Nadia Mudder

Sins of the Fathers

For the boys who sit stone-faced
through class, pupils wide,
nostrils flinching the only signs of life,

I hear my voice rise and call them back
from the shadows before the act
or send them packing with a prayer

that the drug dogs will not sniff
out anything that will keep them
from school long enough to forget

almost everything they need
to leave South Housing. Inside,
the mattresses stack five-high,

all of them high and pushed aside,
when company comes over from the grocer
on the tenth of every month.

There are no fathers here.

But my stillborn voice is soft
with these daughters—their wombs
hollowed out and filled—

no longer comfortable sitting,
smeared against school desks—
for the daughters of those men,

the fathers who killed themselves
or others, who are cold and gone,
confined for varied sentences

beneath dirt, behind bars.


His sister had a shaved head
to keep the lice away,
but they were still gathered,
a stubborn collective,
occupying the space behind her ears,
arched by her hairline.

He plowed into a farmer’s new fencing
with a semi he stole from a truck stop
while drunk on a Friday night,
in the small town that edged out
the reservation. There were more than whispers
about Indians that night. More than slurs.

Just like that, he was gone.
Not dead, just upstate for a while.
She didn’t know when he would return,
but her eyes lit up when I asked
if she wanted an extra bag of popcorn,
to take home with her after the game,

as though this offering of heat and salt,
shaken by a people who walked over her
grandmother’s grave to plant the seeds
of a crop freely given, would be enough
of a concession on this night to cover over
the reddened faces of ghost men who bruised her name.

Author Portrait

Nadia Mudder holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College, CUNY. She has taught English abroad in Kazakhstan and China, and currently teaches high school English on a checkerboard reservation in South Dakota. She lives in a small town with her husband and three children.