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Basket Lady and Greater Evils

By Rena Priest

We tell our children stories
to keep them by our side:
Basket lady will get you.
She’ll put you in her basket
and carry you away,
deep into the forest
where the trees are so tall
and the branches so thick
they block out all the light
and it seems always
to be deep, dark night.
She will take you from her basket
and roast you with potatoes. 

The Christians came in the day
to take the children away.
They came in cattle trucks
to gather them up. Mothers
first clung so tight they feared
their babes would be ripped in two.
So they let go, knowing
their hearts would never heal,
but their children might survive
and if the children did return,
they would be strangers—
to the people and to themselves.

And there they went,
the little ones,
carried away in baskets
on the backs of cattle trucks,
while mothers sing songs of grief.




Listen as Rena Priest reads Basket Lady and Greater Evils.

Added: Thursday, January 11, 2024  /  Used with permission. Poem originally appeared in Green Mountains Review's "American Poet Laureate Series" (Edition 2 of 5).
Rena Priest
Photo by Calvin Miller.

Rena Priest is an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She served as the 6th Washington State Poet Laureate (2021-2023) and has received awards and fellowships from the University of Washington Libraries, Allied Arts Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, Indigenous Nations Poets, Nia Tero, and the Vadon Foundation. She is the author of three books and editor of two anthologies. Her work appears in POETRY Magazine, High Country News,, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She resides on her ancestral homelands in Bellingham, Washington, near a Lummi village site that was destroyed after the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliot. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

Image Description: Rena Priest, a woman with brown hair and eyes, faces forward in the late afternoon light. She wears a black top with a purple scarf around her shoulders.

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