LOCATED IN EASTERN SOUTH DAKOTA and Western Iowa, Blood Run is a series of 176 well-constructed ceremonial mounds built by the Oneonta. The site is over 8,000 years old, but archeologists believe it saw its peak population between 1675 and 1705, when some 10,000 people occupied the area. At that time, the Blood Run complex extended over 2,000 acres and was an important nexus for trade, culture, and commerce. Evidence suggests a huge mound serpent once slithered in its lapidary way along the site, but it too has been desecrated. The area was unprotected for centuries. At one point a railroad ran through the mounds. People also built houses among them, farmed the land. Skeletons were stolen along with many artifacts. All that remains are traces of a once vibrant locus of service and ceremony. Since 1970, 650 acres have been designated as a National Landmark Site. Some of the bones have been repatriated, most have not. We know some of what went on at Blood Run, but even contemporary scientists and archeologists are uncertain of many of the details.
Where science fails, poetry succeeds. What time forgets, language remembers. Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s beguiling Blood Run is like no other book of poems; Hedge Coke’s project attempts to recoup, recreate, and restore the energy and symbology of Blood Run, and has made me think differently about the relationship between poetry, land, history, and Indigenous America. Herself a descendent of mound builders (Cherokee, Huron, and Creek), Hedge Coke animates the spiritual interchange embodied by the mounds. More than piles of dirt and far more significant than mere ruins, they are semiotic remnants of a pulsing, vibrant polis; proof of terrestrial connection and aesthetic ambition.
One could say the same for Hedge Coke’s book. It evinces a strong connection to Blood Run’sterroir and its aesthetic scope transcends space, time, voice, and memory. Of the collection’s nearly 70 poems, almost all are persona poems spoken in the voices of all the entities involved in the community of Blood Run, and not just the people: there are poems spoken by corn, the moon, a deer, skeletons, looters, beaver, the morning star, buffalo, Clan Sister, ghosts, a tractor, and even the horizon. If you find yourself asking at this moment, really, the horizon?, you are not alone. I, too, was skeptical, but I was won over, oddly enough, by the horizon’s voice.
In particular, I liked the absence of sentimentality, as in this passage from the second horizon poem:
Often, pasts of those
who traveled on becomes
may not sustain.
The poem shares a page with a poem entitled “Memory,” and the two texts are in dialogue, as the beginning of “Memory” suggests: