Tag Archives: race

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. 


The Fitzpatrick Scale

Reached into a paper bag full of concepts.

Pulled out a handful of calories,
a small clump of degrees Celsius,
one or two 
ohms, a sole ampere; was

disappointed that I had not come up
with the light-year 
I had imagined
might be lurking somewhere within;

was glad I hadn’t
freezer-burned my palm upon 
a Kelvin
or seared it with roentgens. 

Nonsense, you say. That makes no sense.
Those things do not exist

without application to existence — 

we simply measure
what is real with them; 
we measure what is real
with what is unreal.

For instance, depending on the circumstances
there are several measures one can use
for the differences
between colors, to distinguish between
one shade and another
of what we are viewing.

Those differences are defined numerically
after viewing selected images or samples
with sophisticated instruments;
for easier visualization
the results are plotted
onto one of a number of different charts
called “color spaces.”

There are different color spaces
for different applications — scientific
or graphic design — no one standard
works in all cases —

we measure what is real with
the unit we create for our purposes;
we measure what is real
with what is unreal.

The Fitzpatrick Scale
is a color space
for human skin tones,
developed to help understand
concepts related to the rate
of absorption of ultraviolet light
by various shades
of human skin.

The Unicode Standard,
a computer industry agreement 
defining how characters
should be represented
in computer text across languages, 

uses the Fitzpatrick Scale
to ensure uniform representation
of various human skin tones
when creating the symbols
known as “emojis.”

Sixty-four Unicode Standard emojis use
the Fitzpatrick Scale
to represent men,
boys, women,
girls, fists, thumbs
up and down…

We use an unreal
to measure a real,
then use it to create
an unreal used to represent
another unreal;

Unicode Standard says, hey,
we’re just trying to keep it real.

It is currently
both real and unreal that

some carry a Fitzpatrick Scale
in hand or head 
to measure the darkness of heart
of any given individual;
evil rises, it seems to them,
by the same increase in degree 
of ultraviolet absorption
their skin can tolerate — if 
the skin matches this sample,
they seem to say, 
fire
when ready.

The Hatcher Factor is
an old and contested formula
for determining the stopping power
of a bullet of specific caliber.

Most experts agree that it is based
on outdated information,

but all also agree
that any bullet well placed
will break any skin
regardless of its place
on the Fitzpatrick Scale.

Reach into the paper bag of concepts again;
come up empty handed.
In spite of all our work
to measure what is real

we apparently have no way
to calibrate fear and mockery,
the banality of reduction, 
the weight of dispassionate killing:

there’s apparently
no color space large enough
for all the shades of tears.

 


Colonized And Colonizer

In the streets of the colony beneath my skin
runs the blood I was born with, 

the blood with its conjoined DNA
of colonized and colonizer;

when I cut myself, the drip smells
of them both.

Get close enough to it,
dare to stick your nose near to it;

smell how pleasant it must be
to be on top as well as the fear and sweat 

of those holding it up
from the very bottom. Go farther,

press a little tongue to it,
taste iron of blade and shackle,

copper of sale and resale,
all the stolen metals of this stolen land.

Get close enough; 
the flavor should overwhelm you

but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying to claim
it’s tasteless to notice that.

The colonizer says, all you’re spilling now
is sour grapes, you sad little wino;

the colonized says, if you live a knife’s rationale
I guess you do what a knife tells you to do;

whatever it is that wants me at peace says
screw the noise of history and stop cutting yourself,

you’re needed; whatever it is that’s left after that says
war is hell, this is war, this has always been war

and war needs blood to flood the run
where the frightened go, where the terrors chase.

The rich thieves of soil and soul have made
the streets beneath my skin their home.

The ones they robbed
make their wasted homes alongside those roads.

Sometimes I don’t recognize how much I favor them both
when I see the mirror.

I will have to draw the blade cleanly over
my thin wrists to have something in which to paint

a truer self-portrait than either colonizer or colonized
could ever render alone,

for I am both,
I am neither,

I smell and taste
of both and neither,

any blood I spill
isn’t mixed but pure and purely mine;

since you asked, the distance between
those 
at war within me

is at once
thinner and harder

than a razor
could ever split.


A Message From Your Colorblind Friend

You must know
I don’t see anyone 

when I look at you — 
that is, 

I see no features
that are real and important,
nothing worth making
an attempt to understand,

no difference that makes 
a difference as I understand
the word and the world; I see only
what I think I’d be like

if I were you, and if I were you
with all the ways you are visible,
I’d be dying to damp all that
down. I’d be trying like hell

to be clearly present, as in
a glass of water, a squeaky
clean window — I’d try to let folks
see me without seeing

all the trappings of
those pesky social constructs
that you really shouldn’t let
bother you. Seriously, friend,

take my word — when I look at you
I see right through that,
right through all that, ’cause
we’re good like that, right?

 


We In The New Place (Privilege)

When we are in a new place
we don’t know of the concealed dips 
in the new floor so we trip
every time we take
what should be a simple path
from bed to bathroom,
counter to table. Getting used
to a new place

means consciously
mapping the territory until it becomes
subconscious work to travel with ease
through the furniture in the dark 
without bumping and cursing and 
anger and pain. We work at it until 

one day we no longer think much
of how complex orientation to 
our environment actually is, how long
it took to become masters of 
our own comfort. It seems so obvious 

yet we seem to forget it the moment
we are faced with someone telling us
we’ve tripped on something — a word, a joke,
a gesture, a look — we once thought 
so harmless, so easy, so pointlessly
straightforward that there was no way
for it to cause a bump, a pain,
a damage to another person we never 
thought much about in the old place — 
after all, the furniture we kicked
never us kicked back —
but we feel like we’re in a new place now
without ever having moved, having to learn 
that the map we hold within us
does not truly describe
the territory as it is,
but as we wish it was.


Condescending The Stairs

We’re descending the stairs
side by side and you are trying to comfort me
after another conversation gone bad — 

it doesn’t matter what you are, you say,
we’re all human.  Don’t let it
bother you so much. You say,

listen, I did one of those ancestry searches
and found out I wasn’t German like I thought,
I’m mostly Irish and Scottish, so I just trade

my lederhosen for a kilt and move on, learn 
the Highland Fling, I think I like plaid
better anyway. It also said

I was 2% Neanderthal, no worries, I feel like
that sometimes. It said I was 3.2% Native American,
which is great, I’ve always liked 

the feathers.  It said I was 5% African, but 
then again we all are and I’ve always been 
sympathetic to their plight, maybe 

that’s where I get it. I see all this in terms of
learning that a flavor, a taste you thought you acquired
you turned out to have been born with. Don’t let it

get to you. In the long run
there’s no such thing
as race.  It’s all a social construct anyway.

Condescending on the stairs.
You keep talking. Keep telling me
it doesn’t matter. Keep telling me

we’re the same. All exactly the same.
It’s as easy as putting on a kilt instead
of a headdress. As easy as putting on

a scar instead of a crown. As easy as
putting on a chokehold instead of a noose.
It’s all just a social construct like

empty promises, broken treaties,
unheated rooms; like an argument
among thieves over the division of spoils — 

to the victor go the spoils. Everyone
knows that. To casually cast the spoils aside
is also the victor’s choice —

everyone knows that; everyone,
it seems, everyone
except you.


Keep It To Yourself

An embodiment of
white-faced pain 
is raging in 
our neighborhood bar:

unfashionably bearded,
crude, loud, a stranger to the regulars,
and big enough to ensure 
no one will confront him.

That Word No Polite White Person Will Utter Anymore
is being uttered,
uttered a lot,
uttered loudly;

most of the patrons seem to be correctly 
uncomfortable with the sound,
if not the word. That shouldn’t
be said.  Keep it to yourself.

It was a cold night but
although it’s January
it’s warming weirdly, heading
toward way above normal;

in here this guy’s street face
is tearing open, his cave bones
are showing, and maybe it’s the heat,
maybe the humidity (they say

it’s going to rain buckets 
starting tomorrow), but it feels like
the seasons are moving too fast.
Ugly is sprouting in places

we thought were long ago 
made presentable or at least
safe for our idea of ourselves.
All we wanted was our drink

in our quiet bar, and here’s everything
we’re here to forget about enabled — unkempt
and raw, brimful of embarrassing life —
That shouldn’t be said. Keep it to yourself.


White Out

when driving in a blizzard
if you pour on the hi-beams

the storm appears
frantic as it attempts
to blind you

if you dim your lights

you only see
directly in front of you
the piling on and up
of cold white

it feels like you can’t win
when you’re in it

but once you make it to safety
you sit in the dark

stare back into what you just escaped

sit in the comfortable dark

cold white
with its weight and its
insistence upon rendering
everything blank
may bring down your house upon you
may starve you through isolation
may take you into highest crazy
through its seemingly inexorable 
fall from on high

but for tonight 
sit in the comfortable dark

you survived
the cold
and the white

one more time

and spring’s
coming


When I Look At You I See

music.

rhythm, mobile and fluid.

a human of no race, color, creed, sex, gender, class, ability, age.

a human void of humanity.

a luminous ball of possibility.  

kindness and limitless potential.  

untapped resources.  

compassion.  

sorrow.

symbol of right and wrong.

this century’s shame.  

this country’s bane.

my worst nightmare.

how I got over.

things falling apart.

a beloved.

an extraordinary rendition.

mistakes.

great ideas.

a savior.

a rescue mission.

baby, baby, baby.

a face. 

a dark expression.

mystery.

solution.

clues.

an hibiscus.

a daisy, daisy…

a fruit.

a runner coming up from behind.

a siren.

a bullet.

a problem.

a shackle.

a germ blanket.

a rope.

a burned tree.

a lack of breath.

a surfeit of flooding.

a poverty of casinos.

a murder of Crows.

a paso doble interrupted.

an interpretation.

a huge misunderstanding.

a question.

a blame, excuse, rationalization.

an invisibility.

a myth.

a Minotaur.

a myth.

a Vampire.

a myth.

a Unicorn.

a colorblind mythology.

a lie.

a mirror.

a broken mirror.

a mirror with a news clipping tucked in the frame.

a mirror with a long snaggled tear in its silver backing.

a liar

in a mirror

in a void

filling in a blank.


A Treatise On The Effects Of Casual And Unconscious Racism In Words Of One Syllable

Originally posted 12/9/2013.

I stop in shock,
stand like stone.
Here, now,
in this speck of time,
stop in this bad place
to ask:

Did he just say what I think he said?  
Did she just do 
what I think she did?

Would have thought 
each of them
was smart,
had learned,
had heart.

Just found out
I was wrong.

Now I must go back
and think of how much
I in fact do know,
how much I in fact
am sure of,
think of what I have heard,
what I have seen;
then I have to 

build a wall,
fill a moat, 
keep a watch
I hope will end
some day.