Tag Archives: heritage

Overthinking It Or Not

I read a comment 
from someone on 
an Internet post:

all you mixed-breeds are 
crazy. You shouldn’t
exist. You are mistakes.

Truth be told?
I’m crazy, and I
qualify,

yet I look so much like them
I’m sick each time
I pass the mirror.

If I’m
that much of
a genetic mess

why do I appear
so average
in the mirror? 

All the parts 
in the right place.
All the expressions

nameable. All the air
coming from my mouth
translatable. 

Those who want
me undone, who feel 
heritage should be

death sentence,
who chew trophy bones
all night and day,

see my face
in the street 
and somehow

pass me by.
I should be grateful
but then I think of those

who by accident of 
birth don’t 
pass killers’ muster

and I want to 
scream my self
into becoming 

a target. I want them
rocked back on their
heels. I want them 

to kill me and then
go home and stare
into mirrors, wondering

at the stories
they were told about
who they really are.


Hearing Problem

It has taken me
nearly sixty years
four thousand glasses of whisky
uncounted pounds of herb
pills upon pills
a taste for killer thrills
bodies held close whose souls
I kept at arm’s length

and bent decades of lost hours spent
chasing words into caverns
and trash heaps 

to realize
I might have a hearing problem


I might have misheard my mother 

when she said

don’t have kids they will ruin your life

What she must have really said was

don’t have kids
you will ruin
their lives

but thank God I followed her advice

for surely
surely
surely

either way
she was right


Half, Confronted

1.
The bathroom mirror

where I chase my ancestors

lets me know
in no uncertain way

which ones are hidden
and which are open about themselves.

All I can see there
are the ones I am loath to see.

Random people now and then
see or say they see

the others,
the ones I long to greet.

I do not. Now and then I think
I catch something of them but quickly

convince myself
I’m wrong, then change my mind

and say to myself, at last,
but then I look again and 

change my mind again. 
It’s not unlike deciding

on the cancer danger of a birthmark
you have been fretting about

your whole life. You will never see it
as nothing you can change.

There are days when
a razor seems to be your only savior

until you think about the blood,
wonder who will have to mop it,

and crestfallen
hold back one more time.

The bathroom mirror
where I chase my ancestors,

the arena where one side
struggles to smother the other,

the pale wall impervious
to my insistence that the other

be allowed visibility to match
what I feel and know of it;

I am certain I hear laughter
every time I see my face there — 

the ancestors who killed my ancestors
snickering at my sickening.

I want a shotgun to answer it
most days. I want to fight it,

choke it off, send it to
shadows to hide and be shamed,

stop myself once and for all
from looking in the bathroom mirror.

It’s a lie in there. It’s a truth.
A lie hiding truth hiding lies

hiding an explanation for all the rest.
A face so white it blinds me

to my best possible face,
one I can’t see or imagine

except now and then,
and those are the times

when I most want
to pick up razor or gun

and chase them away
for my own good.

2.
This self-loathing

makes me feel like a revolutionary.

Hours upon hours
of excoriating my Italian face.

Man, I wish I was
Hollywood Native perfect. Not really —

I know better,
of course I do, I know all the lies —  

but you know,
maybe I could have

just enough of it to clarify,
astonish, make people

wary of me, as wary as I am
wary of myself.

How easily I fall into those
same mythic traps.

Be yourself, just be yourself, 
relax into it, no one

cares, really,
say all the right people.

All the close ones as well as
all the distant arbiters.

They don’t get it:
this is me being totally

myself. As if I was anything else
but this 
wannabe Other, this

simply mixed kid all grown into this
ridiculous, genocided

old mess. I’m exactly what the Architects
Of The American Dream wanted 
to happen.

My self-loathing makes me uncommonly
useful to them as I am perfect to point at

when they strongly discourage folks from making
more of me and my type.

This is what you get, they say.
Me in the mirror wondering how to be

something I’m not, 
except I am, except not really. 

Not really,
except…

No. Take off this face.
Take it away, please.

A mantra I sing
over and over to the glass.

Pleading with the mirror,
pretending 

something genuine’s in there
to listen.  As if there is

anything whole and healthy
hiding behind the sum of my parts.

My self-loathing is all that’s there. It’s my
political stance,

my stand,
my 
bonfire beacon.

It’s all I have to go by
in the dark.


A Broken Arrow

Originally posted August 2017.  Revised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Used to shoot
my father’s bow
in the backyard.

Knew the right grip, the 
two finger pull without
the thumb.

Prided myself
on form almost more
than accuracy. 

Had a sheaf of 
arrows, yellow shafted,
target heads like sharp bullets.

Had one white shafted one
chased with red, my favorite.
Saved it 
for last every time. 

One day I hit something
to the side of the target
and shattered that magic bolt.

Panicked and stared
at the splinters 
for a few minutes.

Tossed it into the woodpile
to be burned 
in winter, then still
some months off.

Pushed aside the judgement
until later, I thought, but my father
never said a word.

I am not sure he valued that arrow 
much at all. It was
everything about archery

to me: fantasy 
arrow, the Ultimate.

I always tried
to be immaculate with it
when I shot

my father’s bow
in my father’s backyard.
Tried to hit the target dead on,

tried to make myself
perfect in a skill
I’d never need, a skill

from a past time,
a past existence, 
a fantasy I’d made of myself.


My Face Is Historical Fiction

Revised from 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post pictures of three fictional characters to describe yourself.
— Facebook meme

I’m asked in this meme to post 
three pictures to describe me,
pictures lifted from fiction.

My face is itself
already
historical fiction:

average white
superimposed upon
brown churning within.

I already look like my Mom
at first glance 
with traces
of my Dad underlying that.

Together they create this face
I get to call my Own.
A more-or-less real face,

one mild pile 
of presumed melting pot,

one well-assimilated mask.

One face
two made from scratch 
a long time ago.

Now I am being asked
to find three more fictions
to reveal myself, to name this

half-and-half 
all-American mistake of history.
So many to choose from —  

Lone Ranger, Tonto. Don Corleone, 
Apache Chief. Mario from Donkey Kong, 
Injun Joe from Tom Sawyer.

What do I choose for that third picture?
That’s the choice that keeps me up 
at night, keeps me sickly awake.

Calm down, you say?  It’s just for fun?
It doesn’t mean anything,
just a little something to pass the time?

Friend, when your face
is historical fiction
and it feels like

there are only
twenty pages left,
you’ll try anything. 

It’s only natural
to try and find
a more perfect mask

when the two
you’re used to
keep slipping.

It might make
for a dramatic turn
in the story. 

I’ve been dying
to see 
how it ends.


Tamed

The President asserts my taming.

I was half tamed, maybe,
but that was yesterday.
Tonight I am the tamer.
This is tamer’s day.

The President asserts my taming.
I respond:
what makes you think me tamed?
A little prince said once
that to love is to tame.
I don’t smell love on you.
I don’t smell anything on you.
You’re no prince.

The President asserts my taming.
I respond:
meh, and eh, and fuck that.
I see how loosely
you hold on to fact.

I see how little you grasp
in those hands.
I hear how little of the world
you grasp.  How little you are.
If you think me tame now,
I feel how tenuous your grasp is.

The President asserts my taming.
I respond:

Prez, baby,
I want to tame your children.
Cut their hair,
cut their tongues,

take their names,
take their souls

in my arms to squeeze dry.

Been there, done that,
got the DNA test.

I’m more than the sum
of what you call tame.
Let’s see how they do.
Let’s see how you do.

Prez,
baby love,
sweet lips, 

orange sunshine,
when did your family get here again?
Mine were watching from a safe distance
when you got off the boat.
Sure as fuck your people
were tame then,
Prez.  Sure as fuck you were
cowards and hiders, cruel under
hoods, changing your names
and pretending you weren’t wild.

The President says
we have been tamed.

The President says
he’s not going to apologize

for America.

I don’t want him to apologize.

I want him tamed
as we have been tamed.

I want to tame him hard.
Tame him so hard
he forgets

who he is.

Afterward we can ask him
who needs to apologize,
see what he says,
if anything.

See what his kids say then,
if they even know.


No One’s Brother

Once upon a time
in the city of Washington
there were people in charge 
of designing me.

“Kill the Indian, save
the man.” They built a lot 
of schools to do that work.
Schools as murder weapons.
Isn’t that something?

They stole my father
and maimed the culture out of him,
diseased him from his language,
massacred his hair and then
he was useful to them, so they
sent what was left to a war.

Although I was not specifically
part of the plan
they knew something like me
would eventually happen:
spawn of the murdered, 
dead Indian inside a live man;
divided within, all of it rotten. 

It’s not enough to accept myself
when my self contains corpses
and their killers. I’ve spent my life
knowing I was the site of the genocide
and that as long as I said so
out loud, I would always be
no one’s brother, forever separated — 
but how could I lie about myself?  

My father is still alive, for now.
My mother is still alive.
I cannot say the same for 
me when I understand
what I represent
to history: a triumph for 
the people in Washington
who planned me, foresaw me —
the people who get to live,
as a result,
happily ever after
on the burial ground.


How To Repair The Conquest

You want too much, 
I’ve been told. Eagle
dancing in my back pocket,
turtle face peeking from within
my coat, a mist in my eyes
that insinuated itself there
from a pond in deep woods.
You accuse me, say I want a life
like that, a life made of

all that was eaten and spit out
before I was even born, before
I could even understand. You say
I could have born in a time when
it was commonly part
of all who were born here,
but I wasn’t.  You accuse me,

say I want to go back there as if all
that’s happened could be erased;
you accuse me again and again 

and I respond that of course I know 
better, that we can’t go back
and I know erasing all that would mean
erasing me, as I am some
of what’s happened 
since,

and then I stop and look
at that, and think of how
it would shift the world
if I were to be erased

and I say that I need to study
on this one a bit more
before I can fully respond, even though
I am clear about how I’m leaning
and if I disappear after speaking,

so be it.


3712

My smartwatch says I am
at 1492 steps for the day
and because I can’t stand seeing that number on my wrist

a symbolic commemoration
of the year when things went epically bad
I get up at once

and start walking around the house like mad
raising and raising that number as high as I can
past 1523, 1607, 1609, 1620, 1680, on and on to 1890 and beyond

until I slow down when I hit 2018 and drive myself past that
to 2020, 2100, 2200, 3000, all the way to 3712 
when I stop myself and ask out loud the dreaded question

will that year when it comes offer enough distance from 1492
and all the rest of bad history 
Will that be enough time to repair us back to health

or perhaps to have created
something new to shine upon Earth
in the way that we’re told  

in every myth and legend we have
that the Earth once cradled us
Or will 3712 be desolate and messy

A forgotten grave tonsured in sparse grass
like an ancient scalp shedding its last hair
as it crumbles into undifferentiated dust

At the moment all I have to go on
is the memory of how I felt staring down at 1492
while thinking of its symbolism as a placeholder for pain

and of 3712 as a different symbol indeed
of how pain can drive you into hope
and how it all will begin again tomorrow from 0

when I will certainly come upon 1492 again
In fact I’ve got many more steps I could take today
I rise again from my seat and go ahead


Lacrosse

I never played lacrosse
but I often feel like
my brain’s been cradled 
in the throat of a stick 
since birth.

My dad’s goalie stick
is still on the basement wall
at the old home. He still
shows off the scar he got
playing in college.

People would ask him 
if he learned how
on the reservation
and he’d shrug it off in public 
then fume privately to me in the car
or the living room:

our folks 
never 
played lacrosse
and I wasn’t there

long enough to learn
even if we had

There are fading
teenage sketches
still on the exposed drywall
next to where the stick hangs,
the largest being one 
of an old man’s lined face, long hair,
eyes wide open, looking to my right.

I think I drew that face
one summer before
I gave up
that kind of pen forever.

I recall that summer
I rubbed witch hazel
over the mosquito Braille
of my sunburnt
forearms and calves.

The only way I could ever draw a face
was to have it looking to the right,
not head on or to the left,
and the face’s eyes
never looked into mine
or yours.  Always a little side-eye,
always indirect.

I never played lacrosse.
I’ve never lived on the rez at all.
I haven’t drawn a face in years.
My father is so very old.
I can’t remember how witch hazel smells.

I’m going to die one day and I 
will have to come at it faking all the way —
split roll dodge. That’s a lacrosse move.
I looked it up. I have had
to look everything up

except for the look in my father’s eyes:
always a little side eye.
Always indirect.


23

Somebody give me one of two things:
a top hat full of noble blood

or a statue of me wearing the hat.
You can call me lord of a lovely 

principality. Isn’t it the same thing?
Isn’t a statue of the imaginary me

the same as the red juice of privilege?
I hereby declare that they are the same.  

If you give me the blood
and the statue as well, won’t I be

regal and in charge?  Go get me
the title as well, something on parchment.

I want to choose who I am
and discard what I was raised to be.  It matters less,

it seems, than what I decide a scrap of me
has to report.  All that history to wrestle

that once could exalt or drown a person
and now all we have to do is check a box

or stuff one and we are what we claim.
Easy enough for everyone.

I’m enjoying the stony hat on my head now.
I’m enjoying the hell out of my pale marble face.

I’m dreaming of what it all means,
when all it means is that I’m dreaming. 


Appropriation

They treat us like tombs
eager to be emptied.

What they call artifacts
we called our lungs and heart.

Those things were how
we thrived, and more. 

We put our lives
into what they use

for pretty decor.
To them 
we were no more

than feathers
and a bank 
to be robbed.

Did they imagine
they could or would belong

whenever they wore
what they stole? 

They certainly took
enough of our blood 

to keep some
for their own.

They think we live
entirely in their commerce,

their fabricated mythology. 
They buy and sell

and take and fake
and slay and rape — still,

we’ve held back some.
It may not prove to be

enough, but it’s something
to build on and we swear

they will get nothing
of our new. We swear

that in their tombs
will be nothing but echoes.


I Am Aftermath

It doesn’t matter

what I call myself, 
what I see in the mirror,
how I was raised, 
what I learned,
what I was taught,
what name I was given,
who my father and mother were,
what I breathed growing up,
what music I heard growing up,
what fires I sheltered beside,
what drums I felt,
what I did while screaming back at insults,
what I fought or how I fought,
what claims I made or make,
what scars all this has left,

it doesn’t matter;

my existence is proof of genocide;

I should change my name to Aftermath;

I should forget myself.


No Lines No Seams

They keep asking that old question:
which half of me is 
Abruzzese and which is 
Mescalero — a question

as old as I am and
maybe older if you think
of how many generations
before me had to hear it —

and if you think about how often
I’ve heard it myself,
you’ll understand that it’s gotten
pretty Goddamn old for me as well.

Tonight I’m looking at myself 
naked in a full length mirror
and can’t decide — where, exactly,
are my sections? Am I

Italian waist up? Apache
waist down? Brown left,
White right? Maybe the divisions
are within? Maybe I’m

a blend — always in flux,
swirling like coffee with
milk? Maybe there are
no boundaries at all within me?

Dammit. No. I seek the physical
proof tonight that would 
contradict that — some slight
configuration to explain me

to the open eye. I’m tired,
tired of living inside this body
that screams one thing to the world
and holds another back —

I’m tired, tired of my entirety
being invisible, tired of looking
like a lie to myself, tired of how
ridiculous I feel for feeling this way

on days when I am not secure
in full knowledge of myself.
They cannot understand, when they ask
me that question, how old it makes me feel.

One more night before the mirror.
One more night in search of myself.
One more night trying to answer
someone else’s questioning of how it is

that I am both and neither, and all at once
I break the mirror and see it as
the beginning of becoming visible
as a whole being, no lines, no seams.


Iron Eyes

1.
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. 

2.
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.

3.
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.

4.
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 suspect.

5.
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.

6.
At the end of that ancient commercial
a dark, rough voice intones, “People 
start pollution.  People
can stop it.”  

7.
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 
rejected.  

8.
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.

What more
do you want to know?