If you are above
a certain age, you no doubt recall
the commercial: him striding
in full regalia through garbage
to overlook a highway
smothered in smog and teeming
with cars, turning at the end
to the camera
and breaking his native
and noble stoicism
with a single tear
down his cheek.
I got a call
from someone wanting me to speak
about ” the Native American view of the world
of slam poetry.” I told her she needed
to speak to someone closer
to the action these days
and shunted her off to
someone I barely knew with the excuse
that I was some years
out of that scene,
but when I think about that call now
I wonder if I should have taken it
with the caveat that what I was,
what I am, was nothing relevant
to the discussion she was looking for.
It has taken me a long time
to forgive myself for my longing
to be obvious, to dress the part,
to be able to pull off some kind of
faux-Lakota drag, some expected
semblance of the Mescalero
I knew inside me.
After all, I said back then,
it is not like I look as good in that as
Iron Eyes Cody.
Iron Eyes Cody was
Siciilan and Neapolitan, born in
Louisiana, y’all. As Italian as
they come. Played Indian in
over 200 movies and TV shows.
He denied who he really was
his entire life. Died old
and died happy enough,
I’ll take that call now.
You might not understand what
I have to say if you can
be moved by a single tear
on a wannabe’s cheek; you might not
pick up what I’ll be putting down.
At the end of that ancient commercial
a dark, rough voice intones, “People
start pollution. People
can stop it.”
I’m more of what you think of
when you see Iron Eyes Cody
than you know. Hollywood
made me as much as
my parents made me — sometimes
because I believed and sometimes
because I did not and sometimes
because I rejected and was
His birth name was
Espera Oscar de Corti.
Mine is Anthony William Brown.
He was all Italian.
I am not.
He played an Indian on the screen.
I play the half-hand I was dealt.
In the world of slam poetry,
some folks take stage names.
I never did.
do you want to know?