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.

 

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Like me

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Are you like me?

Never really sure just how others take you

Do they really like you or just tolerate you?

When they laugh at your jokes

Are they being courteous or sincere?

Are you like me?

Giving those you meet the benefit of the doubt 

Assigning a whole backstory to why they did what they did

Justification for treating you shabbily 

Are you like me?

You dutifully take in the sorrows of others

Everyone’s therapist they can vent on

But can’t open up yourself

Either for fear the floodgate will never close 

Or being thought of as weak

Or facing your own frailty 

Are you like me?

Do you come undone?

At the thought of the pain and sorrow 

That is being endured in the world

At any given moment

Are you like me?

Despite your emotional connection to the world

You’d rather stay home and read or watch a good movie

Despite your interest in the human condition

You’re trying desperately to be a zen master 

Finally shutting up that interior monologue 

Am I like you?

Do you like you?

Do I like me?

Are you like me?

Fragments

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At the intersection

Of memory and dream

Of actual and fabricated 

I remember being very young

In my childhood home 

The wind whipping outside

The storm door slamming

The glass cracking 

Another moment I’m walking

Down the alleyway and slipping around 

I don’t know if I was told of the incident 

Before or after the memory’s birth

So at some level I doubt it’s authenticity 

My grandfather had beaten up my uncle 

Leaving blood on the ground

That my little feet lost traction in

I remember the old variety shows 

That inspired me to tap dance

In my grandpas work boots 

On the wood floor of the back hallway 

Or was that fashioned from stories?

I remember being on a car ride 

Going up north to the reservation 

The driver let go of the wheel

Enough play the wheel wobbled to and fro 

In my young mind it spun untethered 

My little world spinning with it

This blurring 

These dark waters

They take on the shape of their containers 

But are impossible to see through 

They are still a part of my sum

And they affect me in ways

Both that I’m aware and unaware of

But I am a survivor 

I build castles out of these sands

That so readily slip through my fingers

Unless wetted with tears of silent knowing

While I know some of these memories

Are fashioned to erode at my foundations 

There are others that give support

I’m sure there’s a long forgotten song

Whose lyrics have faded into pasts’ patina 

But the outlines of the sound wave 

Of the singer’s guttural scream

The lamentation that speaks of my sorrow 

That props me up

To take on another trying moment

Thank you Joplin, Holiday, Morissette

Thank you grandma, mother, aunts 

Thank you my lovely wife

Thank you for your songs

I stand another day because of you 

Am/Is/Are

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Masturbation is the frantic scratching of a phantom limb

Happiness is a momentary suspension of clear sighted realism

Unconditional love is antithetical to survival due to loss of self

Politics is a real life Plato’s cave and we are the prisoners

Money is the mortar we use to build walls out of our insecurities 

Kissing grew from chewing food and passing it by mouth to our babies 

Dilated pupils are attractive only because we see our attractiveness reflected

I’m a dog who only wants to be petted but was taught to smell cancer

And I’m just sitting here trying to figure out why I cry watching Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams’ character says, “It’s not your fault.  It’s not your fault.  It’s not your fault…”

Embolism

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Homeostasis is the yin yang of energy exchange

          The lighter goes out and the needle sucks up the amber

Equilibrium is a parasol in the hand of a tightrope walker 

          Through a cotton ball filter

A random number generator built from the algorithm of ginger ale bubbles 

          He was either new, careless or greedy

Two imperceptible bubbles combine and wink into existence 

          Maybe all the above

The paper thin walls allow the oxygen to pass into capillaries 

          When he drove that spike into his hungry vein

He said he knew frogs breathed through their skin

          He forgot to tap the syringe and plunger out the air

Because they died from the gasoline before he could get the lighter lit

          Before the high had time to hit he watched a clear section slide up his arm

He remembered a science experiment with celery and red food coloring 

          Frantically he hammered on his arm with his other hand

The celery looked like it had blood running through arteries 

          Hoping to break up the large bubble into much smaller less lethal ones

All the talk of good intentions were folly in his eyes—be the change

          Brain spinning like a top thinking death was nigh

He was steeped in class struggle and was an activist through osmosis 

          Two imperceptible bubbles combine and wink into existence 

Chant

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I think that when I’m picking at self inflicted wounds, channeling the dead, dying and dishonored, feeling the full weight of the world’s apathy upon my chest, and bleeding it upon the page…that I’m at my most sane. In fact, I would say that it is during those periods when I sleepwalk through life, filling a role, swallowing back the acid at the rear of my throat with a smile, and become a living currency, an end to a means, that I’ve slipped into an oubliette of depravity. Sublimating the curses and tics of universal verity bubbling up from the magma of my bones is the original sin, that can only be abated by chanting a prayer older than any Hail Mary’s, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’s. I am here for but a moment. Allow me to love you, to be loved by you, and to be remembered. I am here for but a moment. Allow me to love you, to be loved by you, and to be remembered. I am here for but a moment…

Marathon

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I’m tired. Wondering if this marathon is worth it. There are moments of happiness but these bittersweet, pixie stick, sprinklings don’t make this dead horse I’ve been beating taste any better. I need these motions I’ve been going through to have a sense of novelty, or this tin man is gonna start waving off the oil, and let the tears that always seem to be just at bay flow until the rust sets in. But we are what we do and I’m just a lumberjack who, as a child, dreamt of seeing the stars—thanks to my mom and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. No matter how fast or hard I chop these baobabs I don’t clear any sky. Even the mightiest of oaks bend to the will of the wind over time. I think that’s how I ended up here. A steady northerly. Now I’m a twisted bonsai on someone’s mantle and I’m trying like hell to drown out the screaming birds that inhabit my tree felling dreams. I’m just wondering if the promise of a new day is adequate payment for today’s indignities—if this marathon’s finish line is worth the effort. So many have went from tired to retired to expired in short order, but that’s the carrot they dangle. Carrots help you see in the dark, which might be the key to dealing with your golden years. I hope, by then, I’ll be able to shake the chill that’s settled in the marrow of my weary bones. 

Learning to fly

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They hid it at first

He was so young

Only four

They’d call him a freak

Two little nubbins 

One on each shoulder blade

Loose shirts

Windbreaker jacket

Then the first event happened 

Fucking tuna fish can

Sliced his mom’s hand right open

Oh how the red scared him

Nerve damage

Limp fingers

She was struggling to dial

Goddamn rotary phone

She felt woozy 

Then two little hands reached out 

Gently taking hold of hers

As he placed his head against her 

The nubbins stretched out

Featherless little wings

His mother was dumbfounded 

She didn’t notice the bleeding 

Had stopped

He buried his face 

Into her stomach

I love you, mama

The next day they grew

Twice in size

More difficult to hide 

Homeschooling was the answer 

A couple years slipped by

His questions became more pointed 

His need to see the world deepened 

She began taking him on outings 

Planetarium, museum, theater, petting zoo

She worried so

Then the second event happened

During a long elevator ride down

To the underground caverns 

A middle aged man collapsed

An RN performed CPR until exhaustion 

She couldn’t save him

The little boy looked up at his mother

His eyes pleading

Her face twisting

She nodded once and turned away 

She could hear the gasps

Knowing life would never be the same 

The canopy of the tent fluttered 

With the wind blowing outside 

He missed the feeling of wind and sun

The revival would be starting soon 

His wings were the size of a condor’s

The tips dragging on the ground 

His mother gripping her rosary 

Muttered about the crowd gathering 

The 2:00 show

He looked so gaunt to her

The preacher’s sermon 

Was all fire

And brimstone 

Then the lines formed

With each passing touch

Each person given a new lease

He felt himself slipping further away 

The doctors and scientists tore him apart 

In the end they determined his wings

Were a cancer

And when he couldn’t give anymore 

Of himself 

He stretched his wings

For the final time

Slipping into oblivion 

Mandala

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I took my poems and pinned them to a giant cork board. Butterflies of every hue. Like a conspiracy theorist or a detective hunting a serial killer, I connected the poems with string. My crazy wall. I connected them by how old I was in the memory that spawned the poem, by themes of love and loss, by which of the two poles I steered towards, or away from, if the poem was looking in the past, thoughts of the future or grounding myself in the present. It started out looking like a spiderweb, and I plucked the strings of love and watched the poems thrum and give off chords of joy. Then I strummed the strings of loss and a mournful sound issued forth, making the room waver and dance. The strings of depression hung limply and could not be played, but the beauty of their draping form stood out amongst all the straight lines and angles, and the strings of anxiety were so tight they were shrill in the plucking…almost pulling the poems from the board. As my eyes moved about the board I found myself, simultaneously, smiling and teary-eyed.  As the web flowed about in waves from the welling tears, I had to wipe my eyes clear. To my astonishment, within what was to become my life’s dream catcher, was an outline of myself, arms outstretched to what could only be stars. Dumbfounded at how I didn’t see it sooner, I traced my fingertips about the edge of it. My hand eventually settling on a bare spot, a hole, at the center of this wondrous mandala, right where my outline’s heart should reside. I pondered whether this void represented the parts of me I’ve kept hidden or parts I’ve yet to discover. I vowed to fill this hole. To keep writing. To keep catching butterflies. 

The grass

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I have been to the battlefield

And I am forever altered

I’ve witnessed boys trying desperately 

To prove themselves as men

The war-cries of youth long died out

In the early morning stillness 

I’ve stepped among the bodies

Lying in twisted heaps

The landscape a horrific tableau 

The marginalized finally finding comfort

Here, this band of misfits, this motley crew

They knew without doubt

They had each other’s backs

Where life had taught them 

They couldn’t count on anyone 

That they’d never get a fair shake 

That they’d always be sized up

Lumped in with the stereotypes

A two dimensional symbol

Less than human

I was four, going on forty

And even then I sensed the sadness

That seeped from their pores

Along with last night’s alcohol

These purebred warriors

With perpetually tanned skin

And arrow straight, jet black hair

And me, a halfbreed

Fair skin and curly, brown hair

I wanted to be them

But I only inherited their sense of sadness 

And of not truly belonging anywhere

An outlier amongst the marginalized 

If I wasn’t stuck up on this fence 

I’d show you the grass is the same 

On both sides…

Bloodstained