Tag Archives: heritage

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.

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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.


The Seat

I’ve been seeking
the actual seat
of my Mescalero nature
within my body.

I believe I’ve found it, but
I will not tell you
where it is.

I will say
it does not pulse
or move much
when in place.

I cannot call it
a bone or bones
or a limb intact
or blown out into
components.

I will say
there’s a glow about it,
something
that is dimmer now
than it used to be
but in that dimming
it has become stronger
even as it has become 
harder to see, more
elusive.

I cannot call it entirely
pure, nor can I even suggest
there’s a ineffable quality
to it as a secret in the face 
of all the pains of the country
it must hide within.

I will say that playing twenty questions
won’t get you there.
I’d have to speak
a language I can’t use
without betraying it entirely
to explain it, even as it sits 
in plain teasing sight of everyone.

I cannot, cannot, cannot
be a party to its revelation
without saying 
this is not a part of me,
and that would be a lie.

I will say
there are stones in far deserts
that would call to it if they saw it
and it would answer. I’d have

to go along with that even if
it killed me.  I think that’s 

a clue to it: it would kill me
to let it be fully itself inside
the poison shell I hide it in
because that would kill it
swiftly and I
would completely follow.


Surrendering Miracle

At the center of
the airburst that
has all but cleaned me
of most of
my memories

is the vision of 
a white bison calf
on a Wisconsin farm

a white calf
named Miracle
claimed as sacred
by some

I recall how She came
to the pasture fence
and stared at me
when I spoke to Her

and how an old man
tending to cars parked
in the spring mud of 
the farm
asked me if She
had spoken to me

and I said yes 

I did not know for certain
until now
that She 
did not

All these years since
I have imagined a message
that was not there
for me

Now 
emptied by fire
I know I was not
blessed by Her

Things have become
so dull with

no Miracle left in me

I fall to earth

An ash
white as 
pale horse or
ghost folly

This has been
a life of
legendary 
mistakes

A life centered on 
one in particular

A life of mistaken belief
in my own 
mission

All ash now
Silent drift
to muddy ground


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.