Tag Archives: race

Adjacent

I’ve got a friend 
who weeps when called out
for racist words and actions.

Who sobs out loud
when tapped on the shoulder
with a simple, “excuse me, but…”

Who appeals to the masses
for absolution from
wee slips of the tongue and 
itty-bitty sins of omission or,
sometimes,
commission. 

I feel so bad for them
I’ve created
an easier term to use.

I say,
“You’re not being racist…
friend…
it’s more like…
you are…

racism-adjacent.” 

As in, of course
you’re not,
but you share a fence
with it.

As in, of course
you’re not,
but your apartments 
share common spaces
where racism
plays Kid Rock so loud
you can’t hear
that nice Justin Timberlake.

As in, of course 
you’re not, 
but you work
a community garden together;
racism grows weed, you grow
cannabis.

As in, of course,
racism doesn’t know any better.

As in, of course,
you certainly know better.

You’re not racist,
just racism-adjacent.
Sit near it at work.
Talk to it at lunch.
Engage it in debate
online, listen to it
respectfully, indignantly
at PTA meetings,
tut-tut it in private,
slip into silence
when it’s next to you
in the elevator, 
the supermarket,
the voting booths.

Of course, you
are not like that.
Of course you would never

although you sympathize
with how hard
it must be sometimes to miss
falling into that
what with all the 
provocations
and you know better
but the economy pushes
people and 
you would never sacrifice
anyone’s right to speak —

Enough. Friend, listen:
I’m so sorry I called you
racist. It must have been
the lighting, the darkness,
the nearness of
the real racist
in the room — sorry, 

I meant to say
“racist-adjacent”
of course but somehow
I forgot. Sin of 
omission on my part —

I forgot the word
I’m supposed to use.


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.


Vapid

They took everything that was already white
and compressed it into a small cake.
Utterly slick, ultimately waxy,
as small as an ironic footnote. 

Laid that bit into a chamber,
set it on flameless fire as if
they didn’t care about it, raised it
from its crushed state into the clouds, huffed it, 

blew it out into the thickest shade
of pure chalk imaginable,
then stood behind it in deep admiration
and masturbated

over their skills
at being so unlike
the entire everything
that birthed them.

And oh, the beards they grew,
and oh, the monstrous foods they devoured;
the long nights of staring into the eyes
of the disposable past

with sucking love
and hot detachment.
Leafing through the edges
for paths to the dead center;

admirable little men in their circles —
circles that nonetheless
are still just men masturbating
behind vast, thick clouds of white.


Grays

If you are as colorblind
in your world
as you claim to be,

why are some things there
never just black
and white to you?

Right, wrong,
up, down,
brutal, gentle;

no obvious divides
between them,
only dissolutions 

from one shade of gray
to the next 
in your world.  

There’s always
an excuse, a reason.
You stress them to us;

not all grays,
not all of them,
you say.

Are you being
the shade of gray
you want to see in your world?

Have you advertised
and marketed and sold others
on the shades of gray of your world?

Are you being
the commercial 
you want to see for your world?

You don’t understand these questions?
There’s a translation.
It’s written in red, so it may not work for you.

But it’s not my place 
to tell you how to feel.
It’s my place to feel in as many colors as I can

and then to talk about it,
to be the feeling
I want to feel in my world.

You don’t see colors. I can see that.
You don’t see me. I can see that.
Exclaiming that I’m wrong to say that?

I can hear that loud and clear.
Clear as a painting.
Loud as an explosion of paint cans

being hurled against a wall.
A gray cinder block wall.  Red paint,
blue paint, siren-crimson,

gunshot-blue.  Redlined
neighborhoods. Piss-yellow
phone calls to the police.

Your burned coffee
tastes more wrong when there is color
peeking out of your gray.

You have gray parks in your world
and they get a little greener
when there’s a suspicion of color there,

not that you would say that,
of course, as you are color blind.
Only shades of gray in your world

which looks like my world
except yours looks like a fog
settling on mine:

a red pox blanket; a sheet
pinked by blood and fire; 
a blur of blue;

a spill of scarlet — 
none of which
you can see.


Addressing Mr. White

I note your objection
to my protest
and set it aside.

I acknowledge your expression
of your opinion
and do not consider it valid.

You rationalize with 
great precision why you are right
and it moves me not at all.

You proclaim 
universal truths
that look parochial from this angle.

I will not apologize
for not apologizing 
for your offended moment.

I will extend my vision 
over your potential for growth
but am not holding my breath.

When will you understand
how narrow you look from here?
It’s not a question of your longevity

or endurance.
It’s how damnably strong
your default position still is

at this edge of a century
where we’ve been in constant danger
of being 
obliterated

and how much anguish
we’ll all be in
if we have to support it any longer.


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. 


I Am Aftermath

It doesn’t matter

what I call myself, 
what I see in the mirror,
how I was raised, 
what I learned,
what I was taught,
what name I was given,
who my father and mother were,
what I breathed growing up,
what music I heard growing up,
what fires I sheltered beside,
what drums I felt,
what I did while screaming back at insults,
what I fought or how I fought,
what claims I made or make,
what scars all this has left,

it doesn’t matter;

my existence is proof of genocide;

I should change my name to Aftermath;

I should forget myself.


Mythbuster

A dire wolf in winter, strong
and thick with frost-hung fur.

A unicorn, its coat
a cocaine-dyed feast.

A dragon cloaked
in ice, in shards of flame.

All your fantasies
are white — but a white man?

A man as white
as these myths, a man

who is also alive, and real,
and in the right place in this world?

Such a being would be so cold
its heart would freeze and its blood

would become a static avalanche.
Such a being might long for 

green, yet green life
would shirk its presence

and slink back
into the earth to hide,

and how then
would such a white man

live, thrive, populate
beyond its own death?

It’s not possible. No such thing
exists. Look at yourself, look at me:

skinned in shades
of warm pink or brown,

hues of sun and ground.
No white here — so why then the myth?

Some are made
to explain, 
some are made

to enslave, some are made
to explain enslavement

then tempt away any warmth
of the heart toward those enslaved.

We’re left with a white shroud
on a body gone cold,

hiding its shrunken frame,
its jutting bones. Then,

a sound breaking
the white silence:

howled recognition.
Pierced veil. A necessary burning.


whitenoise

from birth
you were walked
blindered into 
forest
forever bumping into
trees

stumbling off path
into a swamp
(as was intended)

your steps
sucking so loud
can’t hear a way out

and not like it’s easy to 
grope a way back
hands on trees
you can’t see
in a forest 
you can’t see
all you’ve got is your ears
but once you’re out of
the worst of the swamp
it’s all one white blur
of whitenoise

you’ll need a good brown voice
in your ear to find your way
outta here

and it will tell you
the first step
is to open your eyes
and see where the whitenoise
is coming from
and the second step is
to shut up

it must follow
that the third  
is to listen


Dyingly

Some children in a store laugh
at my “Standing Rock” 
T-shirt, tell me I’m stupid
for wearing it after I explain it.

Adults I’ve known for years
forget who I am, forget
how I identify, forget
it matters to me that they remember.

Other adults insist
I’m not what I am, am not
what I know I am, am not
getting it, am lying about it.

I’ve never denied that what I am
is not easy for me to be:
I know damn well
where I seem to fit on first glance

and what I get from that;
I know damn well what I grew up with
doesn’t show on first glance;
I know I’m supposed to have both sides

all together now. I don’t.
I should have relaxed into my mix
a long time ago, and instead
all I am is dyingly angry — “all I am,” 

as if I exist with any completion
outside of my skull at all.
I should fall from a bridge
before you all, crack it open.

You’d call me crazy and peer
into the gray and red and meat and
jelly of my brain and say
there’s nothing there to build on

and eventually let me go. Some of you
will call me the crazy old Indian then,
some the crazy old White guy,
and so the cycle will continue.

In death,
by reputation, I will be 
as divided
as I am in life

and damn those children
who laugh and laugh,
who become adults
with no clue,

who end up happy
and whole in ignorance
they likely never had to choose,
a ignorance I wish

I had myself been born with.


Night Out

A room full of hookahs,
craft beers, slick cocktails,
and a blues-rock band:

are you surprised to learn
you could count the brown faces here
on less than two full hands?

Each of my hands is empty
as tonight I’m not drinking, not smoking,
just listening and speaking to friends.

I dig the tunes but feel 
an uneasy itch inside me.
It’s one thing to know of

a slow acting poison, 
another entirely
to be reminded of it

by a good moment
in a good place
with good people.

We leave early.
On the way back to the car, I fill
one hand with pepper spray.

Parked behind us:
a pickup truck
with a big bad flag

hanging on the back,
and I tighten my grip
on what little safety I have.


The Power Of Imagination

My goodness
is real, he tells
himself. Is pure

snow, cloud,
hay beard.
My intentions

are pale,
calm, bowl of
Cream of Wheat. 

If it’s not
white, it’s
imaginary,

he tells himself.
There are
other shades

of world, but
they are his
to define. His

imagination
is all. My intentions
are my best

self, he says.
My goodness
is perfect, light

of a perfect
universe, gift
of a blinding 

faith. White
as milk,
white as

the light
of some
cloudy dawns.

Of course
I’m clean,
he insists.

Of course,
I am without stain —
you are thinking

of my unbleached
ancestors, but know that
I did not inherit

a thing from them —
in fact, let me
put this to rest:

they are
imaginary so
my imagination,

my rules. They were
devoid of color too. This is
how I keep it real,

he says,
eyes closed so tight that
all turns white in there.


I Dare Not Speak

I dare not speak
of how snow has not covered us
yet this year. I am trying hard 
to set myself apart

from my usual despair at white,
all white upon everything.
I dare not speak of how
night will soon come

to us, nor will I dare to assume
that it was designed only to conceal
what we love, or how shadowed 
this town will soon become.

I dare not slander. I dare not
praise. I dare not utter any word.
I’ve laden so much upon my words. 
They are beginning to break

as I am, as we are all beginning
to break. The sound of words breaking
in every stressed breath. 
Each word pulled between lie and truth.

Each season, each time of day
open for interpretation. White purity
or poison, dark evil or joy, 
light full of stab and soothe,

dark brimful of peace and strife.
That anyone bothers
to communicate beyond
touch and intimate connection

leaves me breathless. Words
are failing us, falling from our lips
with nothing inside them. To survive
we will have to do more than talk

and when we do speak we
will have to look each other
in the eyes and admit so much
of what we’ve let words cover:

our fears, or assumptions,
all the things we dared to do
from behind them. We will have to act
as if no words existed before this

if we are to remake this silenced world,
and I will be confident with neither praise
nor slander for anything that happens
until that great work is well begun.

Let it snow. Let it be an all white world.
When night comes,
let all the white world
fall into in that gentle dark.

I will build either way,
pushing new words,
like bricks,
into place.


Language You Were Not Born With

Talking about a sensitive topic with friends;
there’s a word you think applies 

but it’s from language
you were not born with.

You would like to include it
in the conversation — holding it in your mouth 

before placing it with right reverence
and emphasis

on the perfect space on the board so to speak — 
but are unsure of its reception 

and frankly are at least slightly uneasy
with your right to use the word

as it is not
language you were born with.

You consult your dictionary
and find the word there, guide to pronunciation,

all the various connotations, even a sense
of the same dis-ease you feel while considering it.

Now you have permission. This is why
you own the dictionary in the first place:

to give yourself permission. To provide yourself
a place to keep

all the language you were not born with
until you choose to use it. 

As you speak you have freedom of choice
to think (or not) of all who’ve died

to provide you with your dictionary. Those
whose mouths once held selected words

that were fortunately plucked 
in their ripest darkest moments

and then tucked almost tenderly into your dictionary
to sleep until you needed them. Language

you were not born with, language still blood-sticky.
Talking around a sensitive subject with friends

and there’s the perfect place to stick the word.
This is why you own the dictionary: so you’ve got 

something to point at in the silence that follows.  
Something to stand on. Something

to hit the dead with when they come forward
to ask why you took what you took from them.


A Little Something

Originally posted 9/15/2012.

A little something to chew on:
I’m neither Italian nor Mescalero,
and also both.  

A little something no one wants to hear. 

A little something:
this big paleface isn’t.
A little something:
I have no card to show you to give you government-level proof.

A little something:
you can gut yourself
bending over backward

to prove your value
to people you could care less about.

A little something:
the family was divided, but that doesn’t show.
A little something:  
it came up every time
I looked at my father and knew he would say
I was one thing one day, the other on the next.
A little something my mother never spoke of.

A little something:  my grandmother
called my dad a thief
every day.

A little something:  I am a lot of poison.
A little something:  I don’t trust. 

A little something:  on the rez I’m just another eyeroll, another shrug.
A little something:  to my Italian family, I’m not quite there.
A little something:  to supposed allies, I’m easily forgotten.

A little something:  I have had White friends
openly reassure me
that it’s ok with them
and being Indian does not matter,
it’s not the same, it’s not the same as if I was…

A little something in my clenched hand.
A little something with talons in my shoulder.

A little something:  you don’t have a clue 
what’s behind the eyes of anyone, what they recall,
what they went through, what they go through.

A little something:  
sometimes I don’t mention it
for months to new acquaintances
just to listen to them talk without knowing.

A little something:  
sometimes I mention it at once
to new acquaintances 
so I can get the stupid out in the open.

Sometimes I am surprised.
Sometimes I wish I was surprised.

A little something in my eye.
A little something behind me, whispering.

A little something:  I can tell you are bored with this.
A little something:  I can tell you think it’s overblown.
A little something:  I can tell you think it’s not huge pain.
A little something:  I never said it was,
but you can’t hear that
over your own damn noise.

Don’t deny it.

I can hear you. 

You all say it,

you all say it straight or slant
and somehow
you wonder why I keep 
a certain distance, keep 
a little something 
back.