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Poem / Human Rights

Infant, Name Once Known

A poet-anthropologist of the Chickasaw Nation honors infant remains historically used in teaching collections at the University of Illinois.
A large, tan cardboard box sits on a shelf with a label that reads “C2” below it. On two small pieces of black tape on the box’s front side, white letters read “Infant” and “Name Once Known.”

Jenny L. Davis

“Infant, Name Once Known” is part of the collection Poems of Witness and Possibility: Inside Zones of Conflict. Read the introduction to the collection here.

Before putting a newly printed label
on a brown lidded box, I hummed
a lullaby, tears streaming,
while removing the remains
of someone’s child
from the wires, wingnut, and metal rod
that had held them on display
for more than half a century, and
placed them in their new cardboard cradle. 

I will not presume the right
to give you a name
but I can, at least, recognize
that you once had one. 

Jenny L. Davis is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and an associate professor of anthropology and American Indian studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she is the director of the American Indian Studies Program and co-director of the Center for Indigenous Science. Her research interests sit at the intersections of Indigenous language futurism, Queer Indigenous studies, speculative fiction and poetry, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and repatriation, and collaborative/community-based methods. Her books include the poetry volume Trickster Academy, Talking Indian: Identity and Language Revitalization in the Chickasaw Renaissance (which won the 2019 Beatrice Medicine Award from the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures), and the co-edited volume Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality (with Lal Zimman and Joshua Raclaw). Queer Excursions won the 2014 Ruth Benedict Book Prize from the Association for Queer Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association. Follow her on Instagram @Chickashajenny.

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