Early 19th-century prescription stick from present-day Kansas, belonging to the Potawatomi, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

'Prescription Sticks,' a Poem by Diane Glancy for National Poetry Month

Diane Glancy
April 10, 2013

Today's work comes from poet, author and filmmaker Diane Glancy, and is inspired by the tools used by medicine men known as prescription sticks or prayer sticks. A piece of bark or wood with markings on it, the prescription stick was a kind of recipe book for use in ceremonies.


They look like a row of winter trees scratched on wood that
could be a rung on the back of a straight-back chair—
YYYY— something like that I’m trying to take these notes—
what do you expect when I don’t know what these things 
mean / these markings / these scratches made by a
superstitious people— I am left to the powers of my own
observations— they made these primitive prayer sticks /
prescription sticks—  whatever they called them— they
thought they formed the happenings in the world by their
scratchings / their cross-files / their cross-fields / their
cross-fires / they maybe stole / they could not have thought
something like that up.2



1 The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

2Take a stick and write on it—   Ezekiel 37:16

Diane Glancy, Cherokee, is professor emeritus at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she taught Native American Literature and Creative Writing. She has published numerous books, including The Reason for Crows (2009), a novel of Kateri Tekakwitha (2009), the nonfiction collection The Dream of a Broken Field (2011), and the poetry collection Stories of the Driven World (2010), from which this poem is taken. Glancy directed the 2010 independent film The Dome of Heaven, which won the Best Native American Film at the 2011 Trail Dance Film Festival in Duncan, Oklahoma. For more information, visit


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