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Category: My poems

POEM: I am not an Indian

Listen to this poem by pressing the play button above.

A Blackfoot woman
A Blackfoot woman

I am not an Indian

My great-great-great-great grandmother
was a full-blooded Blackfoot Indian.
People say full-blooded not because
they have any proof,
but because it sounds wild, native.
If you do the math, that makes me
1.5% Blackfoot, and not very wild at all.
Say what you will about Ward Churchill;
he was right that all our accomplishments
as a country, all our technology, all our freedom,
all our music and poetry and art and dance and theater,
is being created on land that we stole from people
whose names we don’t even remember.
In college, my roommate’s best friend
paid less for his tuition because he was
above some arbitrary threshold
of Native American ancestry.
Not full-blooded, but bloody enough.
He was generously allowed
to learn quote-history-unquote
in a government building on the very land
his ancestors occupied before they became
little more than discount coupons for the state.
Another branch of my family has lived
in New England since 1638.
We never owned slaves, you’ll hear them
attest proudly, and it appears to be true.
Less lauded is my some-number-of-greats
uncle John Flanders, who served
with distinction in the army of Gen. John Sullivan,
helping to rid upstate New York of the Iroquois.
Sullivan’s troops burned and shot and hung and scattered
the people of many nations, including the Cayuga.
The army destroyed their town of Coreorgonel, and in its place was
established Ithaca, now a haven for higher education and
an oasis for studiers of organic farming and
Native American spirituality.
Living at Coreorgonel were the remnants of the Tutelo people,
who’d been forced from their homes
on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky,
and who were taken in by the Cayugas. It has been
112 years since any human being spoke the Tutelo language.
Sitting on a stage at the Tokyo Film Festival, director Chris Eyre
(of the Cheyenne-Arapaho, remember them?)
was asked by a member of the audience whether he preferred
to be called “Indian” or “Native American.”
“We have so many other problems to deal with
that we don’t have much time to worry about
what we’re called,” he said.


POEM: Entrances & Exits

Listen to this poem by pressing the play button above.

Entrances & Exits

Jason Lee Borders entered the world
on a late-summer afternoon in 1973,
sharing his father’s middle and last names
and containing a small flaw in his DNA
that he also shared with his father,
who, unlike Jason Lee Borders,
wasn’t strong enough to resist the genetic revolver.
Instead, he held it to his temple and pulled the trigger,
and a wash of alcohol broke through the levy
and swept the borders away.
Before the little boy drowned,
his mother crept through the window
and ran with him into the night,
gene still intact, waiting.

Jason Lee Gustavson entered the world
in a courtroom in 1979
after the requisite paperwork had been filed;
a new identity, a new life,
another in a long string
of relocations and reorientations.
By this time, even at his tender age,
he’d made one of the few choices
to which he’d remain true,
deciding early on
to leave his father’s revolver tucked in its padded box
in an unlocked drawer of the old oak dresser.
As it turned out, though,
his father wasn’t the only parent with a gift,
and generations of overflowing bathtubs
in the brains of his maternal ancestors
were slowly leaking through his own skull,
surrounding his spongy gray being
with a dark fluid that obscured light and memory.

Jason David Crane entered the world
at a kitchen table with his grandparents
in 1994 after a late-night session of salsa music.
They’d gone through all the family names
when his grandfather suggested the family
for whom an aunt had washed the laundry.
As a gesture to the father
whose name he was leaving behind,
Lee became David
and he became a man.

entered the world and left the world and
entered the world and left the world and
entered the world. His bathtub overflowed
and he sank beneath the water,
one hand clutching the smooth porcelain side.

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POEM: on Tuesday, all as one

Listen to this poem by pressing the play button above.

This was an idea I had for a short story, but I decided to try it as a poem.

on Tuesday, all as one

on Tuesday, all as one,
every creature on earth
experienced a moment
of pure happiness

not the exhilaration
of acquisition
nor the momentary joy
of orgasm,

but a feeling that all
was in its place
and the way ahead
was clear

no babies cried,
no dogs howled,
and the sleepers sighed
and unclenched their fists

a smile stole
across the face of a boy
sitting beside
a baobab tree,

and two lovers
turned toward one another,
their quarrel

babies born
at that instant
entered the world

their mothers and fathers
from beneath mortgage payments
and piles of bills

as the clinical beeps turned
to a tone
and she released
his thin hand,

a daughter saw
her father’s brow
un-knit and watched the pain
pass away

shafts of sunlight
across the needed places
of the world

and on the other side
a starry night greeted
watchmen, nurses
and late-shift taxi drivers

voices lowered,
index fingers relaxed,
jaw muscles loosened
shoulders dropped

in the coffee shop
on the corner
near the library,
everyone was laughing

and the child hiding
in the boys bathroom
stepped out
into the school hallway

true, the moment passed,
but forever after,
strangers passing in the street
caught one another’s eye

and some would grin
and some would smile
and some would simply look,


POEM: Citizenship 101

Happy Presidents Day!

Citizenship 101

close the blinds
snuff the candle
fasten the shutters
douse the lamp
pull the shades
don’t ask questions
believe the lie
smile and nod
obey the law
cover your ears
shut your mouth
take your seat
toe the line
pull your weight
watch your language
step right up
place your bets
take your pick
know your place
keep the peace
respect your elders
follow the rules
take it easy
expect the worst
don’t ask why
clean your plate
eat your veggies
wipe your feet
find your name
get in line
sign right here
read the label
write this down
answer the question
raise your hand
recite the pledge
say your prayers
sit up straight
stop right there
do your chores
wash the dishes
do the laundry
empty the trash
mow the lawn
shovel the walk
walk the dog
mind your manners
stand your post
post no bills
salute an officer
straighten your tie
tie your shoes
bow your head
kiss the ring
don’t be late
tote that barge
lift that bail
pay your taxes
pay your bills
pay the fine
pay the piper
follow the crowd
tell the truth
name the names
reveal your sources
betray your friends
kill your enemies
respect the flag
swear your loyalty
sit back down
swear your loyalty
sit back down
swear your loyalty
sit back down
swear your loyalty
sit back down


POEM: Biography

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I could do anything.

I want to do everything.

And so I do nothing.

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POEM: Creeley’s Balloon

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Written on a lazy afternoon while overdosing on the poetry of Robert Creeley.

Creeley’s Balloon

Why can’t we feel the Earth going around the sun?
Why can’t we feel the world spinning?
I tiptoe on squeaky floors so as not to wake my son,
while the cat sleeps on his back under two sheets of paper.
Now I’m in bed, listening to a love song by an old Nazi
and reading Creeley, most of which I don’t understand.
On the cover of the book he’s grinning,
spent cigarette in his lips, hat on the back of his head.
I think he’s in a hot-air balloon, somewhere
over the western desert.
What is lighter than air?
What is heavier than sorrow?
Faded in the background, a mesa,
above it, a cloud,
captured by the lens for just that one moment.
Who snapped the photograph?
Who is the other passenger?
“It was at those times that I carried you.”
I used to find that so comforting
until I realized that “those times”
call for us to plant our own feet in the sand,
on this shifting ground that is spinning, whirling
around a sun in a galaxy
that is itself spinning
in a universe
that is growing into something we cannot explain.

And yet

there is Creeley, now long gone,
in his hot-air balloon, smiling at me,
and I tiptoe to the bathroom, and my son stirs.

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