Tag Archives: heritage

Suppose

Suppose you looked hard at your life, your existence, your being, the fact of your physical presence on the planet; looked at it and saw that you, the watered-down remnant of the combination of Native and Italian ancestry, were the site and the desired product of the Genocide.

Suppose you were raised with the words “never forget you’re not White” hammered into you and yet you ended up looking in the mirror at that which was undeniably White-passing and privileged and saw, to your eyes and upbringing, the image of a great Evil.

Suppose you could never shake the constant whisper of “you shouldn’t exist” in your ear.

Suppose that as you aged and decayed and body parts began to betray you and your abilities, you found it increasingly wearying simply to get up and go, yet more and more you understood how important it was to get up and go.

Suppose you lived in the incipient days of a Fascist takeover spearheaded by a man whose hatred of people like you was becoming more and more palpable at the moment you were least equipped to confront it.

Suppose people kept assuming you were ready and able for the War you knew was coming and did not see you as anything more than their expectations of you.

Suppose this all came together for you on a hot summer morning in a pool of sweat in a soaked bed sheet on a couch in the kitchen staring out the front window at an empty bird feeder two empty feeders and birds staring back at you.

Would you go outside and water the garden?


Minou Minou

Fifty thousand cats
owned by twenty thousand grandmothers
in my hometown and
every last one of those cats
was named Minou

That should tell you 
everything you need to know
about my hometown
but if that’s not enough
you need to know

that naming a cat Minou is in French
the same as in English naming it Kitty
We all knew at once what to call 
any random cat we ran across
so every Minou belonged to all of us

Fifty thousand cats we shared
with the twenty thousand grandmothers
who shared us among themselves
All those eyes in windows felt at times
like care and at others like fear

In the evenings when the streetlights went on
twenty thousand voices calling “Minou Minou”
as well as “get yourselves home it’s dark”
and who were they calling out to 
but cats and kids eager to play in the night

We knew the kindly nature of those
who watched us as we tried to live and grow
all the replaceable cats and kids
with the interchangeable names 
long lines of us stretching back to Quebec

from where the ancestors came 
with armloads of cats
all named Minou
and kids with names
that varied little until only recently 

If they still call the cats Minou 
back in my hometown where I do not go
because of how hard it was
to play in the dark when I was young
then I have no need to go back

In my new dark home I take comfort
in my own cats who are not named Minou
far from twenty thousand pairs of eyes
working to make sure I’d end up exactly like 
all who’d come before me

It would have killed me
to end up there listening every night
to voices calling Minou Minou
taking little notice
of which cats showed up


Jumble

Someone says to me
that if I don’t dig it here then
I should go back to where
I came from. 

You are asking me to choose
what stays and what goes.
Which half of myself
should I send back,
and to where?

Divest myself of legs and cock
and balls and ass
and say unto them

go, run back
to Napoli?

Keep the top half
here, call it my Indigenous 
game piece, make moves
as best I can?

Do I have it
backwards and it ought to be
feet don’t leave here now
while the chest and arms and head
are boxed up and sent to Italy? 

I should perhaps split down the middle?

Or carve myself to pieces and
distribute this to there, that 
to here? Say, this finger is
New Mexico, pass it over
Sierra Blanca before
letting it fall to rest
on the rez where I’ve never lived? 
Send this elbow overseas 
to Caserta, to Marciano Arpio
where I’ve never lived?

What cells should go where
if I am to go back to
where I came from?
None of me is directly from right here
so I already feel dislocated
on my own land, after all.
Perhaps I should consider
the land of my birth,
New Jersey? Land of my 
conception, Germany?

All you care about is that I’m gone,
you sneering so certainly
with your comfortable masses behind you.
You never trusted
a half-breed anyway, right?
According to you I’m a mistake.
According to you I’m an anomaly,
an aberration, a never shoulda been.
I’ve only lasted this long
because I look like you — 

and right now, considering 
the white stench suffocating all,
I wish I could discard 
my Whiteness
as I’m not sure, ever, 
that it’s not me
who stinks —
no matter how true, 
it frightens me to say it out loud.

Absurd.

I’m from here, though
I am a jumble.

I will pull the pieces together and say
and do and love and try for
wholeness, not half this,
not half that, try to belong
to myself and be true to myself
and everyone before me
and behind me
and far ahead.

You don’t like it?

You. Go.


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