Unclaimed | Poems
by Sherman Alexie

Ode to Powdered Milk

Let’s pretend that we ground
	deer antler
Into our glass and added
	river water.

Let’s pretend that our legs
And we leapt from one side
	of the road

To the other. Let’s pretend that
	we flocked
And flew on luminous wings
	into the pearl

Horizon. Let’s pretend
	that we’re wolves
Drinking the moon. Let’s tremble
	and break

And yearn. Let’s howl against
	the stars until
They burst. Let’s slake and slake
	our glorious thirst.


When we read
The obituaries page,

We walk the rows
Of a temporary

Where the rustle

Of newspaper
Is an honor song

For the grief
Of strangers.

The Atheist Believes in Eucharist

It’s graceful to imagine the bread and wine
Have returned to the wheatfields and vines.


A drum protests the truce.

A drum extols the war.

A drum excites the landlord.

A drum enrages the dancer.

A drum comforts the hunter cat.

A drum rebuffs the song birds.

A drum starves the masses.

A drum enriches the royals.

A drum embraces the traitors

A drum betrays the devoted.

A drum exiles me like a mother.

A drum embraces me like a despot.

A drum ignores me like a father.

A drum parches me like water.

The Last Matchstick in the World

Skinny marionette
I need you
To lose your temper


The nocturnal tornado     untouched
Weaving dark thread    absence
Through darker thread     unsewn
Somehow replaces your bed     kindling
And blanket with the debris     unbreached
Of your mortal cruelty     mercy
While you remain asleep     frantic
Until the afterstorm dawn    dusk
When you wake troubled     collected
And learn that your shame     dignity
Has leveled the church     unchapeled
And turned God into rubble    citadel

Benjamin Lake

I almost drowned there.
Others did drown.
But nobody swims
That water anymore.

Reclaimed by aquatic
Plants and dragonflies,
The lake is stagnant
And iridescent. Or so

My sisters tell me.
I haven’t stood
On that shoreline
For decades. 

Sometimes, it feels
Like my reservation
Heart has become
The lake—unclaimed,

Overgrown, forgotten
By the children
Of the children
Of the children

Who grew up
With me. I escaped
From my reservation
39 years ago.

But, sometimes,
I wonder if I will
Eventually return
And be that Indian

Elder who sits
In a folding chair
At every powwow
And celebrates

What used to be
And what has become

Kitchen Theology

Every few months, my wife
Bakes the communion bread.
It’s created simply by her
And consecrated by the priest.
Warm from the oven
On Saturday eve,
The bread calls to me.
But I’ve never broken

Into that pre-Eucharist
Because I’m a fearful atheist.
Instead, I pour a bowl
Of cereal and almond milk
And feast on the secular 
Guilt of holy beauty.


He misses his mother and father
	like a wren misses its chime.

He misses his mother and father
	like a thief misses his crime.

He misses his mother and father
	like an ivy misses its climb.

He misses his mother and father
	like war misses peacetime.

He misses his mother and father
	like peacetime misses war.

He misses his mother and father
	like a lion misses its roar.

He misses his mother and father
	like an arsonist misses a store.

He misses his mother and father
	like a wreck misses its seafloor.

He misses his mother and father
	like a seafloor misses its wreck.

He misses his mother and father
	like a starving man misses bread.

He misses his mother and father
	like a dying man misses his bed.

He misses his mother and father
	like the dead miss the dead.

Sherman Alexie is the author, most recently, of You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir from Back Bay Books, as well as War Dances, poems and stories, from Grove Press, and Face, a book of poems from Hanging Loose Press. He lives with his family in Seattle.

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