A reporter said
that my last book didn't have
A Poem About Indians.
It only had poems about love and loss,
life, the contemplation of spirit
and matter. You know,
those things Indians aren't
supposed to think about.
I didn't sound Indian
over the phone.
What's an Indian sound like?
In Mayan, fruit was the "tree's eye",
a door was the "mouth" of the house,
thumbs were the mothers.
of the hands. There were once
2000 separate languages spoken.
Aztecs called themselves: people
who explain themselves
and speak clearly. We
are still those people.
We may speak English or Spanish
or Hupa, Navajo, Apache, Yaqui,
Cree, Arapaho, Hidatsa, Dakota,
French, Salish, Miwok, Modoc,
Inuit, Nootka, Nahuatl, Pomo,
Chumashan, or Mohawk.
The old languages used metaphor:
a small, slippery fish was named
in the chant for an easy birth.
Words created the experience.
Like this poem. Like the colored threads
Incas fingered to tell stories.
A teacher at Lewis and Clark High School
told me I didn't look like an Indian.
What's an Indian look like?
Squat, he said, short and ugly.
A tow-truck driver refused
to take me, my 3-year old son,
my 80-year old grandmother,
to the shop after my car broke down.
Indians smell, he said.
I begged him
until he grunted okay,
and we climbed in.
I sat quiet, ashamed
that I was quiet
when I wanted to put
the mothers of my hands
in his eyes, and curse him
with worms in 2,000 languages.
I'm short and sometimes squat.
I can get real ugly. I use my words
like arrows. I'm a small slippery fish
that gives birth to poems.
This is a Poem about Indians
that's not about Indians
after all. It's about
You figure it out.