Tag Archives: heritage

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.


Bloodroot

Tragedy
from my lineage;
recovery
from there too.

What made me
deflated me.
What made me
blew me back up.

I awake in a room
built of frowns and guilt
where I still lay myself down
to sleep and heal.

It damned me,
or rather, it taught me
to damn myself.
It also taught me

how to fight
with and for
the tooth and nail
I was born with. So

when you tell me
it shouldn’t matter
as if your lineage
doesn’t matter to you,

you who wants so badly
for me to hand you
the prettiest parts of mine
to dress up your own

while pressing me to be
a little more like you
in order to wash all I am 
into a great lukewarm bath

of beige you call
civility, society,
normal — when you tell me
that

I look back at
what made me
the mess I am,
the bite and blow

of day to day,
and then I look 
at you. Your lineage
betrays you

even as mine,
for all its stabby 
hold on me, stays faithful.
Stands behind me.

Tragedy is my bloodroot.
Recovery is too.
You cannot hurt me more
than I have hurt myself

in trying to heal myself.
In my poison is my safety.
In your eyes I see
no understanding

of how that can be.
Someone in your lineage
may have known that once
but you have forgotten.

That is how I win.


Surviving

I’m supposed to be
among these massacre bones:
that’s where I was born,
after all, nestled
in a bleached nest of 
what was once alive, and though
I got up and moved on,
I was not whole.  Part of me
stayed back, remained
with these dead
who’d unwittingly cradled me
and lent me a certain air
of loss that I can always feel
even if others cannot tell. 
I measure every day
against that sense. Sometimes
it surges within
and I can’t take a breath
without the scent of old bones
filling me, choking me.  Other times
I can get by with only a whiff
or two here and there.  Either way
those dead held me when young
and still hold
all the essence I grew from:
the knowledge that I live always
among those who, if they’d seen me
in another day, would have laid
a sword against my infant neck,
a rifle’s barrel against my child’s skull,
and not held back.  I live 
always knowing how little it takes
to unleash that urge,
how easily they could send me
back into that massacre pile
if given permission and 
a flimsy rationale. Every day
I do not run screaming
to lock myself away
is a marvel; understand as well
that every day I convince myself
from dawn to dark
that you only look like them
and are not like them
is a miracle — not one 
of trust, but of magical thinking
and provisional hope. I make
no apology for that. You should
expect none. You
should do more
than wring your hands
when there are 
so many of these bones
still to be laid to rest.


Here

born here
clutched in a nation’s hands

not clad
in that nation’s favorite colors

not clad
in that nation’s preferred skin

born here
then pushed aside for counterfeits

replaced for this nation’s needs
by mascot and magic act

replaced for this nation’s mythology
by drunk, savage, earth maiden, elf

born here
in one nation imposed upon many nations

then rooting into 
what lies below that shroud

they thought
their nation had smothered all

they did not understand
they do not understand

they will never understand
what it means to be 

born here
not of this one fleeting nation

but of those
many still here

from before that one
was ever dreamed 


Westerns

The Westerns
always had us calling
the President 
“The Great White Father.”

All my dreams tonight
have been Westerns
but nobody called anybody
great, or white, or father.

My early evening Western
was of a snowglobe
being shaken close to my face.
Milky background, inside
brown bits like clods of earth
swirling, irregular sizes;
perhaps these were oil clots,
or the rotted organs of the dead,
but they were just out of focus 
and I was too afraid to squint
and make them clear.

My midnight Western:
nothing to see, my ears
filled with chanting: 
broken, broken, broken…
Did this mean the snowglobe
had broken,

or did the fact that this was
a different dream
mean the earlier one
had never happened?

The next dream, I think,
will be another Western.
Fear of it is keeping me awake.
I expect a great White father
waits there, shards of glass
in his hands, ready to embrace me,
to open me from groin to throat,
to fill a snowglobe with my grease and guts,
to ride with my pieces into the sunset;

Can’t imagine what could follow that one.
I’m certain it will make sense to someone.
All Westerns run together into one long story,
after all; I don’t expect I’ll be in the next chapter,
or that any of us will, in fact — not as we are,
not as we ever were. 

He was never our real father, you see. 


This Mess

It occurs to me
in the crisis of the moment
that if I shave myself clean
and grow my hair long
and suck in my cheeks
and buy the right feathers
and bind some part of me
in leather and movieland’s
expectations of what the 
Indianness of me 
is supposed to look like
I still won’t be any closer
to exposing my true self
than I am tonight with this unruly 
stiff curled head and 
this gray bush upon my chin
as the nation
on fire as always with its own
blurred questions of identity
and never funny joke morals
tries on another uniform and
plans for another set of 
massacres and considers
what genocide
will work for good this time
so I begin to laugh 
certain that with my being
I embody the great mistake
of the Founders in that
when they were planning
to overspread and exterminate
and absorb 
they did not take into account
how stubbornly we would remain
outside of their definitions and
no matter how hard they tried
to change us
no matter how hard they tried
to snuff us
no matter how hard they tried
to mascot us and put us
to their own mythic use
in the end 
they were manifestly
destined to fail and thus

in days like these
a half-breed like me
with no apparent touch
of their stereotypes showing 
can still be a pure and straight up
middle finger from
all the Ancestors to
this mess of theirs of which
they’re somehow
so inexplicably proud


The Deer Woman

In the corner a remnant
of a vision pulled up
in half-sleep, pulled from
memories of an old man telling
a story near a communal fire. 

In the corner, 
a blistered sack of a human-like
thing with hooves and a black hood
covering its face. I fell asleep
thinking of the past and

an old man telling a campfire story
and now this looks like it was
pulled from that fire, but not fast enough.
It has deer-feet. It has a black hood
and I think now it is a woman

and I think in half-sleep that makes
perfect, drowsy sense. I don’t know
if I should speak to Her but when I try
the voice of an old man telling
a fireside story comes out of my mouth
using words I understand but do not 

recognize. I am
aroused enough to know 
She must know this.

This vision is now
floating toward me. I’m still 
half-asleep and half old man
by the fire when 

She comes close. I feel Her
grass-fed, smoke-blister breath.
The old man council fire story
upon my neck now.
The hooves dangling.
Her name on the tip
of someone else’s tongue
in a language I don’t recognize

but which I understand too late,
just before I fully wake; awake
forty years too late to tend
the fire.

 


Story Of You

— for the protectors at Standing Rock

This is a story of you

as mad as spirit locked away
in a stale church for centuries,
itching and swelling to break down
your sanctuary prison,

with beautiful open hands
and gray stone in your eyes, 
standing up to smoke and wind
and flame not far behind,

dancing among threshers
mowing down fields of grain,
daring scythes to take you,
mocking approaching reapers.

This is a story of you

responding: turning poison flood
into wine, turning heads
away from murder toward
birth and bloom. 

This is a story of you

removing: shifting brick
from wall to path and then
following that path to a place
without walls.

This is a story of you

and your beautiful open hands
and stone eyes, your dance
against death, your laughter,
your breakout, your miracle —

you.


Targets

Originally posted 7/16/2016.

1.

At 5:45 AM
I took out the trash
and did not startle
when a neighbor spoke to me
while my back was turned
because I am not a target.

I watered the container garden
when we were done speaking
and then sat right down
on my own front wall
in the high humidity
and, in the name of
going back to bed
and getting more sleep,
took a few hits off half a joint
and wasn’t too worried
though it was full daylight
because I am not a target.

I could have been a target.
I could have been but almost
in spite of all my handsome
paternal ancestors,
I pass for White and always have
and thus regardless
of my own thoughts
and obsessions and internal
maladjustments to the way
my frame doesn’t fit my picture,
I am not a target.

I can love and rage
and live out loud
because I am not a target.
I can walk a street
with my eyes set straight upon
the eyes of others
because I am not a target.  

I can watch every video of targets,
and target practice, 
sit there staring,
crying out and raging up and falling out,
then turn them off or turn away
because I am not a target.

2.

No one and everyone
knows what’s coming.

No one and everyone
understands what will not stand;

no one knows how it will
fall. None but the targets understand

how that’s going to feel.
Everyone’s going to learn something —

at the very least, how
not to turn away;

at the very most, how little it will be,
has ever been, about them.

3.

I went back inside
and was ready to sleep
until one of my handsome
paternal ancestors

rose into view,
right through the floor;
she hovered there,
her regalia soaked in blood;

she shook her head,
she would not look me in the eye;
as hard as I wanted to be before her,
I could not be hard. I instead fell

to the same floor she transcended
so easily, and saw then
how difficult it was going to be
if I wanted to claim anything

of what I thought myself
to be; and when I looked up
she was gone, and the blazing eye
of a bull bison hung in her place

for a second only
before leaving me alone 
to choose.


Fear Of A Brown Planet

Originally posted 5/26/2010.  Revised again, 9/28/2014.
 
Noah invited no insects onto the ark, but they came anyway;
flies and roaches, gnats and ants, covering every square cubit

in a seething, confident carpet of stubborn, resilient brown.

 

American bison, once endangered, have grown numerous.
They are leaving Yosemite to roam their old prairies, leading to calls

to thin them out, to gun down some of that stubborn, resilient brown.

 

In the Gulf of Mexico, frightened men drop chemicals, lower booms
onto oil surging from the deep, a torrent they once sought to own.

They stare in despair at the mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

 

In Phoenix, water pours from sprinklers into the dry soil.
The desert is held at bay by lawns of green and golf courses.

Let the effort lapse just a bit and see the return of resilient brown.

 

South of the city, along a man made line, soldiers in sand camo
stare south into that shimmering oven, guarding against

a surge moving north — people of stubborn, resilient brown.

 

In tidy houses the fearful huddle, seeing everything as a threat;
ashamed to say that what they are most afraid of
is the pastel shell of their world restored to surging, resilient brown.

Demi-monde

In Europe, one hundred years ago,
good folk used to speak of
“the demi-monde” — French for

the half world. 

Class of those unafflicted
by established social codes.

The first resort of starving artists.
Last resort of misfits and such.

Shining examples of how not to be.

The half-world,
where some felt 
fully present for the first time
in their damned lives.

A woman of the demi-monde
was known as a “demimondaine” —
by which the good folk meant

prostitute,
even if she was not —

by which was therefore meant,
fair game.

By which was meant, 
there is some use
for that half of the world.

In Paris
the good folk once called their worst thugs

“les Apaches.”

By which they meant,
this particular part of the demi-monde
is dangerous.

The French 
pronunciation softened
the hard edge of a tribal name
stolen for a savage badge,

by which was meant
face one and you will get
the storied treatment you’d get
if you faced our awful dreams of

Apaches.

Two dance instructors once prowled
the bars and cafes of the demi-monde
to bring back to the good folk
a dance called 
“La Danse Apache.”

A man, a woman, 
playing at pimp and whore,
man striking her down,
woman fighting back,
a tango of sorts ending 
with the woman carried limp
from the stage.  

By which was meant,
here is how “les Apaches”
are.

The dance became all the rage.

By which was meant,
here we honor all our dreams of savagery.

In the USA
during that same time,
professional sports teams
began to be named

Braves, Indians, Redskins.

By which was meant,
here are our mascots, 
here are our fighters,
here are our dangerous men.

They are still called that.

By which is still meant,
here is something we can use.

By which is meant,
we’ve already stolen
slaves, gold, cultures,
entire continents,
a whole half-world —

why stop there? 

There is a German word
from the world of opera
for a song lovers sing
as they die together,
tangled in passion:

“Liebestod.”

By which is meant,
there is nothing now
but this final desperate
clutching.

Turnabout is only fair.

Liebestod is beginning.

There is no savagery
in those syllables — 
or at least, none worse
than all that has come before —

by which is meant,

dance, Liebchen, dance.


Give Me Back

Give me back, please. All of me.

I do not know where, exactly, to address 
this supplication.  I do not know how to petition
an entire culture for redress of grievances
which, if redressed, would make it a different culture,
which might just kill it. I have to harden,
have to look past that, have to ask knowing
it is not likely to be heard, yet knowing as well
that asking is survival
and not asking is extinction.

Give me back, please.  All of me.

Everything I cannot recall.
Every experience I never had.
All the language I never learned,
all the language I have not heard
since the last familial speakers died
and ended the need to to speak it.
Each voice I could not hear, each word
that fit into a hole I now carry
and cannot explain, each song I have translated
into howl, each prayer I have learned
from the flow
of my lonely blood.

Give me back, please.  All of me.

I do not know who is listening.  I do not know
if anyone but me is listening.  Someone
is likely to tell me to toughen up and struggle up
and give it up to swim upstream
like all the dying who seek to continue even if
they turn to rot and fodder on the way.  Those,
they will say, are your names, your destinies
to choose from.  

Give me back, no please this time;

I recall enough to know I was not made
in your image.  I recall enough to know
what I was or should have been 
is not what you would prefer me to be.
I recall enough to know
I will have to take me back from the mouths
of your traps, from the teeth of your maw,
from the edge of your bayonet, from the depths
of your hoods and jails and well-meant 
blood-percentage definitions.

Give me back
as I was meant to be
before I have to come digging through you

to find me. 


Schooled

In the town where I grew up
I was put right away into
the smart box, the weird box,
the known quantity box.
I was not expected to be normal.

Still, like every other boy I was schooled
in basic manhood
: he who smiles best
smiles least and with a knife.
A man isn’t half a man without
a way and a need to fight; in my case

I got an extra dose of that,
made to live up to warrior codes
that expected me to fight
all the wars my forefathers ever fought,
and in the same old way. 

I learned the wrong very well.
I lived the wrong very badly. To this day
I sweat my fright at life each morning
before work. I live by half-measures
just to be safe, just to keep things safe.

Damn the town, the knife,
the history, the basic training
I was born to. I have no sons.
That’s my contribution, the least
I could do to change the world.