Tag Archives: heritage

Being Neither, Being Both

from 2013, revised.

Being Indian
and White
on Thanksgiving

means being tired
of plowing the six weeks of stupid before this day.
Tired of explaining. Tired of walking on Pilgrim shells.
Tired of having to justify marking the day
as painful or joyful or neither

or both. Being Both on Thanksgiving
means I get to give myself the ulcer
I richly deserve. Means being hungry
in every sense of the word. Means
I want to give thanks for something
I stole from myself, or perhaps I did not;

being Both on Thanksgiving
means nothing is simple. I am thankful
for the tightrope, thankful for the mash-up
problems, thankful for looking like
I ought to be oblivious, thankful for
a good talking to. Being Neither, fully,

on Thanksgiving means I ought to give me
a good talking to. I am angry enough
to ignore much and fantasize more
over the boiled onions only my Dad eats
and the meat stuffing with chestnuts only my Mom eats,
angry enough to lose my appetite in public,
angry enough to be redder than the damned canned
cranberry sauce. Being Me on Thanksgiving

means I sit down to the table and eat like a fat man,
a continent’s worth of overkill, filling my dark gut
till I have to shed something to be comfortable
by the fire in the too-warm house of my parents
who are long past caring about anything but making sure
that the peace holds till night falls and we all go home

carrying the leftovers with us to feed on
for another whole year. Another harvest festival
passed, no guarantee of one next year, maybe
we’ll starve over the winter while being Indian, being White,
being Neither, being Both, being the kind
who thinks it matters when you are choking on
so many bones.


Land Acknowledgment

Wondering what the name for this rock
would be in Nipmuc, or rather

what the name for this rock is
in Nipmuc. I seek a Nipmuc word

for how our daily chatter
aligns with the land’s desire

to be known, to include us in its 
conversations with itself and all else.

What was the Nipmuc word for how it was
between us and the land 

before Whiteness came,
stopped the world

and divided it into two categories:
resources and obstacles?

It’s a gap in me, a failing,
that I do not know. 

It’s my shame
that I want that healing spoon fed to me.

As if the Nipmuc word alone
would save me trouble and give me more time

in time to avoid
the trouble.

I am seeking their magic now,
doing the colonizer thing:

asking for Nipmuc to save me
after all I have done

on behalf of genocide
simply by living as I do.

There are people 
who could tell me

the Nipmuc words for everything,
or so I’ve heard,

but since I’m here and alone
and this is where the rock is

I lie down ear first to listen to it.
No idea of what language it may use

if it chooses to speak to me. No idea
if I’ll be able to pronounce it with this tongue.


Indigenous Peoples’ Day

I have to turn the heat on
this morning. The cold floor
is hurting my broken feet.
I’m shuffling in slippers
from place to place. I hear
my father’s voice
behind me again: “Pick up
your feet when you walk.”
I try. He’s been gone now 
damn near a year. He used
to talk about how a teacher at
the boarding school would walk behind them

with a switch cut from some bush 

snapping the boys’ heels as they marched
from dorm to class, the whole time

telling them the same thing. 

I try to pick up my feet. 

On behalf of my dad
I say out loud that I still think
I’ll be better off if I just walk
the way I walk instead of
marching, endlessly marching,
but I can’t just shake it off.
I never got the switch myself but
it’s still snapping somewhere behind me.
I miss my dad. I missed so much.
I say fuck and fuck again and
damn it’s cold in here, but
it is October, so cold
comes with the calendar. In fact
tomorrow is Columbus
Day — I know they’ve changed
the name but my feet still hurt
even when I invoke the new name
and say “no, it’s Indigenous Peoples’
Day. They fixed all that, remember?
Pick up your feet, Brown,
half breed, fatherless man,
as we march into a better nation.”


JWST

They show us pictures of space
to remind us that our problems
amount to nothing at all
even as the problems are killing us.

They show us pictures of space 
to make us wonder
at how far we could go
if we can exist long enough.

They show us pictures of the depth of space
as if no painted rocks or shamans 
haven’t been clear about that
for tens of thousands of years. 

They show us pictures of space
to reassure us of how much is left to colonize.


The Norway Maple

In a strong box buried
under a Norway maple
brought from Europe
when they first came here

they keep the old education
they refuse to acknowledge
in daylight. Knowledge
they leave to you to hold

as they smash away at your hands, 
ways of thought they turned off
and stashed in the box they claim
holds so little that it’s not worth opening.

Anyway, the box isn’t yours, they tell you.
The box holds Atlanteans, aliens,
Templars and old ones from 
everywhere else but here. Go forth and be

mascot, crisis actor, crystal-waving 
smudge idol for a generation of fakes. 
When we need you, we’ll let you know.
When the box rises from the ground

like a coffin displaced in the next great flood,
we’ll let you know. When the Norway maple
dies and falls upon us, we’ll let you know.
When it’s too late, you’ll figure it out.


Steel

Before I walk out the door
I steel up, remembering
that there are people out there
who would prefer I was less inconvenient
and who might even think
I should not have been born
and therefore to see me die
would be either terrific
or at least a relief in terms of 
how much real estate their fear
takes up within them — one less
hell to answer, amirite, one less
mongrel to flay?

Some of those same people
who would disavow this if you asked
say nice things to my face,
might even categorize me
as one of the good ones to my face,
at least until I pop off 
over something they say or believe
and they get me better than they did

and then comes my time to shine
to their faces and I admit
all their wanting me to die 
or never to have existed is not 
just reflected in how I’ve steeled up;

some of that shines forth
from within me.


The Question In Your Sleep

On your walk home
after dark last night
you were daydreaming
about the future
when you were
confronted:

she stepped out
from behind a pillar
on the outside edge of
a decaying parking garage
and looked into you.

She appeared, this time, 
as a little girl dressed
in distressed clothes
from a fantasy frontier era.
You saw the gingham,
the dirt, the torn hem. 
You thought something
was off but you couldn’t 
put a finger on it
until you saw the pillar 
was a tooth and the garage
was a mouth and you 
had to run from being swallowed
by whatever
had coughed her up.

At home, you sat
and slowly ate
cold canned soup
while catching up
on the news and did
a spit take
when she showed up
in the background of
a story about 
something unrelated
to her — a crisis tale
wedged between
atrocities.

She cradled a puppy
in her arms, a puppy with
huge teeth, a lolling tongue. 
A mouth you recognized at once.

This morning, waking up
from a question that lasted
all through your sleep:
asking yourself
how long has this been going on — 
torn clothes, betrayal,
innocent fantasy masking darkness
and the devouring behind it.
The beloved dog that becomes 
the vulpine Other. The pleading eyes 
fixed upon your own. 


Land Acknowledgement

When a civilization collapses,
it does not evaporate and vanish
but instead dissolves more or less slowly,

stains the earth and soil,
tints the waters for an age
or two after it appears to be gone.

What colors do you see 
under your feet? What is the tint
of what is in your glass? More to the point:

when you make a land
acknowledgment, open your mouths
to say “Today we stand on the land

of the Nipmuk, the Mskogee,
the Lakota,” do you think of this
in terms of what you can see and taste

right now, or is it more akin 
to describing long-extinct
fauna and flora? Do you even look

at where you are
before you speak?
We are dying to know. 


Mad And Lost

The difference between
what I look like
from the outside and
what I am like within
is three thousand
miles or so give or take based upon
the precise starting points
and exact destinations

or so I’d like to think

The distance to the village
where I thought I might look right
for the part
but didn’t
is four thousand miles

The distance to the rez
where by rights no one could trust me
to be who I said I was
is two thousand miles

in the other direction

I’ve been to both
Neither fit me well
or at all

You hear this and choose to question
why geography and history
should matter so much to me
when I live right here and
I’m the only one bringing this up
on a routine basis
an obsessive basis

If I’d forgotten all that
gotten over it
I’d have been happier
you say

You remind me that
I’m old poor and sick now
It would seem that should
matter most of all
not race and ancestry
Not missing any sense of home

Make a home here you say
It’s all that matters

I’ve lived among people like you
my whole life
and talked about this
the whole time

and somehow you still wonder
why I have been and will continue to be
mad and lost
all the time


White-Presenting

I like to think
I could walk out to the middle
of any mall or office parking lot,
lie down on my
belly, start to gnaw through
till
I hit dirt
and then start to burrow
till
I find bones
and then breathe on the bones
until they can speak again
and thank me and clasp me
to their open chests as
one of their own. Yes,
I like to think
the past already
knows of me
and cares for me as
legacy. I like to think
there is something underfoot
that likes me
and nourishes me. Yes,
I am extremely fond
of my thinking.


Rings Long Gone

Plastic, spiderform, childhood prize
from a vending machine. Tossed aside, vanished.

Mood indicator in white metal
recalled from adolescence.

So many in silver, incised, cast,
bought at powwows: where are they?

Two in torn soft gold,
each bearing a different grandfather’s initial,

stolen along with antique Dine’,
turquoise gone green with age; heirloom heartbreaks.

Single band
Moebius strip in hardened 14 karat rose

rendered venomous by living,
sold for weight upon release into non-desperation:

what my fingers would be now, what I would be now
without these ghost adornments, I cannot imagine.


Acoma

Awakened at four twelve AM it’s all you’ve got
in the silent New England house:

the memory of being the driver
of the sole car

speeding west on a night highway,
speeding west from Albuquerque.

Tonight this memory
of the drive toward Acoma

is giving back a soul
you’d thought you’d lost years ago

from listening
to your boss insisting

that she knew better than you
how to pronounce the name of a place

she’d been to exactly
once on vacation. “Are you sure

it’s not a long O? It’s
Ah-CO-mah, I’m certain. Are you sure?”

“Maybe I’m wrong,” you said then.
But you weren’t.

Pronounce it in your head:
“AH-cuh-muh. AH-cuh-muh.” Acoma.

You were sure. Sure then, sure now.
Certain of the Sky City

still being there, ahead,
out there west of you off this shining road,

under this saving path
of stars, you say its name to yourself.

It wasn’t her speaking that took your soul.
It was your silence. “Acoma, I’m sorry,”

you say out loud
in the New England house.

Nothing feels like home tonight
except that name.


Stupid Man In Stupid Town

smarter people
than I are needed
to figure out
exactly which numbers we need
that will come out to
creating something like equity
among the dispossessed

but even a stupid man
from stupid town like me
can see that if you start with
seeing only three-fifths of a human
then forty percent remains missing
and if you start with two words like
merciless savages
and end up with fifty-six million acres
of US land still run by Indigenous folks
(only two point three percent
of total US territory)
even if someone’s
massaged the numbers
along the way
and said that 60% is now 100%
so everything’s hunky dory now
and anyway we dig
the music
and even if someone’s said
it’s not OK to hunt
those redskins anymore
they’re good enough to be on
jerseys and
they’ve built some great casinos
on that 2.3%

even a stupid man from stupid town like me
knows lip service when they see it

and even a stupid man from stupid town
should be able to tell you
that original sins
burn holes in a nation’s insides
and if we can’t see
or if worse we deny
that something is still owing
we are just as
hollowed out
walking around happy to be
blissfully
stupid in stupid town



Unforgettable

I didn’t forget enough
of your words or blows
to be healed — how
could I? My arms
and chest have thick, inflexible
scars. My ears are bent
to take in some but not all
of what there is to hear. If
you can see that this body
has been changed
by past abuse
so much that certain
functions are inalterably
compromised, why did you expect
you could waltz in, hat in hand,
and ask me to your dance
without my turning
my wounded back
upon you? It’s not like
I can dance to what is being
played in the room — I recognize
that it used to be mine, I see
it now and then can make
my clubbed toes hop,
but you’ve done something
to it. You’ve made it as forgettable
as you and what you’ve done
are not.


A Blasphemy

You need to understand
that I was what they wanted all along:
the Mistake beyond any blood quantum,
denatured Native boy turned White man
but not quite, somehow Nothing At All
because to admit my own split
is all in my head is to admit
my inherent lack of substance.

I detest myself as the proof
of their success — more than all
the forced sterilizations, more than
all the direct massacres and stolen bones,
more than even the mascots
and the plastic feathers on the sports fans —

I am what they wanted
all along: something less than real
and more than myth. It’s a Friday night
and I’m a touch more than fucked up about it —

a weekend ahead of being
a ghost of my expected iteration —
and then the week, and then another weekend,
and somewhere in that sequence I will eventually pass,
and the Nation is smoldering as it would
with or without me although some would say
it’s because of me and how I was made
that’s part of the reason the country ended up here.
I’m the token slipped into the Great Genocide Game
to get the balls rolling.

God, if you exist, this isn’t your whole fault.
It’s also mine. I failed to die soon enough
to make them regret me. They call me a dirty word
that isn’t even obscene enough to mask my own name,

which is beyond dirty,
a blasphemy of how
I was supposed to be
called forth.