Friday, November 12, 2010


The woman at the Native American Cultural Center wears her Indian proudly. The earrings are turquoise but she is Creek, a member of the Cherokee Nation. You are harder to recognize. One grandfather who headed west two years before the state of disposessed Chippewa formed their own federally recognized tribe. He left everything of his heritage behind. You came later, at a time without tribe, family ties, a Native tongue. You withstand the genealogy exercise, smile, tell what you know, apologize for what you do not. She is kind, she will embrace you, but she wants to know what kind of Indian you are first. This is both old and new. Lineage is important; blood lines define clans, relationships within tribal communities. But blood quantum is new. It was established by the government in 1934, one of many gifts of the Indian Reorganization Act. Its purpose is to define membership, restrict recognition, effect the eventual termination of Federally recognized tribes. It is how you end up being a fraction of. The rules not withstanding, the Creek woman introduces you to the others as if you are one of them. But when you leave the center, by virtue of blood law, you are already disappeared.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Friday afternoon, late in the recession, there is a line at the pawnshop. The woman at the counter is selling her childhood earrings, the wedding coins sprinkled, so many years ago, over her and her new husband’s bowed heads. He is dead now, as is the child she used to be. The broker gives her one hundred and seventy-five dollars. She thanks him although it won’t get her through the week. Next, the broker calls, and the man in line empties the entire content of his pockets on the glass. The quarters scatter as if a tumble of jewels. American quarters, copper and nickel, and he has twenty of them. The broker smiles, kind considering the line. These are quarters sir, he says. The man nods; he is at a coin shop. OK, the broker says, for this one, the 1985 issue, I’ll give you twenty-five cents.

At the bottom of your purse is a one ounce gold coin your grandmother gave you. It is not an heirloom. It is a South African Kruger Rand from 1979, a year alight with bombs that, despite the laws, could not distinguish race and often killed whites and blacks alike. The Kruger Rand sells for thirteen hundred dollars. Seven times what it was purchased for. It is an easy exchange, a brilliant gold coin, heavy with oppression and the violence of extraction, and a check, thin paper striped blue and gray through which money is made formal, benign. You are not catholic, not even religious, but walking out of the shop you make the sign of the cross, ask god to forgive you. Two doors down, there is a bar crowded with happy hour revelers. With so many unemployed, the end of the work week merits a celebration of both its existence and its culmination. On the sidewalk out front are four or five people smoking next to a sign that tells them not to. There is a code to live by, you know, and yet you no longer are able to make out the words.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


The Watching

It was her job, she knew to watch the boy, her brother, her twin. And she did. But the afternoon came when she forgot. They were at the beach. It was not especially pretty, but it was close to the city and the ocean breeze brought some relief from the August heat.

They had learned to swim young, but like all things, she was better at it than he. Watch your brother, the mother said, then went to the concession stand for a drink. The mother returned a half hour later while the lifeguard was pulling him out of the water. Driving back into the city, the son curled into a ball like a small animal. The daughter, cried, said she was sorry. The mother said nothing.

Later the mother stopped drinking, but the son inherited both the desire and the disease. When he drank himself into terminal illness, the daughter flew across the country to stay with him. The other chair in the hospital room was empty; the mother could not be reached. That day at the beach, he said, I was only trying to catch up with you. She could feel him dying and a part of her dying too. It was me, she said, I forgot that we are one and the same.


Everyone has at least two, she said. She said a lot of things. I believed some of them, none of them. The last time she was just as beautiful, but more naïve. Like you, she said meaning whomever she was speaking to. When he left her for the blue expanse of ocean, she had thrown herself over the balustrade. Can you believe it, she said, I shattered and he simply sailed away.

She told me she had learned her lesson. She swore off men, romance, any elevated surface. That’s where I came in. Petite, I was catlike, ermine. She called me ocelot, then kissed me. Her lips were soft but my tongue got caught on the rail of broken teeth.


She had a story that ran like an ant trail in her head. Sometimes, if she shook her head long enough, she was able to temporarily disperse the ants. Usually they just marched diligently on. She didn’t know the beginning of it; it was as if the ants had always been there and she had simply woken up to them midway in their journey.

Others had their own stories. She talked about them with friends from time to time. Their stories disoriented her, as if she was walking an unknown street in the dark. Her own were unwanted but familiar, like the constellation of moles on her back, the scar below her left eye.

One day she shook herself so hard that the story splintered; the ants moved outward as if marking the spokes on a wheel. At the center of it was a black hole, a vast emptiness in which she was finally free.


To let go of it, she offered her palms to the sky, as if sky wanted such things: resentment, grief, the myriad of human attachments. Later the sky made its own offering, freezing rain that fell in perfectly round pellets of ice. She put a glass bowl down outside her front door to gather it. In the morning, she found a black dog peeing into the frozen, mush filled bowl.

Attachment to Form

He shit blood at the end, his head dropping into the red and brown mess of fluid. She was surprised at the violence of it, of life’s departure. And while it was his life, his boundless pleasure in it, that she loved, it was his body, in the end, that she had to attend to. First there was the matter of wrapping and moving it out of the sun into the dark storage shed. Then ice was required to keep it cool long enough for a postponed burial. Worried about mice, or other opportunistic creatures, she stayed up that night and through the day that followed, held a kind of private wake, keeping watch over the body until her ex would return and they could bury him. The afternoon the ex returned, they unwrapped his body, kissed his stiffened head. He was no longer there, she knew, and yet it was a hard idea to hold onto. The ex cooed his name, stroked the pattern of spotted fur. It took another day for the ex to agree to bury him, but by then she no longer believed the dead should be separated from the living, interned in the dark weight of earth.


When she was young she developed a cough that wouldn’t go away, some kind of lung thing which limited her mobility. Or at least that is the story her parents used to explain why she never really left the house until she was far too old to learn how to live among others. When she asked about the physical differences—the soft fur on her ears, the way her chin drew out rather than down—they waved their hands as if her concerns were flies bothering the air.

Now she is older and her parents are dead but she is still home, sitting in the window, looking out longingly at the open field and the road that winds like a river beyond. One day she packs a bag; she leaves, walking the curves of the asphalt bank until she reaches town. Entering the first open door she finds, she is surprised by the room of welcoming faces that greet her. Either she is passing as something they might love, or she was one of them all along.


Every day comes a new thing to covet. When you were younger, it was always things that money brought. Later, you began to covet things you once had, beauty, youth, boundless enthusiasm. It is easy to get lost in the yearning, running back and forth, caught in a juniper hedged path of longing. One day you stop, part the dense foliage and peer through. On the other side is another pathway, another person racing from one end to the other. But it is clear from the way she moves that she is nothing like you. Her strides are shorter, her hands claw the air.

The Waiting

We have all done it, spent our time someplace we did not choose for a duration that we could not stand. We share this, even in the moments of it, when our awareness of another’s frustration makes our own dislike of them, their presence, their need that prolongs the satiation of our own, impossible to bear. For this moment occurs precisely when we are already burdened with it, our own discomfort.

This is one of those times, when to wait is to die a little, as all time, the passing of it, is a movement toward and away. That we are someplace filled with dying, as all places are, and yet also with living, makes both seem without consequence and yet it is here, waiting, that we are most fully aware of their significance.

And so it is morning, in this year of war and disease, in this hallway of this office, in a country that is and is not our home, that we share something, an orange, taking it apart slowly, one wedge at a time. It is here, so many years after we decided what it means to be of and from, that we find ourselves marveling at the sweet juice beneath the skin. The parting of lips, the glistening of saliva, the shocking pink of tongue.


She had been known by other names, but Love was the one that stuck. It may have been as simple as the shape of her face, which most closely resembled a silphium seed, a vulva, the flesh of her own buttocks. Such are the possible sources of the symbolic image of the heart. As metaphor, the heart has been home to the divine and she was, or so her lover said, until the day when she was not. The name, however, remained.

The Oldest One At the Pig Roast

It is hard to know for sure the age of anyone in the dark. The pig, fully grown and fattened with hormones, could not be more than 10 months old. The others, the ones drinking around the fire pit, are probably closer to twenty-five. This would make her the chaperone, but she is drinking too, heavily like they are, drinking vodka and whatever mixture of juice was on the table next to it. She can smell the pig cooking, the scent of it roasting in its own juices, and she knows that she will not be able to remain quietly among them. It is not just age, or the generations of wealth they wear as if a second skin. It is that she finally understands that without her, without the exception of her presence, the series of accessible achievements that mark their lives would seem privilege. But she is here, a member of the not-disappeared, presencing a people who were not counted as individuals in the national census until 1930. And so, their success can be narrated differently. It is a meritocracy after all. The rest is just history. She drinks two more drinks, says a blessing for the slaughtered pig, and begins the dance that centuries ago someone mistook for a welcome. It is not. It is what her people danced when it is was time for the gichi-mookomaanag to sail back home.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Emerging from the Muck

if they say we have come from
oceanic witnesses
then who am i to differ

we who are land and battle
no longer remember
white caps, the pelagic suffering


say goodbye to the fog and smoke
this lingering sadness of lung
not say and want to mean it
even the tundra blossoms
seeds blanketed in ice
like you, a tiny frozen thing
the wind carves into days
makes a stab at the heart
this thrush
sea foam and asphalt


there is a silicon pouch where my heart used to be
i call her bitch to show her i don’t miss her
she calls me things too terrible to mention

i do not want to talk myself out of this or any other
calamity i warn the sand crabs about
such linguistic solutions the way my father
warned me but he was oceanographic and I know
that sailors are not easily lured
by tongue scratchy barnacle
that remote


the source of our malice for sea life is clear
if you remember the turbulence of amniotic fluid

even the otter has questionable ethics
you can’t trust anything that eats on its back

either in or out of water it is hard
to imagine humans surviving much of anything

go ahead, submerge your hands in the black water of the spillway
to feel any affection for that which no longer reaches the sea


the competition between salt and sky cannot dazzle
hawk or dissuade us from our battles with atmosphere
the nuclear cloud of memory is prehistoric knowledge, is deep water
we surface by burning prairie grass and pygmy rabbit
drawing the smoke up into ourselves
when night falls we are still damp from hatching
the crickets warn of the moon’s entanglements
a towering monument overshadowing rock and river
we are woman and ox, our legs a muscular paradise of blue


to cross time is not
to mark its curvature
but its scales
the crepuscular death
of iridescent things opening
in this moment which has happened
has not happened
not exactly brilliant but lingering
we make months of ourselves
weeks take days call it luck or sarsaparilla
the past has no referent but scent
sweet is not unlike bitter when you bite down on it
a hummingbird is such a femme thing
but she can hurt you too


some say writing is thinking and others call it sinking into not action as if thought and action were disassociated, as if ex lovers at a party who can’t even smile across the room at each other nine years of fighting and sex, studying the drama of each other’s family and now they are caught in a crowded room and despite their knowledge that each has lost, they will not speak, neither will, because the lesson they learned most clearly, if anyone bothered to ask, is we are fish out of water this cannot be solved by thought or action or the pretense of either, this story which asks you to do something for god sake, or is it think something and maybe that will be enough


the sea is such longing for
its young, dawn, that pocked beauty
we have switched our alliance
made family out of desert
desiccant, this relative of
thirsty enough to swallow
our rage, her mouth, spitting out
cactus and scree, impervious to the hunger
wrinkled sheaths of skin


one way to explain it is the tree
those skinny roots stabbing into volcanic rock
the first thing to grow isn’t always pretty
the limbs are barren sticks
there are no flowers or fragrant music
it is simply phloem and xylem
emerging from the crust
an igneous womb


this morning is not the witch’s tit that you spoke of. so many disastrous women or so the story goes. there are others who claim not to notice the circumstance of sex. I call them liars but I know enough never to do this to their face. the earth as mother is a tragedy of subjugation and resistance. twenty miles away dawn is met by a concrete freeway overpass where she wakes, her body some broken antique toy. some parts move noisily. the others time has frozen in place. go ask her what woman means, mother or pleasure or garbage strewn contiguously so that no one place is either landfill or pristine. not containment or contaminant but that which bears the brunt of it, some dark once furry place between her legs.


in the beginning people said all kinds of things
which later someone took for religion
but the first words were not about god but food
then sex i know because i’ve been hungry
god has nothing to do with it
when the ocean comes and reclaims us
a few will survive, they will eat and make babies
this is my story and god is not allowed
only tangerines and sailor girls
there will be no more babies either