Jennifer Foerster

Before makers
there were maps.
There was skin. Stone.

There was time:
the ripening
of corn. Moonlight

and her shadow. Grief
given space: a circular
shelter. We stayed inside

for a number of days.
Stacked rocks around ourselves.
The clock was a gate.

There were highways.
Mined gashes.
We were slit, bled.

Slid to the ledge
of the dark province.

There were crosses: spiders
to sew shut the wounds
we reaped for you, Magdalena.


We swim in the density of light
            like fish adrift in trade winds.

A crab marches its marbled shell
across the ocean floor –
            as if the body were ensnared
            by its own memory.

Body, I drag you like a shipwreck.
Pluck the pelican-trammeled weeds
from the cracks of the gas-lit shore
to fasten into your hairnest.

It is here we will die – grassbound by bees,
counting the fractals of falling hours,
watching tin clouds rust in the rain
as the fish-shaped bath soap
bleeds into the gutter.

A freight train of pottery and bits of teeth
steams through the terrain of the in-between
where I wait at the station catching dust,
holding a suitcase and your clammy hand –

            where the eyes of fish
            are not windows, just dreams

the world has forgotten. Like a bone
afloat on a darkening sea
the arroyo’s fluted surface whistles:

            Is it you again?
Drowned night. Or like lantern fish
strung into stars

            have you so soon forgotten me?

The Lost Book

                                    Almost home –
pavement of the gas station steaming.

                                    On the side of the turnpike
west of Tulsa, brushing dust

                                    from a tattered spine, a Chevy truck  
spills cantaloupe, cicadas

                                    deafen the sultry twilight.

                                    It smells of mesquite, sweet-grass,
the orange-tinged
expanse of farmland
                                    where footprints scribble
                                                the star’s path  
                                                            maize stalk
Am I just another lost American
                                    smashing locusts on her windshield
addicted to a damaged range
and the highway that seams it –
                                    that I would name you Magdalena
your prairie dress hemmed
with a gasoline rainbow
                                    that a fire brims the distance      
as you fill up my tank
for another hundred miles
of the night-light’s
host of neon buffalo
                                    that California fades away
my Grandmother’s backfields,
black horse, silo
                                    like a woman in a trailer window
tumbler in one hand, cigarette in another
her broke-down ark of dust,
dogs, and birds’ nests,
flames rimming the hillside,
lace fringe of nightdress –

                                    Crossing the Rockies, Rio Grande,
windswept plains, aspen stands
I pocket a scrap
of your country of ash,
azure coasts, manzanita groves,
tangled swamps and marbled sands –
                                    that I would promise to re-write
                                                                        the pages left behind
strewn across highways
of Oklahoma – the land
where gold snakes
ripple across the on ramp
                                    Grandfather called
where guttered armadillos
drown in oil      
                                    god’s green country
where one little girl
at the Cherokee Trading Post
slamming stall doors and
screaming at the mirrors—
                                    Where what remains of the green
becomes two women
on an empty highway
                                    since the churches were raised
lighting up Anthems
windows smashed –
                                    He would name in an old tongue:
like moths captured
by the moonlit passage
                                    occupied territory –
they flick off the stolen Chevy’s
busted front lights
                                    buried  beneath another god’s
                                                aluminum quilt 
and drive on, blinded,
swallowed by night.

American Coma

I believe in the burned field,
the sailboat on the sill
of a desert farmhouse.

That stars on the undersides of our skulls
can spell the way home
even when the lights have gone out,
the maps again erased.

The fray of a rope. Chafe of my hands.
Black horses broken loose
over a trampled dawn – your body
beneath the tin of a bent truck grating.
Footprints at the edge of the earth
where they found you. Magdalena

I believe you became the clouds,
the Sangre de Cristos pink rim of morning,
the musk of blood on my t-shirt as I drive away,
all smoke and sooty desert in my rearview.

That it’s not the fantasy of a land
that survives
but its rocks, redwoods, ghosts,
armadillos crushed in roadside gutters
through Texas –

I believe their blood can stay with you
six hundred miles to the Mexican gulf,
that you can use their remains
to bind bear claws, cowrie shells,
something to dance with.

That when you awake you will not remember
any of this: the sirens, sticky
tubes they cocooned around you,

the way you looked at me from behind
the in-patient door, eyes
empty boats dozing on the edge
and I on the rocks peering into waves
piecing together fins out of crushed armadillos
picked up from the roadsides
I traveled to find you
where Chevy appendages, cigarette-butts,
the birdfood of petrified Wonderbread crusts
are the songs of detached, mechanical wings –

I believe, Magdalena,
when America awakes
it will not remember any of this:
you smashed over the precipice –
a pipe dream hinged upon a dead saguaro root.

Your pages flapping, tar-stained
blown into shadows of buttes.

How I gathered you like kindling,
set you on fire, the fugue of black
horses drowning in the surf.

Return Passage


After the fugue, only echoes
from a fluted plain.

Dragon scales like plucked stars
glimmer on the sill
from where the boats docked
and sailed.



Fireworks fizzle in the silver waves.
I examine the expanse left for us:
stars. You had said we were meant to be
walking among them,
a flux of us like milk streams
pouring across the sky.
But here on this windswept
ledge of land, no footprints.
Just armies of ghosts
ferrying the coast
with a flourish of sparklers
and flags, bracelets of trade beads
flung to the shore
my restless waves hum over.



Sweet Chariot – I also sang
as your bones were drained.
Platelets of seedlings
compressed into jars, cyclones
sketched onto screens.

You had said they were meant to be
swirled into my blood. The songs.
The interior map of the seed.

Only a conch shell remains.
Tattered pigeons
roosting in a shopping cart,

the rusted tin of a Texaco star
jutting upwards from the sand,

refrigerator stocked
with Pegasus gas cans
framing the blue hands of the sea.



Who named the map of you as “vanishing”?
Who cut the sandstone tablet
then engraved your secrets there?

Traitor, your seeds have been stolen.
The encodings inside them
transcribed. Forgot.



Because you have no burial place, I stand
in the mirage that marks you: a smoke tree
billowing from splintered mud.

I trace your alluvial face in the sand,
twine your wing with reed grass –

on the breast of a lava stone
weave you a nest
out of saltbush branches,
bread crusts, blood.



Beneath the patchwork
quilt of your deathbed: dunes.

Shutters of the rotting lighthouse
flap open in the wind.

Behind me ashen fields,
names that have burned in them.



They carried us in cedar caskets. Marched in droves to beaches. Like crabs they fastened tin to their backs. I recorded their stacks of maps and clocks; car scraps, tire swings, smashed and rusted airplane wings; the last cans of tuna fish, jelly jars, Kodak film, batteries –

                        they rigged a radio
                        from electrical debris,

                                                sewed our skin into sails.




I remember the afternoon
it arrived – the tempest
that tore the roots
from their holding.

In emboldened winds,
rooftops lifted.
Fires swept the plains.
Highways loosed
their soot-black ribbons.
I tracked the burnt-out
stars on pavement,
flat on their backs, black
shadows of leaves.

The last of the oil lamp
dims – a passage   



Jennifer Foerster
Jennifer Foerster

Jennifer Elise Foerster received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts (July 2007) and her BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (2003). She has received fellowships to attend Soul Mountain Retreat, the Naropa Summer Writing Program, the Idyllwild Summer Poetry Program, Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, and the Vermont Studio Center. From 2008-2010, Jennifer was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. Her poetry has been published in Ploughshares, Passages North, and Many Mountains Moving, among other journals. Of German, Dutch, and Muscogee descent, she is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. Jennifer lives in San Francisco.