Tag Archives: heritage

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.


For the Fancydancers

revised from march 2020
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

within days
of the contagion’s start
something

took me over
rolled my hands into chafed red fists
started punching through my pale shell 

I spend my mornings now
watching fancydancing videos

little girls in jingle dresses
little boys in full regalia stomping
all raising their arms against contagion

on small and common
snow-iced lawns
on the edges of empty roads 

in furrows left
in winter land
by spring and summer plowing

all of them elsewhere west of here
beyond this city
crowded still

with unbelievers shopping
for safety from what
they don’t yet fully believe is already among them

is no longer a rumor of plague
east and west of here
but no, not here

west of here
people are dancing
toward healing

I think of my sister
sick as sick can be now
in her jingle dress at eighteen

whatever is inside me pokes me gently
reminds me of smallpox blanket stories
says

this is how you survive


Appropriation 2

A friend, a chef,
uses the same secret ingredient
in anything they make, and all they make
are acclaimed masterpieces.

Naturally, they have told no one what they use
and just as naturally we try to guess,
as much for the game of it
as for the gossip or theft

since no one believes that using any one substance
is all it would take to replicate any of their dishes.
We suspect they are in fact
using some magic for their results

as opposed to a tangible spice for what else could explain
the signature spell of their food
from first course to last bite of dessert?
I will not say we are transformed by it,

instead will say we are transported.
So we needle and wheedle and bug them: tell us,
we say. Don’t try to laugh it off and say
it’s all about the love, either; we can tell it’s more.

We know esoteric when we taste it. This is
esoterica. You got your hands on something
and we will leave you to your own use of it
once we too have it on our hands,

even if it’s blood. So tell us. All we want
is the flavor. If it demands a sacrifice or a torture
we already know you took that pain, and thank you
for that — but it’s over. Why should anyone else suffer?



Sitting Up In Bed Soaked And Desperate

I’m trying to convince myself,
not for the first time,
that if I can just get all my ancestors
to stop warring against each other
inside me, I will get better.

That until I make a truce happen,
I will be at their mercy.

That if I can calm them
and put them to sleep
they will never again make me
sit up straight in bed
soaked and desperate,
wondering who among them
from which side of the family
had spoken the death-spell
that roused me: “here you go with
that stupid half-breed shit again.”

That I have healed myself
from history and its consequences.

I’m trying to convince myself
that if I somehow put them together
to talk out all the violent years among them,
they — and I — would be OK.

That they would throw a party
to honor me.

That they would gather in a hall
somewhere to mingle and laugh,
to smudge the air and toast
the better days ahead,
waiting for the healed me
to make a great entrance
down a broad staircase.

That after everything
we’d gone through together,
I would not fling myself down the stairs
to die at the bottom among them.

See, I’m trying to convince myself
I won’t fuck it up.

That all my pain
comes from my past
and fixing that
will save me.

It’s that stupid half breed shit again,
I tell myself. The need to become
the site of the peace accord.
The broker between the factions.
The broken one who heals all
and himself in the process —

but once again
I’m sitting up in bed
soaked and desperate
with no one but myself
to blame, and I don’t even know
who that is.


Columbus Again

waking again surprised to be
still alive this far out to sea
so far from the shore
and grounded living

awake same time daily
then fall right back to sleep
upon seeing and feeling
the same old drift

you have to wonder
if this started with Columbus
thirty five days into his voyage
not knowing the next day

would change all forever
you have to wonder how
he expressed his hope
to his men and to himself

that they would land somewhere full of plunder
and how many today
are rolling their hands
over and over against each other

with the same hope
that the new world on
the other side of this long drift
will offer them good luck and fortune

(no matter who else dies for it)
once this rotten ship
scrapes bottom upon
a yet unknown shore



From The Bottom Of A Slot Canyon

I feel like I owe the world some explanation
for the breakdown where I live.
In truth I owe it nothing more
than to live as if I was whole
while not forgetting I am not,
but the feeling remains.

When I tell my story in public
I don’t mention feathers or powwows
or drums. I don’t speak of my old regalia
still hanging stiff with age 
in my parents’ basement,
or of my memories of a late night fire
that was never left unattended. 

These things are not for you to know;
they are all I have
and living here and now
has left me unsure of holding even those
long enough to take them to my grave.

When I tell my story in public
I do not speak Italian either.
Raised with that tongue till school 
erased it. Much as my father lost his
when they took him away to school.
That is all there is to say to you
about Italian and my tongue;

there are more things to say
but they are not for you to know; 
living here and now has left me unsure
of holding even those
long enough to take them when I go.

I feel as if an explanation is owed to someone
for the breakdown where I live
though I know there’s nothing owed to 
anyone, really, on this side and possibly the next;
the feeling is strong nonetheless
and it drives me to speak in riddles such as this one
so let me say this:

when I tell my story in public
I am forced to shout it from the bottom
of a slot canyon.  It does not carry well
to the top of the opposing walls. 
I hold back more than I release
to keep from bringing the half-informed
to where I am, knowing how seldom
they arrive ready to listen.

In spite of the isolation here,
I believe I’ve done 
right by myself.
I feel I’ve done right 
by myself,
as right as I can,

but I still feel like an explanation
is owed to someone.


Stilled Life With Fig Newtons

Today I speak neither
of my parent’s
first languages.

I did speak
Italian, my mother’s
tongue, until I was five

and sent to school.
Lost the ability 
to speak it, although

I still understand
a bit, as long as my mother
is speaking. 

As for my father’s language?
Gone; tossed upon
a boarding school’s trash heap;

can’t even pronounce it
when I see it written
as I’ve never heard it but once

in a reservation store
on a visit there; someone
was looking for Fig Newtons,

the only words I understood;
I assume he found them. 
I didn’t stick around to find out.

My only authentic voice
speaks nothing but English:
all my truths must be drawn

in an occupier’s medium,
a colonist’s artifact. How I work this
when I feel so robbed by history:

strive to turn the tool
toward mastery of the house
where I live. There must be words

I did not learn
or have forgotten
that I can reincarnate if I try,

and I must try. 
Tired unto death
assuming that there must be

enough words already 
for all I know
when I can’t even

speak the full truth
to myself which is all
I’ve ever tried to do,

the only reason
I write, the only reason
I’m still here.