In Search of Jane’s Grave: Poetry From Heid E. Erdrich's Cell Traffic

Heid E. Erdrich
1/27/13

 

In memory of Jane, wife of Henry R. Schoolcraft, Esq., born at St. Mary’s Falls, 1800, died at Dundas, May 22, 1842, in the arms of her sister, during a visit at the house of the rector of this church, while her husband was in England and her children at a distant school. She was the eldest daughter of John Johnston, Esq., and Susan, daughter of Waubojeeg, a celebrated war chief and civil ruler of the Odjibwa Tribe. 

—INSCRIPTION AT JANE JOHNSTON SCHOOLCRAFT’S GRAVE

Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky,
Bamewawazhikaquay, her headstone should have said.
But her name splits, eclipsed by his,
her co-author and husband.
Jane, wife of, it reads,
followed by a sonnet,
tightly rhymed to fit lines
together to say she died bland
and sure of immortality:
She smiled to quit a world of tears.

If only the words left us were hers.
Literary Grandmother,
First Ojibwe, mixed-blood,
Native, First Nations, Indian writer.
Mother poetess.

True, her verse hurts like 1830.
She kept current, do not doubt it,
wrote no worse than Longfellow,
who took her mother’s family stories
(as offered by her husband, Schoolcraft)
and Hiawatha-ed the heck out of them.

In a small town cemetery, I thought
I’d found you, our literary Sky Woman.
Someone re-created your grave,
The sonnet at least, minus your name,
but nearer to your girlhood home
where you were known and loved as
Woman of the Sound the Heavens Make.

Dear Jane, hushing pines along the lake
Should have sung you rest eternally—
peaceful on the point, Michigan
beating blue and flecked,
rushing like stars to the shore.

—HEID ERDRICH

(Editor’s note: Indian Country Today Media Network earlier this year published a poem in the Ojibwe language by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, a forward-looking writer now coming to be appreciated as a mother poet both in English and Ojibwe.) Copyright 2012 Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted with permission from Arizona University Press.

 

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