Tag Archives: heritage

Tiny Spiders Of Cultural Appropriation

You know the old saying
about never being more
than a few feet away

from a spider,
no matter where 
you are — 

sources say
it’s not true, bit
of an urban legend,

but people love it
and repeat it
to illustrate some deep fear

of how close danger
or simple unpleasantness always may be,
of how close nature is,

how we’re not-as-dominant 
as we’d like to presume we are
even in the splendor

of our well-built homes
and the perfect turf
of their invasive lawns

and planned non-native gardens,
our imported birds,
our disruptive states of easy being;

strange how no one speaks this way
of the demonstrable swarm
of tiny spiders known as cultural appropriation,

the savage venom brewed
of captured spirit
and web-caught dreams;

how we are never more
than three feet away
from something stolen

that is often underfoot, that other times
is floating by in music and air;
we don’t shudder thinking about what’s inside us,

what has made a home within;
most only dimly aware
of how the tiny spiders hold sway,

crawling upon us daily, 
minutely, second to second;
why we don’t run screaming into deep water

to cleanse ourselves
of all this is a mystery;
it is as if a screen has fallen

before our eyes, websilk
woven thick and strong 
that shields us

from seeing the tiny spiders
of cultural theft we are never more 
than skin-thick away from,

tiny spiders like ghosts
of a past we took, visions
of futures that never will be.


Dragged Along

It feels, always,
like inside me
there’s a documentary 

about vanilla
playing on repeat: sometimes
it’s at full volume;

at other times
it’s barely audible
under my head chatter;

but it’s always on. There’s
a episode where
a man in a monocle 

purchases an escalator
that no one else gets to ride.
There’s the one with

a princess who gestures
from the top for me to come to her,
but I never get there.

There is that one where
I see myself riding a unicycle
up a long hill.

I’m sure
I have never ridden one before
but somehow in this film

I’m straining and
making slow progress.
I begin to wonder 
when 

this was filmed, is it the reason
I’m such pain here and now?
A spokesman comes on,

a voice over extolling
the wonders of vanilla.
A documentary voice

that makes a compelling
case for the dry factual,
the obviously correct

flavor of vanilla. It doesn’t matter
how hard I drive the sticks
into my ears, how much I bleed,

how hard I squeeze the throat
of the man with the monocle
or cry out my rejection

of the princess; my skin
is caught in the escalator.
I am bleeding;

dragged along, the scent of
vanilla deep in my nostrils,
voiceover yelling my name.


This Body In Which I Dwell

This body in which I dwell,
this animal in which I ride,
is not your animal to decorate, 
load with your baggage, 
steal, or kill. 

You ask me why
there’s no talk of beads
or buckskin in my words?

This animal in which I ride
is not yours to decorate.

You ask me why 
I never speak of drums
or sweat or feathers?

This body in which I dwell
is not yours to steer.

You ask me why
I do not look upon myself
as you do, translating blood-drops
into culture without a care?

This animal in which I ride
is not yours to load with your weight.

This body where I have made my home
is not yours to open and occupy,
this animal in which I ride
is neither your prayer nor your prey.

How you see what I show you
is not my concern
and if this journey takes me
into the harmful path of your illusions,
if my ride fails and this animal
falls as a result, know

that I will free myself
from that flesh and rise and find 
new passage, and
it still will not be one
for you to understand, much less one
to make your own.


Two In One

What others do not understand
when they say they see me as 
“half White and half Indian”
is that it it not like that at all
in here. In here 

it is crowded, no easy match of two
complementary parts;
two stunted, solid beings
instead trying to fit into one
tiny room and make it work
forever. Now and then 

they manage not to tangle;
usually this happens when
there is bounty for a short moment: 

right after making love or
in the presence of some other
exaltation of nature 
they find some briefly held comfort

and then the larger Me
who barely exists, who lurks between them
as mere shadow, feels substantial
for a second, maybe two; 

then again comes the jostling,
sharp elbows, awkward forgiveness,
sad angry damaged voices trying
to drown each other out
and claim the room.

Today when my body
read the news
of Notre Dame burning 

one of the ones within cried
while the other thought
of all the carved
sacred mountains
that have forever gone
ungrieved

and the shadow Me inside
cowered as they drew knives 
forged of blame and guilt,
held them to each others’ throats
as they have so many times before.

My body did not know 
how to hold it all.


Red Hole Dreams

I’ve woken up
in recent days
from dreams of fascists
with red holes dead centered
in their dead foreheads.

Whenever I do,
I sweat this urge out of me.
Smoke bathe it away
until all that is left
is a lingering residue:

unholy joy.


Mercy

…He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. — from the Declaration of Independence, in reference to King George III

It is good to see it. To see it
in print. To see the evidence of
how the mythology was created
from the beginning, at the inception
of the experiment. No wiggle room,
no interpretation can hide it.

There can be no mercy for those words.

“Indians and wolves are both beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.” — George Washington

“If ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi… in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy them all.” — Thomas Jefferson

It is good to see it. To see it
in print. To see what mercy
would be afforded to those
deemed merciless by those
incapable of mercy. To see language,
studied and measured, put into
the service of preparing genocide. 

There can be no mercy for those words.

“I don’t go so far as to believe that the only good Indian is a dead Indian, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”  — Theodore Roosevelt

It is good to see it.  To see
those words in print. To see
how casual it all became to them,
how easily the mask of mercy
slipped to reveal merciless humor
behind. To see how far they’ve come
from fear to utter contempt. 

There can be no mercy for those words.

“In recent years, and even decades, too many people have forgotten that truth. They’ve forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire, tamed a continent, and triumphed over the worst evils in history…America is the greatest fighting force for peace, justice and freedom in the history of the world. We have become a lot stronger lately. We are not going to apologize for America. We are going to stand up for America.” — Donald Trump

It is good to see it.  To see it
in print. To see how it all remains
in force, the myth of a merciless Other
pushed by the truly merciless Among Us
in the name of All Of Us, the story
of the tamers implacable against
the unspeakable wild, the lumping
of all opposition into a bucket
of great evils. Seeking mercy here
is a fool’s errand, and for those unfooled

there can be no mercy for so much more
than those words.


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.