Tag Archives: heritage

No One’s Brother

Once upon a time
in the city of Washington
there were people in charge 
of designing me.

“Kill the Indian, save
the man.” They built a lot 
of schools to do that work.
Schools as murder weapons.
Isn’t that something?

They stole my father
and maimed the culture out of him,
diseased him from his language,
massacred his hair and then
he was useful to them, so they
sent what was left to a war.

Although I was not specifically
part of the plan
they knew something like me
would eventually happen:
spawn of the murdered, 
dead Indian inside a live man;
divided within, all of it rotten. 

It’s not enough to accept myself
when my self contains corpses
and their killers. I’ve spent my life
knowing I was the site of the genocide
and that as long as I said so
out loud, I would always be
no one’s brother, forever separated — 
but how could I lie about myself?  

My father is still alive, for now.
My mother is still alive.
I cannot say the same for 
me when I understand
what I represent
to history: a triumph for 
the people in Washington
who planned me, foresaw me —
the people who get to live,
as a result,
happily ever after
on the burial ground.

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How To Repair The Conquest

You want too much, 
I’ve been told. Eagle
dancing in my back pocket,
turtle face peeking from within
my coat, a mist in my eyes
that insinuated itself there
from a pond in deep woods.
You accuse me, say I want a life
like that, a life made of

all that was eaten and spit out
before I was even born, before
I could even understand. You say
I could have born in a time when
it was commonly part
of all who were born here,
but I wasn’t.  You accuse me,

say I want to go back there as if all
that’s happened could be erased;
you accuse me again and again 

and I respond that of course I know 
better, that we can’t go back
and I know erasing all that would mean
erasing me, as I am some
of what’s happened 
since,

and then I stop and look
at that, and think of how
it would shift the world
if I were to be erased

and I say that I need to study
on this one a bit more
before I can fully respond, even though
I am clear about how I’m leaning
and if I disappear after speaking,

so be it.


3712

My smartwatch says I am
at 1492 steps for the day
and because I can’t stand seeing that number on my wrist

a symbolic commemoration
of the year when things went epically bad
I get up at once

and start walking around the house like mad
raising and raising that number as high as I can
past 1523, 1607, 1609, 1620, 1680, on and on to 1890 and beyond

until I slow down when I hit 2018 and drive myself past that
to 2020, 2100, 2200, 3000, all the way to 3712 
when I stop myself and ask out loud the dreaded question

will that year when it comes offer enough distance from 1492
and all the rest of bad history 
Will that be enough time to repair us back to health

or perhaps to have created
something new to shine upon Earth
in the way that we’re told  

in every myth and legend we have
that the Earth once cradled us
Or will 3712 be desolate and messy

A forgotten grave tonsured in sparse grass
like an ancient scalp shedding its last hair
as it crumbles into undifferentiated dust

At the moment all I have to go on
is the memory of how I felt staring down at 1492
while thinking of its symbolism as a placeholder for pain

and of 3712 as a different symbol indeed
of how pain can drive you into hope
and how it all will begin again tomorrow from 0

when I will certainly come upon 1492 again
In fact I’ve got many more steps I could take today
I rise again from my seat and go ahead


Lacrosse

I never played lacrosse
but I often feel like
my brain’s been cradled 
in the throat of a stick 
since birth.

My dad’s goalie stick
is still on the basement wall
at the old home. He still
shows off the scar he got
playing in college.

People would ask him 
if he learned how
on the reservation
and he’d shrug it off in public 
then fume privately to me in the car
or the living room:

our folks 
never 
played lacrosse
and I wasn’t there

long enough to learn
even if we had

There are fading
teenage sketches
still on the exposed drywall
next to where the stick hangs,
the largest being one 
of an old man’s lined face, long hair,
eyes wide open, looking to my right.

I think I drew that face
one summer before
I gave up
that kind of pen forever.

I recall that summer
I rubbed witch hazel
over the mosquito Braille
of my sunburnt
forearms and calves.

The only way I could ever draw a face
was to have it looking to the right,
not head on or to the left,
and the face’s eyes
never looked into mine
or yours.  Always a little side-eye,
always indirect.

I never played lacrosse.
I’ve never lived on the rez at all.
I haven’t drawn a face in years.
My father is so very old.
I can’t remember how witch hazel smells.

I’m going to die one day and I 
will have to come at it faking all the way —
split roll dodge. That’s a lacrosse move.
I looked it up. I have had
to look everything up

except for the look in my father’s eyes:
always a little side eye.
Always indirect.


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. 


Appropriation

They treat us like tombs
eager to be emptied.

What they call artifacts
we called our lungs and heart.

Those things were how
we thrived, and more. 

We put our lives
into what they use

for pretty decor.
To them 
we were no more

than feathers
and a bank 
to be robbed.

Did they imagine
they could or would belong

whenever they wore
what they stole? 

They certainly took
enough of our blood 

to keep some
for their own.

They think we live
entirely in their commerce,

their fabricated mythology. 
They buy and sell

and take and fake
and slay and rape — still,

we’ve held back some.
It may not prove to be

enough, but it’s something
to build on and we swear

they will get nothing
of our new. We swear

that in their tombs
will be nothing but echoes.


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.


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.


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.