Tag Archives: heritage

Marketing

Anything you buy
has a name given to it
by people who’ve been paid to name 
cough drops and cosmetics
using words they think
you will remember;
making up words they think
will soothe you;
creating words to shift
your confidence or fear.

If you buy that Bible tale
this started long ago.
Back then it was done for free
by divine decree.
Even if you don’t buy that

it’s clear from all the books
holy or unholy, secular or sacred,
that naming has always been
at least a little about
marketing 

and marketing rarely asks 
that which is being named
for permission to name it
or even for input
as that might not fit
the needs of those 
doing the selling

which is how we got names
like
redskin.


Jerry Or Tom

I call him
Jerry or Tom,
that White Man In Me.

Jerry or Tom,
who I prefer to
forget about

but who refuses
to stop being
me in public.

And I call 
that Mescalero In Me
Tom, or Jerry;

whatever 
Jerry or Tom
isn’t using today,

he gets. I wish
I knew more about him
than I do, except

I make up 
too much already
and the older I get

the less inclined I am
to indulge in
dreams

about Tom
or Jerry, whichever
he is. Who knows

whichever one
is the Truth?
Can both be, or is Truth

truly a casualty
of war and as I am
war embodied, 

am I pure lie? I have
friends (I think) who say
I make too much 

of all this: be yourself,
they say, little of
that matters, really.

I’ve got some who sneer and say
I’m pure Tom, others
who scrape and say

pure Jerry,
others who praise me
for being entirely

open to such torture.
On the rez
they’ve called me

other. In the office
they’ve called me 
other. Once at home

the White Man In Me
sits up and barks
at every little sound

whenever the Mescalero In Me
isn’t doing it and it’s striking
how they less and less often

agree. Tom tells Jerry
to die. Jerry tells Tom
the same thing. Maybe

that’s something
we can all agree on —
after all I get to 

ride behind them 
and watch them
punch it out and

such fatigue as that
you might imagine only
if you know them

intimately or have
your own war-pair
to wrestle with. 

What keeps me going
is knowing that I am what
the people who made this happen

wanted to happen: one of
a host, one of a generation of 
denatured progeny

drifting between names
and selves, guilty and raging
and disintegrated; knowing that

and hating that
and refusing to die
until I figure out a real name,

one they would hate, 
one I can finally live with, 
is all I’ve got now.

Tom or Jerry, Jerry
or Tom; at the end
the cartoon will circle in

upon them, upon me.
I will have no certain name
then, other than Dead Man

and then Tom or Jerry,
Jerry or Tom, Mescalero Or
White Man In Me Or Not,

shall become as academic
as anything else ever carved in stone
over a set of sodden bones

or left on the wind
in high desert, never
to be spoken again.


23 And Me

Revised, from March 2018.  Original title, “23.”

Somebody give me two imaginary things:
a top hat dyed dark with noble blood
and a statue of me wearing the hat.

Then, call me
lord and ruler; a statue
of the imaginary me

is enough of a vessel
from which to sip
the red juice of privilege.

If you give me the bloody hat 
and the statue as well, perhaps
I shall be regal and in charge,

so go ahead and give me
the title as well. Something good,
something recorded on parchment,

for I want to choose who I am 
and discard what I was raised to be:  
that matters less, it seems,

than what a scrap of me
has to report. 
All that history

we used to wrestle 
once could exalt or damn 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 sticky hat on my head.
I’m enjoying the hell
out of my pale marble face.

I’m dreaming of what it all must mean
although all it truly means
is that I’m dreaming. 


Full Stop

I sit more and more
with my
diminishing
presence
as the 
long-predicted end result
of a long-game genocide.

I feel like a full stop.

The Tribe doesn’t want me.
Why should they? I am only
a member by history,
not by presence,
not by physicality.

The Whiteness cannot understand
why it feels like a slap
that I’m seen as a full member.
Why should they? Who doesn’t want
to win, they ask?

I don’t.  Not that way.
I’m not, I whine. I’m not.

Dumbass. Of course you are, 

everyone else says:
the Tribe, the Whiteness,
all the individuals within and without;
even the chosen family,
even the ones I thought I loved and honored.

I think they are more right than I am.
Something in me doesn’t know how to listen.

I am the full stop.
The end result. This is what
the founders,
the original sinners of the nation
wanted — my simple

surrender to the default
once I’ve been 
denatured. 

What should I say,
what should I write
about wholeness in a place
that cannot use my wholeness?

What should I say that offers 
my entirety
when I do not have any evidence 
of it being real?

I sit more and more with myself
as a ghost to myself. Someone else’s 

proof of concept.


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.