Friday, April 17, 2009

A month of (Native) poetry #3

In honor of National Poetry Month, I'm highlighting Native poems throughout the month.
Of the two below, the first is a wonderful Tlingit (Alaska Native) woman. Nora and her husband have done an immeasurable amount for the Tlingit people. She is truly a living treasure.

Her poem reminds me of the Southeast waters, and being on the boat (though a much bigger one) with my own papa, on Mother's Day.

The second poem is very striking, and actually reminds me of another Tlingit woman who told us the story of being put into school for the first time, and the fear, the beatings for speaking your language.

A POEM FOR JIM NAGATAAK'W (JAKWTEEN)
MY GRANDFATHER, BLIND AND NEARLY DEAF
by Nora Marks Dauenhauer

I was telling my grandfather
about what was happening
on the boat. My father
and his brothers were trying to anchor against the wind
and tide.

I could smell him, especially
his hair. It was a warm smell.
I yelled as loud as I could,
telling him what I saw.
My face was wet from driving
rain.

I could see his long eyebrows,
I could look at him and get
really close. We both liked this.
Getting close was his way
of seeing.

Halfbreed Girl in the City School
by Jo Whitehorse Cochran

are you Mexican
are you Italian
are you Chinese
are you Japanese
spic wetback greaseball slant-eye
you are dark enough to question
you are light enough to ask
you have near black hair brown eyes
and speak slow-english
we are blonde blue eyed
and wear store bought sweaters skirts or pants
you wear homemade clothes out of style
we circle round you and your sister
you hug your sister close she's small and even darker
we kick we tug at braids and coats
we pull "I'm Indian!" out of you

the social worker wants
you to describe your family
she asks
does your father beat
your motherdoes your father drink
does your mother
do you hate your parents
do you cry
tell me tell me do you
like the reservation better
are you ashamed in the classroom
when you wet your pants
why don't you speak up
why don't you get excused
why don't you go at recess
tell me tell me speak!

you stare out the window
turn an alphabet block in your hand
speak english speak english
the social worker caws
outside Canadian geese pass through your immediate sky
six in an arc going south
if you were a Changer like Star Boy
you could fly with those long-necks
but you must stay and look out this window

Grandma's words pound in your head
they want to strip us of our words
they want to take our tongues
so we forget how to talk to each other
you swallow the rock
that was your tongue
you swallow the song
that was your voice
you swallow you swallow
in the silence

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