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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Arden Eli Hill


In 1993 Brandon Teena, a trans man from Lincoln, NE, was murdered by his rapist and an accomplice in Humboldt, NE.  Also murdered that night were Phillip DeVine and Lisa Lambert.


I live in the town where Brandon Teena is

buried beneath the wrong name.


I drive past that deceit to the prairie

where orb spiders hang from the bluestem

and a one room school house juts into the horizon.


Where trees grow, bluebirds fly

from branch to branch like little scarves

and cardinals are small red flags

each winter contrasting with the snow.


You never forget though, living here

about the bones beneath everything

how arrowheads glimmer in the gravel

north where the terrain changes to sandhills.


At times, I travel to the Platte River’s bends

and the shallows where cranes roost

passing through this state.


I’m here, with my roots

now drinking from the aquifer

as the birds leave again and again.

Addressing my Daughter’s Deceased Biological Father

The cranes return,

and we return to the cranes.

Father, mother, daughter,

none of us are each other’s blood.

One of us is yours.


The world you left behind is full

of migrating birds. Snow geese,

trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes,

that travel the map from south to north.

The world is full of a girl with red-gold hair,

a girl with a gap in her teeth

and capes that fly out

behind her in the wind.


I traveled with her

from Metairie, Louisiana

to Lincoln, Nebraska.

I brought her from the hospital

where, separated by 35 years,

she and I were both born.


She’s guessed your passing

in the absence of information

that follows your name now

when I tell her how her blood

came to her through her birthmother

sparked by you from cell

to growing body.


Last year, your poisoned liver finally failed,

and so her mother and I took her to the river.

The cranes return, and we return to the cranes.


Where aren’t the dead buried?

They are folded in like sleepers

among the grey blankets of my brain.


Their names are on prayer cards

on my sparse altar with images

of saints I never prayed to,

and I can only count back

to my great grandparents.

I know only that my last name

Has traced a line of men

from Europe to North America

to the north then the south

of the continent.


I left my home, the low land

where water always threatens

to disinter the dead

if they are not buried beneath concrete.

I’ve come to the prairied west

only to find my own backyard

has a resident girl interred beneath

dirt where a stone once rested.


How many others, unknown,

are scattered across the places

we feel so familiar with and yet

we’re too new to know

the names of families that came before

and the nations that were and are

here in this region of Niskíthe

which means salt water.


America is a cemetery

where the living are outnumbered

by the dead, but the dead have

no voice, no voice

to speak their names.


Arden Eli Hill, despite being from Louisiana, has never wrestled an alligator, only a kangaroo. He is the author of a chapbook, Bloodwater Parish, that delves into race, gender, sexuality, and adoption in southern Louisiana. He now lives, writes, and teaches on the plains of Nebraska. Arden’s work has appeared in such publications as Willow Springs, Western Humanities Review, the Lambda Literary award-winning anthology First Person Queer, and its sequel, Second Person Queer, The Nebraskans Against Gun Violence Homepage, Tupelo Quarterly (disability poetry folio), Strange Horizons, and Kaleidoscope. In case you are still thinking about the kangaroo, Arden won.

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