To Kahnesatake, my Unseen Homeland
I have a name, and a dream of a name.
I could answer to them both when called,
Little White Dove flies only
in my heart, and in the hearts of my people,
who dream with me this name
My people, this clan:
they have a name, and a dream of a name,
also, two things akin but not alike.
Not the way we wear our hair, or
the markings on our skin. Two titles
at two poles of one world,
one green world which has been split by greed
into fractions and fine print:
Paper names meaning nothing
save the changing of money between hands,
and the death and destruction of our lands.
Lands which have a name, and a dream of a name:
Kanehsatake, and the three misty peaks
where Little White Dove flies into the glow of the rising sun,
away from deeds
and seeds that do not take to dusty soil
and people who name
The Mystery of the Boy
The mystery of the boy is this:
I picture him often, but am unsure
when that began: Before I bathed myself
in the white light of his smile, or after,
when I had thought on him awhile, and worked him into something
my heart wrapped around to contain,
precious. Or does it matter that I leapt into longing
before my faith in it was certain?
That is the mystery of the boy. That he could do this,
and he not know how, and I not know when,
and neither knowing what to do
Antidote to Love
There is little turbulence
as the plane passes over the Bitterroots, eastbound.
She thinks of how she took him like a bitter root,
wild antidote to the pit of lonesome
in her stomach. But after all those
miles put into “us” and “we,”
in the end, she was still going home, alone:
Round trip to nowhere.
She remembers the last walk they took,
in the park. Just after she reached
to kiss him goodbye, a bird landed, briefly,
on his shoulder. They laughed,
but was it really surprising? He always was
The Spanish Pants (Barcelona, circa 1997)
The whole world stopped for my hips—
Look at them shake! You should have,
everybody else was…everybody else,
And that one man, with the blue, blue shirt, up against
His hot dark skin—and mine of course:
of course! If I had been older it would have been sex,
right there, some unlawful act of carnal knowledge
of that nameless man who just happened
to go dancing for a night with some friends. “From Roma.”
Hell, yeah, honey: Roma. How’d they like thata,
back at homa?
But I’m not back at homa, not yeta, so I’m going
to keep on moving with the music, disco beat, blazing lights.
And this man. My man, first one, looked at me like
a woman who can really—truly—
move those hips.
Falling Autumn Leaves
Dreams and dreams
Fall flitting down
Like feathers loosened from the V of geese
And all around the orange hills
The past is creeping pace on pace
To rest its chin like the fuzzy muzzle
Of a favorite hunting hound.
Down in the valley
Where the echoes still reach,
Of a sweet baying sadness in the night
And the hollow chopping of woodstove wood,
Time is trapped in the timbers
Of the trees that softly sway
On those age-worn hills.
Age on age
Rippling outward as the rings
That tell the tales of those tall trees,
Still a fortress standing strong,
Some ancient bastion built of spirits
Of all those lives that circle through
From air to ground and back again.
Dream on dream
Like year on year,
Built into my bones those curves
Of bird-flight and smoke-spiral and falling-leaf,
Those hill-hues in the slanting sun
And the smile of year after year
That echoes in my heart like the hush
Of falling autumn leaves.
Sonnet to a Loved One
How sweet are Shakespeare’s graceful words to hear
Which capture love and beauty at their peak;
There is no sound more pleasant to the ear
And such perfection poets lifelong seek.
What inspiration must his muse have sent
Or else what beauty Shakespeare must have seen,
For to his words such loveliness is lent
That makes all other verse imperfect seem.
But there’s one thing that Shakespeare could not see:
The beauty of your form, your voice, your mind
What a pity he could not have studied thee:
No better subject could a poet find.
While I know that Shakespeare has far greater lines,
I also know the better subject’s mine.
How do you learn to hold the present
and in that present a body
of a person always changing, always moving,
always flowing forth into the future,
never here and now between these sievish hands?
There is no estimate of every movement
one’s mind must make in seconds,
parts of seconds, no time at all for the body
but an eternity of comprehension
and all you can do is try to hold on
to this traveling being flying forth,
sliding like water over the rocks--
and just as hard to detain from that inevitable journey,
South, east, wherever the wind blows.
Come back, time.
I have not yet felt, though my heart is open.
what is lost
strip poker seems sexy
til you’re the one losing.
and if your morals are on the line
as well as your clothes, well, then,
you’re doubly screwed
since even contemplation of the act
proves you’ve been wooed and wilded
by promiscuity: it’s so easy, don’t you know,
to be winning one second,
fucking the next; naked,
then clothed in the smell of his cologne,
a scent that will cloud around you later
like he’s still there, touching your bare
breast with the hand that held straight flush.
as the basket flies hellward
posthaste, as this sexcopulationtransmogrification occurs,
you feel like laughing, you amoral slut,
because you had the ace up your sleeve all along
but never played it.
or did you? did you play it before he even opened the door,
before he thought
to make the bid for your young body,
before he ever knew
you like to lose things?
Racism (All in One Moment)
I have learned some things
slowly. I guess this is better
than not learning them
at all. But when the guy spits
“NIGGER MOTHER FUCKER”
at the black train conductor,
the world screeches past my ears
like the I have just missed,
on the platform. And all in one moment,
I become that sailor who
bagged the last dodo:
I have something new,
but I have lost something,
I Will Sing (For my people)
The father of my Mohawk blood stands next to Train No. 33, circa 1869. He is frozen in time, wrapped in starched American textiles, conductor’s cap slightly askew as he holds a silver waist-band-bound watch in his hand. It is a brown hand, like his brown eyes, which seem to regard the world from a great distance, over jutting cheekbones seen mostly now on reservations, in movies, in other sepia stills.
When his body had stilled and was recycled into the earth, where did it go? Not into steel for train track rails, or cotton for fabrics made by white hands, but into a sassafras or a lily, green friends that speak to me in quiet Appalachian sunlight. Does he watch me now, from his seat around the council fire, and wonder why it took three embarrassed generations for someone who listens to be born again?
Regardless, I watch him now, and
wonder why three embarrassed generations ago he
stepped out of sassafras stands in northern
I feel it is time to listen again. The
owl flies through my sleep, calling, and the southbound river gurgles my name
As the daughter of a father of a daughter of a father who was one-half something wild, I question why three generations did not listen, why I feel I must. I hear the father of my Mohawk blood chanting into the smoke that blows off the council fire: He changed his clothes but he couldn’t change his blood. Every time Tonniataren:ton calls across the lake, I hear him; every rustling of leaves holds his voice: He sings the war-song, the love-song, the life-song: These days they are all one melody, which I will sing too. My blood may be quiet, but my voice is not.
My people used to have a tale
about a tree with leaves like hands:
three fingers, two fingers, one.
When I was a girl I knew the story
by heart. It had something to do
with something undying—love or spirit,
or maybe faith. A topic along those lines,
inspirational. But I forgot the rhythm
of the words, and then the words themselves, until
all I could do
was look at this tree, and wonder: Sassafras
albidum, cinnamonwood, smelling-stick tree
with omnipotent roots, how did my people
come to know you? How did they come
to thin their winter thickness
with your brew? The insects flee from your oil
but I could lie in your arms all night,
trying to remember