Red Banks

for the Ho-Chunk Nation


I.  Beauty at its best is undisturbed in winter
the white wings of ice and snow
wrap round this forest without
so much as a whisper

The dry oak savanna fills and fills
without warning, without witness
and then one day we are buried
in our own mock amazement—

Where did all this snow come from?

as though drifts of snow and slates of ice
would not be here had we paid attention
had we not slept through the howl of storm
or let go of the rope that tethers us to autumn.


II.  I wander through the wooded corridor of Red Banks
surrounded by silver maple, poplar, birch
the slender red cedar stemming skyward,
left to plod and stammer through drifts

of snow with no tracks to follow, no maps
with arrows or stars, marking the spot
on which I stand—

You are here

The sky is all I recognize. The star stories
and legends of naked-eye astronomers
anishinaabe adisokan1 begins to stir and whisper
and the names sway within the wind.
In my third season, I have finally learned
to be still. In my third season, I have finally learned to wait.


III.  The People of the Thunders had gathered round
the strangers at this inland shoreline,
the one spoke with great eloquence,
with grand gesture in a splendid robe
ornate with feather stitches, folds of satin
those who could throw lightning with their hands
and split the sky with such report. We could not
remember hearing such puny voices, such noise.


IV.  A red-tail hawk follows my curious wandering
Beyond this wooded stretch is a highway and
the distressed sound of 18-wheelers and SUVs
sail through this moment towards an urgent other place
wholly unaware of the slow searing sound of a hawk
or the mincing steps of a white-tail deer before
she leaves the wooded grove, before she races
frantically, back and forth, and then
across the highway into an open field
or another quiet stand of trees.

taku skan skan2: what moves, moves. Like
a star story sweeping through the sky, there
is this change in the weather, a pure
sound pouring over the heart of Red Banks
the origin of thunder, here to be remembered.


1anishinaabe adisokaan: The People’s stories
2taku skan skan: “What moves, moves.” A Lakota statement derived from stellar expert knowledge.





Denise Sweet is an award-winning poet and anthologist. She is a retired professor and in 2005 was named “Distinguished Alumni” by her alma mater. She was appointed by her governor to serve as Wisconsin’s 2nd Poet Laureate (2004-08) and has given more than 100 readings throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, UK, and Paris. Her 5th collection of poetry, Palominos Near Tuba City, will be released in March, 2018.