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.
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)
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
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
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.
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.
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.