RIDING THE WASTELAND

We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.


First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.

A SUDDEN DEPARTURE

You sneaked away one night.
You were there, but while
sleep claimed me, you were gone
without notice or warning.
Where should I look for you?
In these barren hills
where the spirits of the first nations
roam, looking for their ancestral land?

Where should I look for you?
Wandering these verdant fields
where a hundred generations
have been sacrificed
to the will of power mad men
who know no satisfaction?

Where should I look for you?
In these filth ridden streets
and narrow alleys where
the rats scamper in search
of a meal, where a child
at play would be a fine repast?

Where should I look for you?
Across these wind blown sands
where brother has hunted brother
for three generations, each
laying God’s claim
to the birthright of the other
while wives and mothers
wail in mourning?


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

COLORS

We hunted him as a trophy
stag across his fields.
We called him red man,
color of Ares, gods
sacrificed on our altar.
His rivers run with his spirit.

I am white
bereft of color,
barren, a glare,
a dessert stripped of life.
It is I who wears
Cain’s mark, plucked
from the garden
the sweet taste fades.
My lips are dry.

You are black
an amalgam, green
of the grasses in summer field,
orange of sun
singing an ocean,
surf ablaze, blue
of a crystal sky,
purple of robes
of Nubian kings,
brown of the soil
fertile and yielding.
Your eyes see all.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008

A MORNING PRAYER

My words are carried
on the winter morning wind

echoing off the obsidian mound
and shattering in silver crystals

reflecting the frigid sun.
The barren moon recedes

as my son, the wolf, ravens
devouring knowledge of the world,

listening to the song of the dolphin.
She is a rose, soft petals fluttering

thorns poised to punish a misstep,
dangerous beauty.

He wears the feathers of the owl
staring into the night

fixing stars in their courses
holding gaseous orbs.

He sings to the bear
carrying the world
into its glacial den.


First appeared in Active Muse, Varsha 2019 issue.

ON THE MESA

At night, in these mountains
you see a million stars, but
all you hear is the silence.
It bothers you, this silence
and you strain to hear, what?
There is no one here but you
and your breath is swallowed
by the night sky. Be still
for the wind will rise,
and these mountains
and these trees herd us
into ever smaller spaces
as we have been herded
for generations, we
will gather as we ride
among the peaks and down
into canyons, listen
carefully, for inside
the wind we dance around
your ears, our songs faint.
As the full moon rises
slowly over the mountain
listen carefully
you will look for us
but we cannot be seen.
You will hear our song
dancing across this mesa,
one voice to another.
You will imagine us
coyote, you will feel a chill
along your spine
and we will fall silent.
The stars will smile
for they know our stories
but to you we are
simply, the songs of coyotes.
Listen to our voices
we will tell you of the land
of the grasses once here
where our herds grazed,
now gone to endless sage.
As we lick at your face
taste the tears
which have watered
this now arid soil.
Look at the flowers
pushing out of the sand
and rock, see our faces
in the stones about your feet.
You may return to your homes
and pull your comforters
around your chins, hiding
from the night’s chill,
but we shall remain
among these peaks, in
these canyons
for another ten thousand moons.


First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3, July 2019

MINE, NEVER MINE

I imagine to myself that this is my house
abutting on my small portion of this street
sitting on my small patch of land I pay
the mortgage and the taxes, so I am entitled
to rent this delusion just a bit longer, and
it all works, until I stop and think
But before I got here, long before the man
we bought this house from, and the women
he bought it from before that, long before
this house stood here, or the nursery it replaced,
long before all of that, others lived here, and they
believed their longhouse was communally theirs,
that the land was theirs to hunt and gather
under a precious loan from the Sky Woman
so long as they treated with reverence.
I give up that thought as well when
the birds remind me their feeders are empty.

TONGUES

Ninety-six years ago today
Women gained the right to vote.
It would be another five
before those who preceded
the lot of us were blessed with citizenship,
the least we could offer, after
our prior gifts of disease,
alcoholism and down sizing.
Who, our forebears must have imagined,
wouldn’t want to live somewhere
they had a reservation in their name
we had given them, their land
taken with their language,
no longer useful in our shared world.
The King of France allowed
only the Jews to be moneylenders,
reserved space in each town for us as well,
for which we are still told
we should be thankful, but
you have no idea how to say so in Navajo.

ANCESTORS

He clearly remembers standing on the edge
peering down into the almost bottomless canyon,
listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks
thrown down by its walls over millennia.
He was a visitor here, knew he would stay
only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding
among the rocks in the nearby mountains,
staring down on the mesa for eternity.
He remembers listening for coyote, begging
the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors
with whom he will soon share this canyon.
All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit,
coyote’s message in a foreign voice,
as night engulfs the mesa and he
stares up at the galaxies and stars
which barely notice the small orb
hanging in the distant sky.

FEATHERS

He crouched in the hollow
in the ancient cliff
careful not to disturb
the bones scattered
just in the shadows behind.
He waited patiently
until he heard the sweep
of the great wings
and the mighty bird
alighted on its nest.
He reached out quickly
and plucked two feathers
never more, and pulled back
into the shadows
of his ancestors.
He carried the feathers
bound with a leather strap
close to his heart
to ward off the evil
that swept down
off the Wyoming plains
licking at the Wind River.
He grew old, his once
black hair streaked in gray
and he knew his time
was coming, it would be
a good day to die,
the sun high over
the mountains, his feathers
ready to carry his spirit
to the sky people
to return to the mighty eagle
from whom he had
accepted life.