“Hey, beautiful!”

It’s all too easy to boil it all down

To take a lifetime of experiences

And throw it away like a grocery list

Not even the items anymore

Not bread, milk and eggs

Just a piece of crumpled paper

It’s easier to throw away like that

Junkie, tweaker, or drunk

All ways of seeing a person

Seeing them as crumpled paper

Ready for the trash can

I thought this way, like many

The path of least resistance

It hurts knowing I’d been that way

That I’d given up on people in need

My moment of awakening was gentle

At first

Then it hit like a hammer to the chest

We had become foster parents

A shirttail relative in need

We’d care for her little girl

While she worked on herself

How could she?

Was the question that burned in my head

I took the human away from her

With every thought

I boiled her down

Then, when I could throw her away

This little two-and-a-half-year-old

Beautiful, cheery, little girl

Upon meeting me for the first time

She reached up

Held my face in her hands

Her tiny little hands

Moving in little circles on my cheeks

She looked me in the eyes

A smile of beautiful acceptance

Beaming from her face

And in her tiny, cooing voice

She said, “Hey, beautiful!”

She said this three times.

After the third time I’d realized

She was telling me what she’d heard

Probably every day of her life

From her mother

That’s when the hammer hit my chest

Her mother wasn’t crumpled paper

She was more than I could imagine

Most important of all things

She was…is a loving mother

With this painful realization

I came to understand

All peoples with substance use disorders

Are worthy of our kindness

Of our acceptance

Of our love

It was a painful realization because

Because I had to look myself in the mirror

I had to weigh myself

To see how I’d come up short

I’m still working on me

Trying to be better than who I was

Day by day

I smiled and walked outside

After she chanted the incantation

The third time

And I cried

Just as I cry now

In the remembering

“Hey, beautiful!”

We’re the very words I needed to hear

Whether you’re fighting battles

That no one knows about

Or you’re following the easy path

Know that you are worthy of change

And that you’re beautiful

“Hey, beautiful!”

Overlay

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Would you believe me

If I told you

The song playing in the other room

Just faint enough to be imperceptible

Will color your entire day

That it’s set your head askew

It’s an overlay

The weather in the novel you’re reading

Is an outward projection

Of the main character’s inner turmoil

The howling wind

The driving rain

The rainbow that sometimes follows

Your subconscious will hum that song

As your own weather system moves in

An unwitting participant

An actor following stage directions

Every night the play is slightly different

Every day a different song plays

In the other room

Just out of earshot

Each day, unaware you hum these tunes

An ear worm

It burrows into the minds around you

They begin to weather parallel storms

Manifestation

Virus

Synaptic transference

Daisy chain

Bucket brigade

The buckets are filled with tears

Of joy

Of sorrow

Of acceptance

They taste like the song

If you want to be the change

Get up and go to that other room

Change the station

To a song that stokes your flame

Of hope

Of empathy

Of love

No amount of buckets could douse

Then go about your day

Humming

Until the whole world resonates with you

Until the ripples reach the darkest corners

Change the station and change the world

A River Runs Through It

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I always declare on forms that I’m American Indian or Alaskan Native

Now I realize, better than others, that I’m only half Mohawk. Only.

I don’t know if I do this to increase my chances of getting hired or to warn

I know I don’t look like your stereotypical idea of what an “Indian” should look like

This white guy you see, who can hold a tan through winter, is accessible with his wavy hair

The collector of the forms gets the best of both worlds…white-looking and diversity

A straight of the Rez, long-haired, stoic, traditional Native told me I was an apple

I am a product of the government’s relocation policy. Get them off the Rez.

That’ll assimilate them

So I don’t speak Mohawk, just as my mother doesn’t, but my grandparents did

No ceremony to get a traditional name, like most of my cousins have

I’ve never been to a sweat-lodge

So his remark was meant to hurt me. There are layers. On the surface it stung

It stung because I thought we were friends. So why would he intentionally hurt me?

I knew I didn’t choose where I was borne…off the reservation. Not my fault

However, I was in my mid-twenties, so I could’ve regained what was never given to me. I could’ve returned home again

But remember…the camera might add weight, but the mirror doesn’t lie

Try to fit in

Next layer…I’m ecstatic that he thinks I even look Native, as being an apple implies

I always wished I looked more Native

He tells me a couple weeks later that the guy behind the counter at the campus gym was racist towards him

He called him, “Chief.”  He looked at him with disgust. Told him there are townie gyms he would be better off at and told him TO MAKE SURE he wiped his sweat off the machines

Did this make me feel better that I pass as Caucasian? That I somehow dodged a bullet?  No.

I was a rage filled apple. I wanted to cave this ignorant lunk’s head in with a dumbbell

I was his brother, even if he didn’t think so

You see, generational pain exists in your DNA, right down to your marrow

These sublimated rivers of tears, that hollow out the ground beneath us, thrum beneath our feet

Like elephants and house pets, we feel the earthquake coming days in advance

The caverns created beneath us are filled with the stalactites and stalagmites made of our ancestor’s calcium. They’re bones.

Every step is precarious if the ground is hollow beneath you. For native Americans all ground is hollowed and hallowed

I look at my son and wonder if I should raise him to check that box, or not

Only a quarter. Try to fit in. Only.

Step carefully my son.

 

No weight

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Give no weight to these words

They are the mumblings of a madman 

I scribbled them on the padded walls of my mind

Ink drawn from the heart’s-well with pointy nail clippings 

Instead, lay your faith in that first sip of morning’s coffee

In the peals of young children’s laughter 

In how your fingertips feel at home in the small of your lover’s back

Find your home with outstretched arms digging fingers in three knuckles deep

So a hurricane couldn’t shake you loose 

I’ll be tossed about by the whimsy of your smile and faded memories 

Smirk at my chaos if it makes you feel better 

Find truth in your realism and folly in my Impressionism 

You can Rockwell while I melt into Dali-ance

Find comfort in repetition 

Find comfort in repetition 

Find comfort in repetition 

I’ll ride the adrenaline roller coaster of fractal chaos

You’ll never really feel quite as alive 

As when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from

The food tastes better and your kisses sweeter 

When each time felt as though it could’ve been the last

But here we are

You in your well worn path

My mind a wandering nomad…a vagabond 

Things seem so much simpler to you

So give no weight…to these words

Cornhusk Doll

I’ve been thinking about childhood

Those fleeting puffs of foggy exhalation

Rising from a deer’s muzzle just before it darts

The what brought me heres

The what made me whats

The what I bought marred me where ats

Cheese grater logic

My childhood was not unusual

Don’t we always think this?

We could’ve been daddy’s little helper

Grabbing the shovel off the back of the truck

Listening to it scrape against the road

The smell of a bloated raccoon settling in our lungs

And on that lonely, country road

We defined the word normal

And perhaps, no not perhaps, but with certainty

We defined ourselves

It wasn’t until we made friends

Until we had sleepovers

Until they took us to their places of worship

That we learned the raccoons we carried in us were different

That some heard the tinkling of a shop keeper’s bell

Not a scraping shovel

And the tinkling brings the flavor of ice cream to mouth

While others heard the slick sound of leather

Gliding through belt loops

This brings a different, salty, coppery flavor to mouth

In books we learn that despite how different we appear

We are much more alike

We hug those broken characters

And in doing we hug ourselves

Happiness and joy have faces

Sadness and pain do not

One is photographed

The other is smothered beneath down pillows

Living your whole life allergic to feathers made you that unlikely to fly

So it’s in these exchanges

Sleepovers, books, comparing and contrasting

That we give face to our tenderness

Despite what mischievousness may come

Hold the gaze and be ready to embrace

Healing is necessary

Like a clean road, without death’s reminders, is necessary

Even if just in stretches

You can’t sustain the same facial expression forever

Except in death and in memory

And in photos

Don’t disassociate

Give it a face and a name

Anchor it in thought and emotion’s hue

Take ownership of the repercussions

Give it a face

[On one of my many trips to the reservation of my ancestors, my clean air fund, my gentle reminder that you can both be loved and feel just slightly out-of-place, as we half-breeds often become vaguely aware of, I was told not to draw a face on the cornhusk doll I was creating. It was a shared moment between me and my beautiful, Native-complete cousins, that suddenly, taking on a list due to course change or the water getting in, looked askew or askance. Don’t give it a face or it will get into mischief. You’ll find the doll in places you didn’t put it. This undoubtedly bothered me. The spookiness of it. Now, as I’m thinking of childhood, the elements of of it make me uneasy. Children. Faceless dolls. A clear warning against mischievousness. I suspect it’s settled into my middle aged frame. Trace minerals that either lend to stronger or weaker bones. I’d like to think I secreted a face on that cornhusk doll. As much for me as for you, both then and now]

She thinks

She thinks she’s the emotional one

Crying during sad movies

I adore her in those moments

Seeing beneath the bark for an instant

When the movie’s over she’s ironwood

She thinks I’m stoic—evergreen

She sees my smile at the death scene

I’m not making fun in those moments

I’m envious

I’m touched and I’m envious

I see her tender humanity then

But I’m jealous of those moments

As they are seldom

For me there is a tissue thin veneer

I am always on the verge

Always wounded and mourning

She is a mighty oak

Dripping seasonal rains

I am a weeping willow

Whose roots run six feet deep

Having weathered countless storms

Many branches haven’t budded in years

They are stiff and creak in the wind

I’ve a hollowed trove of nuts

For a squirrel that’s never returned

Rotten leaves serve as mulch

Feeding on my own decay

Giving me the energy to wax poetically

The parts of me that are green

They are green because of her

I try to shade her in a mad world

But I lean into her and she doesn’t know

I’m always afraid of the next big storm

That it will take me down

Uproot me

She’s a mighty oak

But, she thinks I’m the strong one

What if

What if they add the belief of god

To the list of psychological disorders

And afterlife, and fate, and the soul

Would you believe them

Would you breathe a sigh of relief

Would a weight be lifted from you

Or would you feel robbed

The last chapter torn out

The color drained away

Meaning gone

Would you find yourself screaming

At the stars

Shivering as the snow settled on your

Naked body

Your breath floating away in little puffs

Watching the bottle of pills

Float on the water

Then gone

Beneath the bridge

You’re standing on

Had this moment always been

A second an eternity

Or, did something come before

Your breath floating away in little puffs

Shivering.

I miss

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I miss the younger me

The weightless unencumbered me

The carefree and aimless me

I want to hide beneath the weeping willow

A nature-made fortress…of solitude 

Where, like Superman, I flew

Thin branches wound around my bone-thin forearms 

Leaping against the pull of gravity

A mind that didn’t carry sorrow 

Or guilt 

Or servitude to the almighty dollar 

A helium balloon in the clouds

Tethered to unslumped shoulders

How I soared 

I bent spoons with my mind

Slayed dragons with vorpal sticks

I worshipped the mother in this church 

Light shining through stained glass leaves 

Many moons later

Barely able to lift head from pillow

I’ve sidestepped into a different reality 

Where I no longer felt like I fit and I made sense

This alternate timeline

After 12 hours of contractions

I find myself sentenced

Now I’m a contraction at the end of a sentence 

It is what it’s 

Pendulum

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The pendulum swings

From pearl to gastrolith

I feel it’s weight with each shifting

In this damned uncomfortable chair

When it’s a pearl

It’s a story

A captivating tale that sets me apart

Sets me on the path of being

Actualization

When it’s a gastrolith

It’s still a story

A forgettable pablum not worth noting 

Securing my place of anonymity 

Forgotten 

The weight, either way, is there

It’s gravity a nagging reminder 

Often paralyzing 

There are times, though

When the bits of wire and rusted nails

Break free from the ingested magnet

Where all the world’s pain collects

These bits of detritus regurgitated 

Coming out through a torn throat

In bloody, mucosal, pyroclastic eruptions

There are times, though

The body feels warmth from the insoluble 

It gently encases it in layers of nacre

Making its expulsion more tolerable 

The vomitus a pictada fucata 

Throat stretching to accommodate 

The goose that lays a mother of pearl egg

In either case, the process is necessary 

Whether avoiding a stomach so full

I beach myself on distant, unknown shores

Having broken the elemental barrier 

Born again, but into desiccation 

Or the calcium that makes up the nacre

Is cancerous in high concentrations 

The body evicting a deadly tenant

A baby gestating too long

In either case, the process is creation

In minima

Like a young child staring in awe

The first time they make

Crying when the toilet’s flushed 

Or the first piece of art 

That makes the side of the fridge

There is value in the letting go

Not the reckless abandon of encopresis 

But the satiation of a need

The building of an edifice of confidence 

But just like the microdosing of dopamine 

It’s a bandaid for a puncture wound

True healing

A resurrection, not just a seance

A real fucking dose, not just a bump

I have to stop hiding

I have to  take the leap

But I daydream about skydiving 

And am afraid to fall

In the end, the true fear is failure

That if I cut myself open

If I dig this weight I carry out of my guts

If it’s DOA

Then I am empty, a shell, a testa

And where do I go from there?

I only have one recurring dream

And one ever-present nightmare

Letting go- Erich Michaels

This is my latest piece at the wonderful Sudden Denouement.

Sudden Denouement Collective

You’d think as the seasons march on
Rotting soldiers casting off bits of themselves
Their cadence seeming to ever quicken
Having lived a month and a half of April fools days
No wiser and falling for the same old tricks
That I’d bury my head in like a tick
Swallowing watermelon seeds hoping to root myself to the ground
Looking for ways to have my name chiseled in stone
Engraved in plaques or even a cornerstone time capsule
But there must be a limit, as there is for everything
In mourning tears and afternoon funerals
I’ve said goodbye so many times I bought a plane ticket to Hawaii
So I can pretend I’m really saying hello, for a change
My worst fear, having seen how it ravages the mind
Now sounds like a lullaby meant to usher you off
Your golden years never losing luster
Some days you forget you…

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