M. L. Smoker - "Another Attempt at Rescue"

M. L. Smoker’s poem “Another Attempt at Rescue,” performed by the poet.

“Another Attempt at Rescue” is the fourth film in Above Strands of Earth: Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation at Tippet Rise, a film series produced in collaboration with the Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.

Directed by Matthew Thompson and shot at Tippet Rise Art Center.

Another Attempt at Rescue

The time is important here—not because this
has been a long winter or because it is my first
at home since childhood—but because there is so much
else to be unsure of. We are on the brink of an invasion.
At a time like this how is it that when I left only a week ago
there was three feet of snow on the ground,
and now there is none, not even a single patch
on in the shadow of the fence-line.
And to think I paid a cousin twenty dollars
to shovel the walk. He and two of his buddies,
still smelling of an all-nighter, arrived at 7 am
to begin their work. When I left them a while later
and noticed their ungloved hands, winter made me feel
selfish and unsure. This ground seems unsure
of itself for its own reasons

and we do not gauge enough of our lives
by changes in temperature.
When I first began to write poems
I was laying claim to battle.
It started with a death that I tried to say
was unjust, not because of the actual
dying, but because of what was left.
What time of year was that?
I have still not yet learned to write of war.
I have friends who speak out—as is necessary—
with subtle and unsubtle force.
But I am from this place and a great deal
has been going wrong for some time now.
The two young Indian boys who almost drowned
last night in the fast-rising creek near school
are casualties in any case.
There have been too many just like them
and I have no way to fix these things.

A friend from Boston wrote something to me last week
about not having the intelligence
to take as subject for his poems
anything other than his own life.
For a while now I have sensed this in my own mood:
This poem was never supposed to mention
itself, other writers, or me.
But I will not regret that those boys made it home,
or that the cousins used the money at the bar.
Still, there are no lights on this street.
Still, there is so much mud outside
that we carry it indoors with us.

Photo by Matthew Thompson

M. L. Smoker

Poet and education advocate M. L. Smoker, born Mandy Smoker Broaddus, is a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation, where her family’s home is on Tabexa Wakpa (Frog Creek). She holds a BA from Pepperdine University and an MFA from the University of Montana in Missoula, where she was the recipient of the Richard Hugo Memorial Fellowship. She was also a student at UCLA, where she was honored with the Arianna and Hannah Yellow Thunder Scholarship, as well as the University of Colorado, which named her a Battrick Fellow.

Smoker’s debut collection of poems was Another Attempt at Rescue, published by Hanging Loose Press in 2005. In 2009, she and poet Melissa Kwasny co-edited an anthology, I Go to the Ruined Place: Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights (Lost Horse Press), featuring 60 poems on human rights issues by 60 poets. Smoker received a regional Emmy award in 2013 for her work as a writer and consultant on the PBS documentary Indian Relay, which explored the high-risk horse racing style practiced by tribal nations in the Rocky Mountain West. In 2015, she was named the Indian Educator of the Year by the National Indian Education Association and was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education by President Obama. In 2019, the University of Montana in Missoula recognized her as an alumna of the year.

She served as the Director of the Indian Education Division for the state of Montana’s Office of Public Instruction for nearly ten years. There, she led the state’s Indian Education for All program, as well as the Schools of Promise initiative, which sought to close the achievement gap via new models for education at Montana’s lowest-performing schools. Smoker has also served as an administrator at a rural public school in Frazer, Montana, and taught courses at Fort Peck Community College and the University of Montana.

From 2019 to 2021, Smoker jointly held the role of Montana’s co–Poet Laureate with Melissa Kwasny. She was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow in 2021. Smoker’s free-verse poems are steeped in Native American culture and history, often deploying a personal lens; her influences include John Steinbeck, Philip Levine, and famed Montana writer James Welch. Smoker currently works at the nonprofit Education Northwest as a practice expert in Indian Education, focusing on equity in Native schooling.