Roberta Hill grew up in Wisconsin among the Oneida community and also in Green Bay; the family moved between the two locales several times. A sense of dispossession engendered by forced migration has long been a part of Oneida culture, and this attitude is evident in Hill's poetry. Her most recent collection,Cicadas, was published earlier this year by Holy Cow! Press and has been dubbed "one of the most important collections of contemporary indigenous American poetry" by Joy Harjo.
Hill attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Montana, where she completed her M.F.A. in 1973. She has taught on the Oneida and Rosebud reservations and is currently Professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of Wisconsin. She has been a Poet-in-the-Schools in several states.
Mother's Only Daughter
Mother loved you more than she loved us,
heart of earth with the autumn sun inside.
The three of us sisters knew you
lulled her Choctaw hunger, you,
the creamy white flower she stroked on calmer days.
You trembled under the full moon near the sultry streets
of Natchitoches and Saddle Tree, then
acted innocent while she dug peanuts
under solemn pines.
She kept you well hidden in the back
of the bin, but we knew a yam
was the only real daughter, well-behaved,
adapatable and sweet, the right color, not brown
but golden, and with enough of her heat, you
mastered her tricks. You pulsed in soil
and fit her palm. We pulsed on top
and ruined her plans. If you weren't rooted,
capable of rot, your swelling would have given
her cause for alarm. She would slip off your coat
and tell us stories of all those who had you
in their grip, how you freed them, fed them,
loved them true.
You store the memory
of her fierce cuisine, that pan of hot southern fried
popping as it flew, glasses bouncing off
counter tops, shattering, shambles springing up
for us to live through them. Smelling you,
I come to the full measure of my childhood,
tasting its gold strength and letting the rest fly.