Take back

I step forward with right foot

Monkey brain chatter

Eyes darting to and fro

Buzzing in ears

Need to center

Calm

Replaying of conversations

What if I’d said

Now I’m 16 again

Telling my younger self

Just take the chance

Face flush

Sweat forming at hairline

The color red

Pulsing

The perceived evils I committed

Am I a bad person

Work tomorrow

Am I a fake

Will I be found out

This isn’t my dream

My son looks up to me

Am I there enough for him

Am I preparing him

Did I curse him with my psychosis

Hide the tics

Slow the stutter

Be normal

Send it out to the universe

Manifest

I’ve cocooned myself

In layers of antisocial avoidance

My metamorphosis

Will I gain wings

Where would I fly

Shut up and write

Turn off the 65” pacifier

Write the truest thing you know

Okay…I’m scared

Be that kid carving FTW into a desk

Do it for myself

Not for likes

Pink Floyd’s The Wall

My soundtrack for adolescent depression

When it’s too quiet I can still hear it

Mother, should I build the wall?

Breaking bottles

Piss into the void

Why does she always push away

Where’d that moment go

When we wanted to stay forever

Embraced under covers

Solace found in isolation

But this monkey brain

Tap the microphone

Adjust the levels

Ear piercing feedback

Echoes from missteps

Tiled hallways in cold institutions

Where is my place

My assigned seating

Switch the name card

To a seat near the window

Daydream your way out

Think of being encapsulated

Beneath the branches

Of a weeping willow

The wind shifting everything I know

Did I lock the door

Turn off the coffee pot

Did I do enough

Concentrate on breathing

Silence the chatter

Those words slipped out

Rewind the tape

Press record and do take 2

No matter what fork

The path leads here

The only thing you can take back

Is control

My mantra

Left foot steps forward

Roadside Memorial

You’ve seen them after the accident

Flowers, stuffed animals, solar lights

A memorial for someone taken too soon

The glitter of glass on black asphalt

As above, so below

At first these tragic displays overflow

Friends, family, coworkers

Leave crosses, notes, stuffed animals

As time passes it diminishes

Until only a dutiful loved one

Stands roadside with fresh flowers

And a new set of solar lights

The hum of the passing traffic

Raising the hairs on their necks

The precarious nature of life

The uncertainty of a vigil

So close to the very hurtling weapons

That caused the death

Creating the emptiness

Now filled with trips to Home Depot

And Hobby Lobby

Do we leave a bit of ourselves in passing

Like haunted houses

Grandma is gone

But the smell of her cooking

The lilt of her songs

The rocking of her chair

Move in and out

Like exclamation points

On moments of longing

Does this happen roadside

To those left behind

When grass sticks to shoes

When tears mix with rain

When the lights flicker on

At dusk

Headlights illuminating this tableau

Do they wonder who will carry on

When they pass

Or if someone will do the same for them

We all grieve in our own ways

I know this

I want to buy a bench and placard

At the nature trails my dad walked

Celebrate his love of wildlife

I even spread his ashes there

Maybe making the flora greener

Which is the best we can hope for

A positive change from our leaving

Every time I pass a roadside memorial

I feel myself standing there

The longing

Cursing, perhaps, the carelessness

Of the driver of the WMD

I feel the loneliness in my bones

Someday I’ll stop at a florist

Leave a bouquet

How happy that would make them

Those passed and those carrying on

When I go I hope it’s at home

Surrounded by friends and family

If it’s my weary and clogged heart

That gives out

Go ahead and lay flowers and lights

In front of the local fast food restaurants

Leave a stuffed animal

In my dent in the couch

Teach them

Children change everything

A complete shift in priorities

Someone is counting on you

Depending on you

Their very survival

Most parents take this on

With pride

With resolve

Others try to simply make it work

Like taking on another job

Another checkbox in a list

Some will reprioritize

Putting the child first in all things

But hold onto some part of the before

Drinking with the boys on Friday nights

Restoring that old car

Or getting the boat ready in the spring

But most often

This change

Kills dreams

Aspirations

How can I possibly

Who’s time am I wasting

What’s more important

These formative years

That’s right…formative

What foundations are we laying

Be a good soldier

Be a good consumer

Be a good student

Color in the lines

Fit into the cookie cutter

That dreams are transient

That they should

Should

Should

Should

Be a good dad or mom

Have their 2.3 kids

Balance their checkbook

Tuck some into a 401k

Perfect attendance

Buy the latest and greatest

Poetry is a phase and not a need

Be a creator of needs

A dutiful cog

In a widget factory

Who knows…maybe Disney

Next year

For now, practice assembling

A perfect child

Blindfolded

On a cot

You could bounce a quarter off of

Formative…

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Make them artists

Involve them in your dream

Teach them to love language

Form

Movement

Music

Teach them independence

Self-soothing

Self-entertaining

Self-reliance

Share your joy

Share your love

Of humanity

Of humanness

Trade WiFi connectivity

For soul to soul connectivity

Don’t feel bad

For spending time on expression

For asking for 5 more minutes

To finish that poem

Teach beauty is equal to duty

Maybe you’ll achieve your dream

Maybe they’ll learn to fight for theirs

Formative…

En Passant

In my youth I used to play chess

I never really took it all that seriously

Never joined a club

Didn’t think about competing

It was just a game

But it was a part of me

It was a distinction

Of mine and of that long ago era

A Queen’s Gambit resurrected it

A phantom limb I’d forgotten even existed

And now I feel a spectral itch

Where no appendage should be

This set my head on tilt

How many other limbs

Did I let atrophy along the away

How many withered from neglect

How many were purposefully elastrated

Is this pruning a part of growing up

Does getting rid of the weak ones

The distractions

Make the stronger ones even stronger

Or just give us more time to focus

On the ones that suit our faculties

Do we know the right choices were made

When drawing became difficult

When fingers ached from guitar chords

Did we opt for an easier route

One we felt we had a better chance with

Of obtaining fame and fortune

Or do they simply resonate with our souls

Maybe they worked best at catharsis

Who knows

Maybe they’re never really gone

Maybe these phantom limbs

Are nothing more than neural pathways

All laying dormant

Waiting for a spark

Which could be anything

A movie that has you feel a cigarette

Between index and middle finger

A habit you kicked years ago

A song that makes you weary

From pulling all night cramming

For a college course whose ideas faded

The sound of rain on a tent

And you look down at hands twitching

They’re twisting ropes into a clove hitch

When merit badges meant everything

But the fascinating thing of all this

Often this body memory is subconscious

And the electricity dances and fades

In a dusty area of the brain

Frog’s legs attached to electrodes

Dance a do-Sa-do and allemande

The smell of a gymnasium is faint

Like when she smiles at you

And you feel a pulse of warmth

Your body remembers being loved

And now you itch for more

Park Bench

Where’ve you gone?

The sun’s arc

Has traced my decline

Splintered thoughts

Paint worn reveals grain

Rusting wrought iron

The tears you shed

Long evaporated

Are now replaced

With frost’s steely touch

The part of me

That still holds chin high

Is patinated with jogger sweat

But the words stand testament

People still wondering to this day

What cornerstone of a community

What deeds did you do

To be immortalized on this bench

Looking out over this lake

But you were no luminary

You didn’t found any company

You were so much more than that

You were my father

You were my friend

And someday I’ll pass on

But it’ll still be you they think of

In moments of well needed rest

Grass brushing at ankles

Dragonflies darting to and fro

In loving memory

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]

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.

 

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 

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

Son/Sun

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There is romantic love 

There is familial love 

There is love of animals

There is love of objects

There are loves I’ve forgotten

There are loves I’ve yet to experience 

These may very well be branches

Off the same beautiful tree

None of these compare

To the love I have 

For my three year old son

I think conditions have to be just right

Like moondogs, rainbows and eclipses

I’m all too familiar with ice crystals 

With gravity’s claim on water droplets

And with darkness overcoming the light

It’s with this well learned contrast

That I view the world a few steps deeper

Into the gloom and out into the gold rays

It’s there—in the sun

That I find my love

For this little being—so true

He’s both my anchor and my buoyancy 

He keeps me connected

To the world outside my head 

With a single look or softly spoken word

He can resurrect my tired soul

He knows I love him

I hope he will never know just how much

If so, then the dark has stained him too

And I have cursed the very person

Who shines light into my darkest corners