September 15, 2016
Tony Webster, Dakota Access Pipeline protest at the Sacred Stone Camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, August 25, 2016

This poem addresses the demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The protestors are struggling to protect sacred burial grounds and ensure the safety of the water supply—the Missouri River. Last week, DAP security guards turned attack dogs loose on the protestors. I alternate between being absorbed in the horrifying news and trying to escape. 

Lately, to escape the news, I’ve been watching films
about swindlers and con men but I’m repeatedly roughed up
in the strategies and actions, and pause every two minutes
to ask which name is face-down on the blacktop and which wish
is granted, which one is the worm. Ever drawn into
innocence, I focus on the fringes of moon while someone’s fancy
shoes slap the tar, swerving to scrap in the alleys. Fog against
a reflection. Never a through-line. The frame sifts
toward dark. I study the lit cigarettes in cars, windows building
a triangle between the man who is tricked out of dough
and the one blowing smoke. A respite: blurred
after-hour scenes supplicated in a bed with a fugitive
woman, a wallet slack its hundreds for the tremble
of bodily want. Too soon, we return to the tiny eye
of the act. And in Standing Rock, the tribes turn
cold lips to the air and sit on their horses, hands on withers
as oil threatens to riddle the river and bulldozers
rise and clutch ancient sites. Water, water –
it’s richer than money. The people would prefer
to predict bird song, but are instead passing through dust
with no zones of refuge. It is work to shrug off sinners.
The bold rhythm of a soundtrack helps me stick
to the marks. I’m surveilling each periphery
without confidence. All the clues jag and overlap until
we’re duped of exit strategies. There is blood
to the occasion. I’ve been warned but don’t want to believe
the slippery answers. It can’t be that so many are crooked
as the snake I saw on my road yesterday. He played dead
until I got close, when he slithered and held up his fire.
I trusted him flat, then understood him leaping. Each grifter
claims and gains in his suit. To see what he does
with his hands is not the trick, but to realize the hustle
for drilling into another. In Cannon Ball the raging screams
of the crowd, the violent dogs, the short and long
levels of greed – everywhere I look, folks keep pocketing futures.

Lauren Camp is the author of four books, most recently Turquoise Door. She is the recipient of the Dorset Prize, a fellowship from Black Earth Institute, and a finalist citation for the Arab American Book Award. Her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic.