Tag Archives: heritage

No Lines No Seams

They keep asking that old question:
which half of me is 
Abruzzese and which is 
Mescalero — a question

as old as I am and
maybe older if you think
of how many generations
before me had to hear it —

and if you think about how often
I’ve heard it myself,
you’ll understand that it’s gotten
pretty Goddamn old for me as well.

Tonight I’m looking at myself 
naked in a full length mirror
and can’t decide — where, exactly,
are my sections? Am I

Italian waist up? Apache
waist down? Brown left,
White right? Maybe the divisions
are within? Maybe I’m

a blend — always in flux,
swirling like coffee with
milk? Maybe there are
no boundaries at all within me?

Dammit. No. I seek the physical
proof tonight that would 
contradict that — some slight
configuration to explain me

to the open eye. I’m tired,
tired of living inside this body
that screams one thing to the world
and holds another back —

I’m tired, tired of my entirety
being invisible, tired of looking
like a lie to myself, tired of how
ridiculous I feel for feeling this way

on days when I am not secure
in full knowledge of myself.
They cannot understand, when they ask
me that question, how old it makes me feel.

One more night before the mirror.
One more night in search of myself.
One more night trying to answer
someone else’s questioning of how it is

that I am both and neither, and all at once
I break the mirror and see it as
the beginning of becoming visible
as a whole being, no lines, no seams.

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Iron Eyes

1.
If you are above
a certain age, you no doubt recall
the commercial: him striding
in full regalia through garbage
to overlook a highway
smothered in smog and teeming
with cars, turning at the end
to the camera
and breaking his native
and noble stoicism
with a single tear
down his cheek. 

2.
I got a call
from someone wanting me to speak
about ” the Native American view of the world
of slam poetry.”  I told her she needed
to speak to someone closer
to the action these days

and shunted her off to
someone I barely knew with the excuse
that I was some years
out of that scene,

but when I think about that call now
I wonder if I should have taken it
with the caveat that what I was,
what I am, was nothing relevant
to the discussion she was looking for.

3.
It has taken me a long time
to forgive myself for my longing
to be obvious, to dress the part,
to be able to pull off some kind of
faux-Lakota drag, some expected
semblance of the Mescalero
I knew inside me.
After all, I said back then,

it is not like I look as good in that as
Iron Eyes Cody.

4.
Iron Eyes Cody was
Siciilan and Neapolitan, born in
Louisiana, y’all. As Italian as
they come. Played Indian in
over 200 movies and TV shows.
He denied who he really was 
his entire life. Died old
and died happy enough,
I suspect.

5.
I’ll take that call now.
You might not understand what 
I have to say if you can
be moved by a single tear
on a wannabe’s cheek; you might not
pick up what I’ll be putting down.

6.
At the end of that ancient commercial
a dark, rough voice intones, “People 
start pollution.  People
can stop it.”  

7.
I’m more of what you think of 

when you see Iron Eyes Cody
than you know. Hollywood
made me as much as
my parents made me — sometimes
because I believed and sometimes
because I did not and sometimes
because I rejected and was 
rejected.  

8.
His birth name was 
Espera Oscar de Corti.  
Mine is Anthony William Brown.

He was all Italian.
I am not. 
He played an Indian on the screen.
I play the half-hand I was dealt.

In the world of slam poetry,
some folks take stage names.
I never did.

What more
do you want to know?


Dialogue With A Flag

You want to call me animal
for the blood breeze blowing through me
every time I see you these days.
By all means, call me animal, say

this anger redefines me
as uncouth or unfit
for your society.
By all means, cast me out

again.  It would not be
the first time or even the second
that you chose my role, made me
your choice of savage beast.

Faced with that again,
I feel ancient
abandon coming on.
Find myself suddenly indifferent

to your spell,
how you snap 
your name, how 
some snap to attention for it.

By all means, declare
that I am not under your 
cover. Let me admit, 
at last, to a lightness

in my step when I think 
of all the generations before me
who did not see you as 
a safe blanket.  By all means

let me be the threat
beyond your edge. Let me
pick up the old tools 
of the enemy’s trade

and recognize them
anew as my best defense.
By all means, let me go.
Let me be free of you,

your red, your white, your 
blue. Too many good people
smothered under those colors.
Too many years I loved you

as if they were not 
smothering me, too. By all means,
gasp in shock and call me
merciless, call me savage again.  This time,

let it be true.


A Broken Arrow

Used to shoot
my father’s bow
in the backyard.

Had a sheaf of 
arrows, yellow shafted,
target heads like

sharp bullets, with
one white shafted one
chased with red — that

was my favorite. Saved it
for last every time I ran 
through them all, 

banging them into 
the plywood side
of the shed. I knew

the right grip, the 
two finger pull without
the thumb, prided myself

on form almost more
than accuracy — and one day
somehow hit something

off to the side of the target
and shattered that magic
bolt. I panicked and stared

at the splinters
for a few minutes,
then tossed it into

the woodpile to be burned
in winter, then still
some months off,

pushing aside the judgement
until later — but my father
never said a word. I am not sure

he valued that arrow 
much at all, but it was
everything about archery

to me: special arrow, fantasy 
arrow, the Ultimate I always tried
to be immaculate with when I shot

with my father’s bow
in my father’s backyard,
trying to hit the target dead on,

trying 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.


Fear Of A Brown Planet

Originally posted 5/26/2010.  Revised again, 9/28/2014. Third revision, 8/11/2017.

Noah invited no insects onto the ark, but they came anyway;
flies, roaches, gnats, and ants covering every square cubit
in a confident carpet of stubborn, resilient brown.

American bison, once endangered, have grown numerous,
leaving Yosemite to roam their old prairies, leading to calls
to thin them out, gun down some stubborn, resilient brown.

In the Gulf, scared men drop chemicals, lower booms onto
oil surging from a breached torrent they thought to own,
stare in despair at the mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

In Phoenix, water pours from sprinklers into dry soil,
desert held at bay by golf courses and lawns of green.
Let the effort lapse a bit, see the return of resilient brown.

South of here, along a man made line, patrols 
stare south into a shimmering oven, guarding against
a surge moving north — people of stubborn, resilient brown.

In tidy homes the fearful see everything as a threat
but are ashamed to say that what they fear most is 
the pastel walls of their world being restored

to surging, resilient brown.


Getting Closer

When they first came
they measured themselves
against the trees, found themselves
less than acceptable; shrugged, cut down
the trees, built homes, built forts,
slid the scraps into their mouths
like toothpicks chewed solely 
for the soothing taste
of wood, of victory.

When they’d been here for a little while
they came out of homes and forts
to witness and approve
beatings, burnings, massacres,
displaced thousands marching from 
their homes, footprints freezing into memories
in reddening snow, baking into
blushing sands; they slid all that 
into their mouths, pills to be swallowed
for prevention, for nourishment,
for their great peace of mind.

When they had been here for a while longer
they began to imagine themselves
measuring up, full-rooted here, seeded here, 
forest primeval; shrugged, cut down memories
of those who’d been here all along,
slid those names into their maps,
their family trees, called them their own. 

One day I came out of my home
and saw that no matter how much
I mourned departures and raged over
shed blood, I was now mostly one of them
thanks to the long “whatever” and “so what”
of how casually they’d cut down and consumed
my place, my people, my places.

When I’d known that for a while
I chewed off a piece
of me, a huge piece of me as one might
chew off an arm or leg, a piece I saw only dimly
as it disappeared, as I left it on the path
and moved on, a wraith, with a mystery
taste of ashes, wood rot, metal flake
on my tongue; then I shrugged,
told myself I was getting closer to an end of this road

and said I was long overdue for that
and lightening my load in such a savage way
was a departure all its own
and nearly as efficient as any other.


Song From The Genocided (Ironweed Tea)

When you reach the point
where you trust nothing
except your gut
and your gun

and the finest music
you know is simple chaos
accompanied by
percussion

and every pow wow poster
makes you weep for 
your parents and 
your broken feet

and when the news comes on
the television you
hear chickens settling
into their roosts

to await the divine weasels
who will come for them
in the night and take them
for some yet-unseen purpose

When you write such things
that readers insist you must
roll your pen in flour to make it whiter
before the next workshop

that you invite them to 
go bobbing for your ass
in a hot vat of grease rendered
from the killing fields of Everywhere

and the music shifts to 
four on the floor and tosses
a cumbia over that until 
your fear is overcome by rage

or transforms to something akin
to a detachment from the future
and the present is all still past
and you clutch your gut and your gun

and shoot out the news on screen
and shove your pen into your eye
and you look the curious readers up and down
and ask for nothing from them at last

When you get there 
you give me a call and we
can sit together sipping tea
made from ironweed 

a yellow tea that will taste
like rust-burnt bridges and tonic sweat
and maybe then
we can call ourselves

worthy of our bloodlines
worthy of our tribes
worthy of all the dead who came before us
and worthy of being ancestors ourselves someday


Quantum Superpositions

Whatever the fuck
I am, 
I’m not Italian
pretty much ever
except when I am;
whatever. 
Whatever 
the fuck
it is that I am,

it is not White
except when it is,
when I am, whatever.
Whatever the fuck
I am, it is not Mescalero
pretty much ever
except when I am,
when it is, whatever.
Whatever I am, 
I’m not Indian, not Native,
not Indigenous — I am

whatever is in the box before
you look or name me —

(BTW,
did you know
Schroedinger’s experiment 
was designed to show how 
ridiculous the concept of
existing simultaneously
in multiple states was?)

whatever,
I exist
according to this world
only in collapse
of my totality. And 

when it collapses
whatever is left is what
I’m supposed to 
live: 

the role
of the fucking whatever.

No lines,
no blocking,
no motivation —

just an act, a 
character until 

it’s time, and then
back in the box

to sit
in quantum superposition
until my crushed being
can again
be fucking peeped
by whoever for 
whatever.


Crowned Demon

When I was your crowned demon
I lived better. I slept better
and dined easily with no
shredding pain in my belly
after. I was kingly in my affect
yet had no subjects to fawn
for me, scrape for me, die
for me. I fought you like 
any threatened being and 
wore both winning and losing so well
you ground your teeth at night
with the nagging cancer of 
victor’s envy.

Now that I’ve become
your logo, your clowned
honoree, your advertised 
history, I can’t stop bleeding
inside. I see what you’ve made
on posters, hats, cigarette packs
to help you lay your claim
to what you think I was, to help you
twist me into believing
that all I am is memory and 
template and rogue wave. 
You name me ancestor without
a crumb of shame, name me 
friend without a hand to offer,
name me chic without a care.

When I was your crowned demon,
your merciless savage, I was still
a better human than you.
When you named my children
nits, called me lice, I was 
still a better human than you.
When I was your obstacle,
your plague, your big “in the way,”
I was still a better human than you.
When you beat me into pale imitation
and cut me free of my tongue, 
I was still a better human than you,

and if I am now to be your mascot,
you had better learn how to sleep
with one eye on me, because 
I recall what it meant to be
your crowned demon and as such
I am still

a better human
than you
.


My Gods

You come at me
and come at me
as you have for years

with gods
you brought 
with you
from your land

and tell me I am 
cursed, doomed, 
blighted.

You cast spells,
toss masses;

lay ghosts under my feet;

offend with talk of
how wrong-soaked
my soul is.

You brandish
the things you stole from us
as if they were your own
wands or censers or
crucifixes,
as if your hands
upon them are
enough
to use their power?

Listen to me,
missionary;
listen to me,
pagan colonizer;
listen to me,
plastic shaman,
thief,
dog 

so unleashed from 
your own stone and sea
that you cannot feel 
how lost you are:

you are
on ground where
my gods live and 
no matter how far yours
traveled to get here,
they’re still

tourists,  they’re surely
tired, 

they certainly
do not
belong;

I have gods
at my back
rested and waiting and
grounded deeply
in this earth.

Nothing of yours
has ever
shaken them.

Nothing
ever will.


Superheroes

Seems sometimes
I am surrounded by
armies of superhero
fans poring through
canon and alternate
canon and non-canon
for secrets
and larger truth

and here am I
impervious, because

so often in my youth
my heroes were
your villains and
your heroes’ canons
sketched and cut my heroes
into fodder
and nothing more

To resist such obsessions now
seems to be

my lonely path

to sanity


Simple Mathematics

You

steal
feather, deity,
lineage, land;  
make up
a predecessor’s name,
a bloody
joke, a gross mascot, a 
pretty trinket trend.

We don’t need 
those definitions,
you know.

We don’t need you
to reform and relax
and lean into
understanding,
you know.

What we need,
what you need, is
simple mathematics: 

your five hundred years
are still
far less than 
our eons and 
once they’ve been
thoroughly subtracted, 

we shall not even notice.

The land will recall you
for a little while and
we might recall a bit
longer

but we’ve always known
what was ours and what
you took and what 
you called it and what
its true name
has always remained.

We don’t need you
to get it clear before

you are
dismissed. Before
we turn the paper

to the 
blank side and
start over.


Underfoot

No, he said,
I’m not responsible
for these wings
torn from so many
that litter the ground
for millions of 
square miles.
I was not
the scourge, the 
brute who laid
the lush carpet 
beneath my feet,
am not to blame
for my soft footing.
This crushing sound
from where I pass?
Merely the past, the
detritus of that unpleasantness
having been stirred, echoing
so loudly that it might
drown out anything
left alive, I admit,
but how am I expected
to know that? How
am I expected to 
know what damage
might be happening
underfoot? No, he said,
you can’t blame me
for anything except
walking on what 
was there to walk on.


The Hometown

The town has always felt
darker and meaner to me
than any city ever has.

Although I loved its woods and 
how many of its dirt roads remained
unpaved well into my twenties,

it still felt too often like an evil
had slipped out of the settler past
and come to rest on the hilltops,

in the quarries, along its rivers
still slimy with the residue
of woolen dyes drained

from its long gone mills. An antique
dimness to the sunrise, a blood tone
to the sunset, a prehistoric

scent in the dark. We all knew
there’d been murders, rapes, 
and more; every town has its share

of course, but somehow we nodded
ours away as almost quaint.  
We’d heard the Klan had met

in the Town Hall once, or maybe more;
people didn’t like to speak of it,
New England being as self-deluding then

as it still is. Somewhere among the rocks
on the northern edge was a spot
where English killed Native,

or Native killed English; stories differed 
but it’s clear: those deaths remained 
in our definition; the land still howls it; 

forever it has keened beneath 
the politesse, the etiquette, the reticence
of old timers. When I drive here now

on infrequent visits, I see it in 
flags and bumper stickers, I hear it
in casual slander in diners, I taste it

in the perfect water drawn up from wells
that everyone praises, that were sunk through
rocks like those still faintly stained with blood

up on the northern edge of town. I lived here once,
I tell myself on the way back out of town.
I don’t have to live here still, but somehow

I still do. I can only forget 
when I’m back in the city,
far from the dead

no one will speak of,
and all the sounds
of their disquieting ghosts:

But we love it here, it’s so pretty,
they say.  We love it here,
who would ever want to leave?


The Sun I Used To Envision

The sun I used to envision
when I thought about
happiness (that word
that has to be attached 
to something to be 
real, that must be embodied
for it to mean anything)

has set over there, behind
my last memory of peace,
partially obscured by
an unstable cliff that might slide
into my path any minute now 
and remind me of coming out
from a tunnel high up on the caldera 
outside Alamogordo, New Mexico
as rain poured a pure red waterfall
laden with stone and mud
into the road

and I stopped 
to look at it, afraid to drive ahead
into the city of atoms, unable to
turn around and return to
the reservation behind me

with its answers I could not learn,
watching this stream
tear across the asphalt
as if sent then by my happiness
to say you shall not pass,
you may not approach, this

is the limit and the sun you’ve envisioned
when you think of happiness
has set and this memory
of torrent and darkness and 
blocking will define
your road from here.