foam squid ink in whisked cream
pomegranate syrup in salty swirls
  that bleed deeply
tasty yes, but an hour later ...

We are already eating each other
We are already a part of this

Red Star

Inside the red star of a cottonwood twig
inside the box of the North Dakota map
that is my country

my country as it was

Two-hundred-year-old towers
trees old as our sorrow
their silver leaves platter
for no one now

Two-hundred-year-old trees
lost their way to breed

their old gray branches
no longer strong enough
to hold our dead

Sweet embrace of eternal sleep
lovers' arms always always always
now no more

No longer strong enough
to hold our ancestors
in their sleep
silver leaves platter for no one now

Inside the red star of a cottonwood heart
inside the box of the North Dakota map —

Sixty years the dams
kept these trees
raining clouds of seed
on barren silt

There will be no more great cottonwoods

There is nowhere left to go to die
but the boxy map of my country
in the red star of my deep inside

Inside cottonwood twigs is the shape of a star. A sign of life and natural harmony for American Indians and others, cottonwood forests along the Missouri River are in decline. — Brian Gehring, Bismarck Tribune, October 13, 2013

The Gig of Light

Let us now speak of The Gig of Light

Let us speak as the buzz of bulbs brilliantly or
vividly intoned as old-timers' concert flashbacks

Let our memoir-a-thon glitter and flit
Firefly-in-the-face vs. flash-in-the-pan

Let us speak long of The Gig of Light

How we held the retina in a dazzle —
how we zapped the sun up for a second
how we shocked with watts
and perfect resolution

Oh, The Gig of Light! The Gig of Light!

How we shimmered
aurora-like and arousing
how we glowed
green-blue and crisp
how we flickered
meaningfully or with menace —

How we streaked across the screen
and were seen no more


Pale wool blue horizon design an itchy landscape
We all wore the same bargain sweater
in an airplane in a dream Boom A fight erupts

Take your seats please, and can we have peace?
No more argument from you Mister
Mr. Not-Our-Same-Sweater-Wearer

The radio wakes me with its cultured accent
"The Labor Department today said ..."
Push Push Push my beloved urges
as he snaps it to snooze

Snow and silence fill things
with nothing

Still, stillness is something

Swirls of subconscious speak still
so early my yearning bares itself
prairie butte air so huge you gulp

you might go down drown from so much sky
Such perfect absence There's nothing there but
birds whirling snow geese as far as the eye sees

North Dakota winds in grassland
now that's constancy Buffalo grass glows
frosted flowing speaking low secretive

Used to be there was nothing there
Close it up they used to say
Return it to the Buffalo Forget Indians

Wind churns a million watts
Gas burns ancient marshes off
Coal pits deep and busy like messy little cities

Tell you what, drive out at night
This is what an engineer in Fargo urges
Flares for miles he promises as far as the eye ...


The Dark Sky Reserve

Say what you will silent lake

wimpy shimmer of clouds
shrugging a blueness a blank slate

non-verbal pre-verbal verb-less breathless expectation

Jet trails uncross the air
so sky no more hatches
plans to own itself

  it owns itself

  reservation by mistake
reserved for our escape
because it is sky because it is space

Hang Fire

  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

These Are My Pearls, This Is My Swine

Pale soap bubble accreted around grit
Irritation gone iridescent gone global

These are my pearls this is my swine

Unleash the tuxedo pigs attired so fine
Let boars fork these pearls like truffles
tusked from prairie sand

These are my pearls this is my swine
These my words my copper mine

Like the base who threw away
the worth of all his tribe
wealth we sign away line by line

These are my pearls this is my swine

Dress me in the blood shawl drape the shells
in a graduated rope around my neck
Tell them it is time Open the door
invite the oil-rich and velvet-dressed swine

These are my pearls I have made them mine


River river river
I never never never
etched your spiral icon in limestone
or for that matter pitched a tent on cement
near your banks

Banks of marble stock still all movement in the plaza
river walking its message on an avenue
rallied in bitter wind

Excuse my digression my mind tends ...

In reality my screen is lit with invitations
bake a casserole — send pizza — make soup for the 99%

Sorry somehow I haven't time

Flow flow flow both ways in time
There's a river to consider after all
No time no hours no decades no millennia.

No I cannot dump cans of creamed corn
and turkey on noodles and offer forth
sustenance again

A bit pre-occupied, we original 100%
who are also 1%, more or less

Simply distracted by sulfide emissions tar sands pipelines foster
care polar bears hydro-fracking and the playlist deeply intoning
Superman never made any money ...

River river river Our river
Map of the Milky Way
reflection of stars
whence all life commenced

100% of all life on our planet

River in the middle Mississippi
not the East Coast Hudson where this all started
waterway Max Fleischer's team lushly rendered
via the wonder of Technicolor

Emerging from an underwater lair
a Mad Scientist we comprehend as indigenous
has lost his signifiers (no braids, no blanket)
but we recognize him
A snappy dresser who flashes a maniac grin
he is not not your TV Indian

Ignoble Savage "... and I still say Manhattan
rightfully belongs to my people"
Superman "Possibly but just what
do you expect us to do about it?"

Occupy Occupy Worked for the 99
Occupy Re-occupy Alcatraz and Wounded Knee

Sorry somehow now I've too much time
Flow flow flow both ways story-history-story
There's a river that considers us after all

All time all hours all decades all millennia

River river river
I never never never — but that is not to say that I won't ever

Curatorial Statement for Apocalyptic Poetics

You describe just what you fear. You imagine 99% of the human population just drops dead. You imagine they curl and rot where they drop. Plants die, strange plants spring up, new animals appear, old animals disappear. You imagine this in some future. You imagine a now. You can yet vibrate the hive, cough up rafts of plastic, find time for reprieve, cry out for justice, own the apocalypse before it owns you. You imagine a past. A past as a virgin land, rich loam, bottomland — it was all just waiting there, going to waste, before. Before was just after — after 99% of the living dropped dead, unwept, went back to the earth where they lay. Strange plants sprang up, new animals appeared, old animals disappeared. We walk on the bridge of bones our ancestors left, their bodies fed the great over-bloom of America where we are 1% of the 5% who eat nearly everything. All just as you fear. Yet we are still here.

At the Anachronism Fair

Wonder of a man
balances on his bald head
ice in massive aquamarine blocks yes
but wisp-thin sculpted figures too
You, my children, hear droplets
smell what straw dust crowds
sweat and water mixed
make of a hot country day
before you throw your lives
into light boxes
sensory deprivation tanks
for the masses
(me too) who
float here
all eyes and ears
all nostril flare shut off
no huff no whiff
in the great round now
where our senses grow obsolete
anachronistic curiosities for other futures
Wonder of it all child will be how
you'll know your need-to-breathe
(when at last you two meet)
the one you'll pull like breath
your lung-gasping stuff
your not-enough your not-enough


Indigenous Elvis Works the Medicine Line

Indigenous Elvis toes an invisible boundary
signed into being, there but not there

Indigenous Elvis works the border crossing
laser scan checks your tribal ID
lifts your hatch and checks your stash
of saskatoons and Hutterite rugs
gently crooning

Wayah hay ya together ...
can't go on together hay yah
suspicious minds ... Wayah hay ya together ...

stuck as a needle, skipped as a disk.
Wayah hay ya together ...
Caught in a trap ... together

Indigenous Elvis works the border crossing
leans deeply into the window
wafts his manly scent a moment
before he asks
This your car?
Where you from?

Indigenous Elvis unhitches your
inhibitions so you giggle
I'm from Minnesota,
it's my husband's car,
I'm married.

Indigenous Elvis breathes deeply
through one nostril
squints away waves okay
while you struggle with the gears
his voice rich in your ears

Wayah hay ya together ...
Doncha, hay ya, doncha ...
do anything but ...
Wayah hay yah together ...

Indigenous Elvis works the border crossing
toes the invisible boundary signed into being
birthed by a signature
there but not there

Big Medicine

Doncha, hay ya, doncha ...
do anything but ... go on together
wayah hay yah ... with suspicious minds ...

He dances to a flash
to an indigo tune
to blue suede blues —
Wayah hay ya together ...
dances to a dot you can't help but watch
dwindles to a shimmy
in your rearview mirror
wayah hay yah hay ...


Excerpted from Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media by Heid E. Erdrich. Copyright © 2017 Heid E. Erdrich. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Permanent Installation

Curatorial Statement for Wiindigo Eye 3

The Honey Suckers 4

Autobiography as Gesture 6

Wireless Handshake 8

Undead Faerie Goes Great with India Pale Ale 10

Red Star 13

The Gig of Light 15

Boom 16

The Dark Sky Reserve 18

Hang Fire 19

These Are My Pearls, This Is My Swine 21

Pre-Occupied 22

Curatorial Statement for Apocalyptic Poetics 26

At the Anachronism Fair 27

Mix Tape as Didactic

Indigenous Elvis Works the Medicine Line 31

Rise Up Fallen 34

Mix Tape Didactic… Hither 35

Charger 36

Incantation on a Frank Big Bear Collage 37

Little Spirit Will Not Be Caught 39

Exhibit A 40

Exhibit B-Bear 41

Exhibit F 42

Curatorial Note for Exhibit C 43

Exhibit Q-Q-Code Found Poem 44

Mix Tape Didactic… Break Up 1 46

The Four Findings of Agent H

The Mother 47

The Woman 48

Four Women 49

Agent Blue 50

Mix Tape Didactic …Break Up 2 52

Autobiography as Mix Tape for Lady Mon de Green 53

The New Archaic

The Buzz 59

Lexiconography 1/Clothes Pins 60

Aabjito'ikidowinan 1/Anishinaabe Language Lesson 1 62

Laundress 64

Shepherd 65

Dying Well 66

Lexieonography 2-It Was Cloudy 67

Aabjito'ikidowinan 2/Anishinaabe Language Lesson 2 69

What Gathers 71

Stars, Seeds, Signs, Ours 73

A Loud Green Dreaming 75

Ombigwewe Ozhaawaashkwaa Bwaajige/Anishinaabemowin Lesson 3 77

Manidoo Giizhikens/Little Spirit Cedar Tree 81

Curatorial Statement on The Long Gallery 84

Author's Notes 85

A Note about the Art 87

Acknowledgments 89

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