Monday, March 30, 2009
Joy Harjo included an excerpt from her new play. She is rehearsing hard in San Diego for an opening in LA. Her play is called, WINGS OF NIGHT SKY, WINGS OF MORNING LIGHT. Good show, Joy!
Redbird Monahwee (to her father):
I followed you as you unloaded it from the truck. I helped, as you strung the deer up on the tree. I squatted down with you, as the red sun kissed the red earth. You tamped out some tobacco into our hands.
You said, “We pray with tobacco to acknowledge the spirit of the deer. We give thanks, mvto”.
“There is much suffering on this earth.
Even plants suffer. Tobacco agreed to come along as we walk this world. It’s medicine, a gift from the Creator.”
And remember I said, But Daddy, you smoke two packs of Lucky Strikes a day!”
I was such a little plant, drinking in your words.
“And what about whiskey, Dad”, I asked you.
“It's killing me”, you said.
“I'm sorry, Hokte”.
“Pray for me girl.”
Saturday, March 28, 2009
THE SCENT OF BURNING HAIR
by Sherwin Bitsui
I circle my shadow
at 5 AM when crickets gather in the doorway
showing their teeth and striped tongues
singing about a wind blown desert
sinking into the waist of the setting sun.
I have become a man crawling over his broken fingers
searching for a ring to plant my lips on,
eating cinders while breaking eggs on my brother's white skin.
I have either become a black dot growing legs
running from the blank page,
or the mud that is caked over the keyhole of a church
hiding its bandaged eyes.
This bed quivers,
it wants to become a spider again
and sting silent the antelope that leap over children
whose mothers abandon their pots
and follow hoof prints into the city
smudging themselves with the smoke of burning hair.
Look! There between the eyes of the horizon
two crows waiting for our bodies.
Imagine this at 5 AM,
when the river slides into a silent city
stuffed with decaying corn husk,
when everyone discovers razors in the womb of this land,
and the sun decides which bridge
should be covered with skin and leaves
and which should remain as goat ribs submerged in
sand smelling of diesel engines.
Friday, March 27, 2009
I just got a report from home.
Now there are two redbird families in the yard.
Two males with their wives.
The guys are chasing each other around the yard.
The females are sitting together on the wall,
visiting each other.
Isn't that exactly how it is?!
Joy Harjo......from her Blog
Emerging Poet: On Sherwin Bitsui
by Arthur Sze
I have taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, since 1984. The IAIA is a federally funded two-year college with one-hundred students, representing over seventy tribes, from across the United States. Students can receive an Associate of Arts degree majoring in creative writing, museum studies, two-dimensional arts, or three-dimensional arts. It has been a privilege to work with Native students who are pursuing poetry, and I am sometimes astonished at their progress.
Sherwin Bitsui came to the Institute in 1997 and graduated in May, 1999. He studied poetry and painting with enormous dedication and skill. While there, he received a Truman Capote Literary Trust Scholarship as well as a scholarship to attend the summer writing workshops at Naropa Institute. His poems have just begun appearing in literary journals, such as Frank (Paris) and Retinal Exchange, an anthology of New Mexico writers.
Sherwin Bitsui was born in 1975 in Fort Defiance, Arizona. He is Diné (Navajo) and has a profound connection to his culture. He speaks Diné, is a member of the Bitter Water clan, and actively participates in the ceremonial life of his tribe. Yet, although his world view is Diné he is writing rhythmically supple poems in English.
Upon a first reading, the sharp, vivid images of Bitsui’s poems appear to have some connection to surrealism. And one could argue that there is a deep current that connects him to Latin American surrealism, although he enriches and modifies it by drawing on the landscape of the Southwest and on images intimately connected with Native ritual and myth. His images oftentimes depict a world-out-of-balance. Indeed, his work struggles with the tension between Diné and English, between the desire to restore a balance with the natural world and the recognition of how ineluctable the forces of twentieth century technology are. In struggling to reconcile these opposing forces, his poems and prose poems enact a personal ceremony.
Painting by Howard Terpning
Blankets of Bark
by Sherwin Bitsui
Point north, north where they walk
in long blankets of curled bark,
dividing a line in the sand,
smelling like cracked shell,
desert wind, river where they left you
calling wolves from the hills,
a list of names
growling from within the whirlwind.
Woman from the north,
lost sister who clapped at rain clouds.
We were once there
holding lightning bolts
above the heads of sleeping snakes.
Woman, sister, the cave wants our skin back,
it wants to shake our legs free from salt
and untwist our hair into strands of yarn
pulled rootless from the pocket of a man
who barks when he is reminded of the setting sun.
At 5 A.M., crickets gather in the doorway,
each of them a handful of smoke,
crawling to the house of a weeping woman,
breaking rocks on the thigh of a man stretching,
ordering us to drop coins into her shadow,
saying, "There, that is where we were born."
Born with leaves under our coats,
two years of solitude,
the sky never sailed from us,
we rowed toward it,
only to find a shell,
and a weeping woman.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Painting by JD Challenger
by Sherwin Bitsui
Tonight I draw a raven’s wing inside a circle
measured a half second
before it expands into a hand.
I wrap its worn grip over our feet
as we thrash against pine needles
inside the earthen pot.
He sings an elegy for handcuffs,
whispers its moment of silence
at the crunch of rush-hour traffic,
and speaks the dialect of a forklift,
lifting like cedar smoke over the mesas
acred to the furthest block.
Two headlights flare from blue dusk
--the eyes of ravens peer at
Coyote biting his tail in the forklift,
shaped like another reservation--
another cancelled check.
One finger pointed at him,
he dies like this
with emergency lights blinking though the creases
of his ribbon shirt.
A light buzzed loud and snapped above the kitchen sink.
I didn’t notice the sting of the warning:
Coyote scattering headlights instead of stars;
howling dogs silenced by the thought of the moon;
constellations rattling from the atmosphere
of the quivering gourd.
How many Indians have stepped onto train tracks,
hearing the hoofbeats of horses
in the bend above the river
rushing at them like a cluster of veins
scrawled into words on the unmade bed?
In the cave on the backside of a lie
soldiers eye the birth of a new atlas,
one more mile, they say,
one more mile.
by Sherwin Bitsui
I haven’t _________
since smoke dried to salt in the lakebed,
since crude oil dripped from his parting slogan,
the milk’s sky behind it,
birds chirping from its wig.
Strange, how they burrowed into the side of this rock.
Strange . . . to think,
and stepped through the flowering of a future apparent
in the rearview mirror, visible from its orbit
around a cluster of knives in the galaxy closest
to the argument.
Perhaps it was September
that did this to him,
his hostility struck the match on handblown glass,
he had nothing to do with their pulse,
when rocks swarmed over
and blew as leaves along the knife’s edge
without even a harvest between their lies
they ignited a fire--
it reached sunlight in a matter of seconds.
It is quite possible
it was the other guy
clammed inside my fist
who torched the phone book
and watched blood seep from the light socket.
Two days into leaving,
the river’s outer frond flushes worms imagined in the fire
onto the embankment of rust,
mud deep when imagination became an asterisk in the mind.
In this hue--
earth swept to the center of the eye,
pulses outward from the last acre
held to the match’s blue flame.
and a thickening lump in the ozone layer
will appear as a house with its lights turned off--
radio waves tangled like antlers inside its oven,
in the hallway nearest thirst,
the water coursing through our clans
begins to evaporate
as it slides down our backseats--
its wilderness boiled out of our bodies.
Painting by Berndt Savig
from Mirrors for Gold
This self-imposed silence,
slip of paper in half
& this walk up the coastal
hills of Santa Barbara to
the violent glow of sundown --
we returned to the manor house
& groped through the dark
to articulate division
of a body by the senses.
In truth you were nameless,
perhaps the mantic instance
fumbled for, inadequate
speech in which to plead
the approval of our forebears,
a coherent public space to be
constructed, in which the self
as in I wrote this or your
torso, steadfast, against which
my body were dispensable.
from Gift & Verdict IV
A reverence in the order of time arises now some undersurface
into silk geometries of here therefore
observing this swerve
of lawful aim as pliant capacity curls
into what could be weeks of this unlikely touch
deserving tongue's synod plead the hereinafter
unto shores kept safe between the pages
of an ark outlive us
—escape and case in point—
render unshaven this day our cupped hands
unsure along the lilt of jaw rejoin
your collarbone | allure made
known and roseate and hollow
in the shape of lissome night
recede to surge again | my throat
moan in the fraught mind
and bodily intentions of is
this a kiss | a headswell grin of abandoned
contiguity of mouths
glide drunk with persuaded hearts'
surrendering apparel am I
watching these soft drawn
tenses of fragrant beige
or so inside your amulet anatomy
If there's no jeopardy to
these offices of the flesh
—jewel pressed against
this all-involving spot—
then it's a rapture uncertain
this company rare
and where on the horizon was it
over the summer so
now a winter hum
of knowing a science
one need notice
if this is gift-given
or spellbound or
a thievery | else
this is dumb-struck
and falling asleep there
of this rattle shall we gather
my vanguard of god
as we pleasure on
the other edge
of this election year
in whose rogue
nation to imagine
is to make impossible
in this occurrence
from Gift & Verdict
Full foreground and shortcomings of this intercourse
if our voices mattered amid this kind of predictable
thinking, institution of secrets civil-silenced
or stammered-over without filling the gaps
in an ecstatic state
consonants when it all comes off the jack-end
behind the back-alley store-front in pull-back
sway I mean I couldn’t care less
about anybody’s private life, but it helps
explain why total incompetents, with no
knowledge of the language or society, are
running the show
which is to beg it I
know and so self-inflicted I’m creaming over these
officers of the peace, joint chiefs of staff, no longer
anyone to punish me—and so extricate myself
from the weird undertow that kept me here to
begin with in acrimony of mind
and argument, in avulsion of what I weigh
when lending you power of attorney. . .
As when a machine rises to the surface
of the present like the completion
of a past, and it’s a point of rupture
from which a legacy will emerge
in the future, an evolution as per
all the creative forces of science art and social
promise, entangled in an emerging
sphere of abstract efflorescence, a blurring
effect over these agents of change
where local language is deemed
insurgent, these truant cascades
of speech repeatedly coerced into
dropping all that ornamental excess—of parse,
spell and punctuate our thoughts
into the chilly spaces of the textbook if
we are to master the brawn
of power and knowledge,
a kind of opacity through
which the various will have
difficulty passing save in other ways
to be sorry I no say this more better
when the guh-g-g-guys call me sugar or sweetheart
from Gift & Verdict
Not a word of my surrounding not a half-whispered
go to catch the rattled ought of a third concurrent
universe unlatched the more you wait, chalk drawn
thick of old around the marred bodies left
by the citizen squads our authorities facilitate, fail
to prosecute, guilt being therefore—quote/unquote
or so the papers—a ‘willful negligence,’ a ‘scathing
complicity’ in the bloodlust rife until ‘wolves
lower’ incite the end of illness, until the highland
collide of cricket jaguar issue running water
when physical comfort, when bodily prowess
and sovereign shape are rendered command
over the meaning of a nimbus once in sprigs
of goldenrod or Indian paintbrush, chalice
owing to rock crystal and featherwork, ivory!
carved in supple limbs, remote gazes and crusty
wounds, gold-leaf reredos in bellows pyramidal
from an organ pipe: an opulence wrought from
the nightmare of native oblation, of X-ian zeal
waged on local hands in effigies, Saint James
the Greater made in Goa and the Philippines,
or Rose of Lima, in a ministry of Indians
and slaves fallen victim to epidemic, heroically
to God and in penitential practice so extravagant
—cat claws and fish bones across her wasted
flesh—as to be the subject of ecclesiastic inquiry
into questions of faith, soundness of mind
stretched the length and breadth of his midrib
and torso in taut spasms, teeth clenched and lips
in a slather of animal darkness in time spent under
thickets, our twin intelligence a forearm and fist
in fast strokes around gleam and edge, tips
wet with each other, then deeper, to a clump
of hair and fingers guiding the back of his
head, mouth over gloss and curvature, blade
inextinguishable when too-slow a swelter released
in sounds of who, whose ah spread soaked along
his back and thighs rubbed sleek across
the wonder imperfections of form, lips abruptly
pursed to each moan pillowed by the sudden
hush of skin a spirograph, his dark upper
eyelids and lashes down his own limbs
now in aftermath-order and lucible enormity
Roberto Tejada 1999
It happens when the drift--rebounding of the wind's
a sound of flint to strike a spark from steel
understandings that were meant for us
here suddenly in the history of why
I have these matters to address, simply
things to say and a form to fashion a kind
of wholeness that begs no difference,
denies no fissure in the gemstone,
pries into the corpse of it, says all
elements will move you forward in
time, the model more elusive
now than ever, if no one to fool.
As natural as hunger to a body,
a sheet of iron, a stalk of corn,
an agate in our hands claiming
the right to petition an assembly,
perform the seams of a nectar
drawn with bright nervous pulses
across the clearing of us here,
and the city there producing
lures to keep me penultimate
from the satisfied frets and roses
like warm milk. The haunted
matter hovering beyond reach,
teaching his lover to delay and
ankles raised above my shoulders
so it glistened like tourmaline,
a summer fruit in the moist air
as far as I was asked to crawl when
not entirely of independent means
to know the effort of body and mind
to an end, or useful for a special
purpose in sums payable in return
for services rendered by time in
wages per hour for the purchasing
of coal from India, gold from Brazil,
tea from Rwanda and oil from Kuwait
Roberto Tejada 1999
Painting by Justin Bua
Jukebelly Nightbreaker Magician
Blues man, blues man,
I can see you now,
midnight in the juke womb,
kerosene lights blazing
like your eyes through the smoke
close by the river
all the way out of town,
you getting the youngsters on their feet
twirling, spinning, hugging, shaking and smiling,
as you sit there strong in your spot,
strumming that old acoustic six-string,
smacking it on its bare butt,
lifting your bulk off the stool
with each vigorous slam;
the slide jumping around the frets
like a mad and ravenous metal insect,
eager to bend those chords, to blend them whole,
making that guitar wail, throb, and shiver,
making passionate love to it
like it was a pretty woman,
first gentle—then hard—
for those precious hours you serenade us
with your deep delta delicious raspy voice,
punctuated poignant with kissing your shiny harp,
letting your busy tongue coax
the sweet sadness out of it—damn,
we are neither black nor white, no, no,
we’re just folks, part of the people
sharing one huge smile as we thump our feet,
pound our legs,
getting married to the rhythm you thrust out
into the hot smoky night.
Glenn Buttkus March 2009
Listed as #22 over on dVerse Poets--Emotion
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
To my joy, I received my copy of this fabulous book of poetry, and since Bobby Byrd has consented to sign it for me, I am sending it off to his Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso today. It will be my first book with an author's signature in it. Maybe it will start a trend for me, who knows? The article below is posted on Bobby's blog, or actually the Cinco Puntos blog, and it illustrates a lot about the book and the man.
What’s Up magazine
Lunch With Poet Bobby Byrd
I was first introduced to Bobby Byrd's poetry 25 years ago, when I collaborated with him, sax player Art Lewis and bassist Manny Flores on an improvisational performance aired on KTEP. Bobby read his poetry as we musicians reacted to the images and emotions shaped by his rich words.
He's published a new book of poetry, “White Panties, Dead Friends and Other Bits and Pieces of Love.” As he sat across the table from me answering my questions, giving life to ideas by reading lines from his poems, I felt special - like I was getting a private audience.
“The angels are fluttering overhead.
Their wings are idyllic, their voices perfect, their harps golden,
but they have no sex between their legs
and those fancy harps are innocent of mistakes
thus, no jazz is allowed.” *
Picture this being read in a lyrical drawl that rings of Beale Street in Memphis, only you're at The Pike Street Market in Downtown El Paso. Hear it for yourself Friday, when he celebrates the book's release at La Norteña Cafe. The event also highlights “How We Will Know When We're Dead,” a spoken word / music collaboration with Sparta frontman Jim Ward.
Dan - What got you started writing poetry?
Bobby - When I was a kid, I thought it was weird to write poetry. To be a poet, not the manly profession, no? So I hid my poetry for a long time until a friend, Harvey Goldner, started showing me his work. It was weird and berserk. I enjoyed that. We started hanging out at the library listening to records of Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. Harvey started telling me books to read. My God, Camus' “The Stranger” changed my life.
Dan - You've said that your work is narrative, in plain language, with a spirituality to it.
Bobby - If I had to build an American family tree of my poetry, then I'd start with Walt Whitman, followed by William Carlos Williams, the New American Generation, who are my immediate predecessors - especially, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Paul Blackburn, Philip Whalen, et cetera - all of whom really emphasize the American idiom and the importance of place in defining their poetry. My idea of plainspeak comes from this and my growing up in Memphis in the '50s where plainspeak was epitomized in the music I listened to - the blues, rhythm and blues, and the beginnings of rock-and-roll. And then spirituality - you don't come out of the South easily without a sense of the religious. But for me, Christianity didn't work. Ginsberg and Snyder especially were writing about Zen Buddhism in the '50s. That made a lot of sense to me, appreciating that basic religious experience that we all have; those special times when we look at something or someone - a flower, a mountain, a homeless man, a woman - and we lose ourselves in that experience. We lose our ego. We and the other person or thing are simply one.
Dan - So music is important to your work.
Bobby - Cadence especially, how everything flows. I love music, I love my poetry to be musical. I pay attention to that a lot. When Jim Ward was working out music for my poems, he told me that my reading had a musical structure to it, that it fit nicely into measures.
Dan - Tell me more about the CD you recorded with Jim.
Bobby - I recorded the poems and he listened to them and jammed with my voice, laying over various tracks that felt right to him. The thing I like, however, is that this young guy is interested in my work. It makes sense to him, and he's come forward to do this. It's his money, his time, his energy. I'm honored.
Dan - We haven't talked about the El Paso influence; you've lived here almost 30 years.
Bobby - El Paso has been very important to me. Especially our neighborhood, the Five Points area, and Downtown and Juárez. Lee [Bobby's wife] and I felt like we had come home in some odd way when we moved here. There's a certain romance about El Paso, its funkiness in the American psyche, a place where the imagination and so-called reality can live next door to each other like good neighbors, sort of. They can speak Spanish or English, they don't care. So El Paso has entered my poems as subtext, a place where Jesus Christ and Pancho Villa can walk around and get to know one another.
*From “Ode for 60 Years on the Planet.” Copyright 2006 by Bobby Byrd. Used by permission.
- Dan Lambert,
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Oh, man, here's some great poems by a Native poet (you have to register on their site to read the work, but this online magazine is very much worth it): narrativemagazine.com.
I met Natalie a couple years back and it was like meeting a sibling: she's a ball-playin' Injun poet (and being a former pro, I'm sure she could kick my butt, especially now that my game is as broken down as a rez car, and that I am, on the court, at least, "a tattered coat on a stick.").
I'm really excited about Natalie's work, and, as I previously mentioned on my site, and will mention again, am also jazzed about the new books of poetry by S.G. Frazier (narrativemagazine.com) and Orlando White (readab.com). And now I've received word that Sherwin Bitsui (poets.org) has a new book of poems soon to be published by one of the most prestigious poetry publishers, Copper Canyon Press.
So, for the first time in many years, we have a group of new Native writers receiving national acclaim. I'm hoping that we are on the verge of a New New New New New Native American Literary Renaissance. For those of you keeping score, it's been 13 years since a Native writer (princeton.edu) burst onto the literary scene in a major league way. - posted 2/28/09
Sherman Alexie...from his website
My Brother At 3 A.M.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps
when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
O God, he said, O God.
He wants to kill me, Mom.
When Mom unlocked and opened the front door
at 3 a.m., she was in her nightie, Dad was asleep.
He wants to kill me, he told her,
looking over his shoulder.
3 a.m. and in her nightie, Dad asleep,
What’s going on? she asked, Who wants to kill you?
He looked over his shoulder.
The devil does. Look at him, over there.
She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?
The sky wasn’t black or blue but the green of a dying night.
The devil, look at him, over there.
He pointed to the corner house.
The sky wasn’t black or blue but the dying green of night.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
My brother pointed to the corner house.
His lips were decorated with sores.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
O God, I can see the tail, he said, O God, look.
Mom winced at the sores on his lips.
It’s sticking out from behind the house.
O God, see the tail, he said, Look at the goddamned tail.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.
Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.
O God, O God, she said.
Painting by Duncan Long
Apotheosis of Kiss
I dipped my fingers in the candle wax at church—
white votives shivered in red glass
at the foot of La Virgen's gown—
The fever was fast—
my body ablaze,
I pulled back.
Pale silk curved on each finger tip—
peeling it away was like small gasps.
The candles flickered—
open mouths begging.
Heretics banged at the double-doors.
Charismatics paraded the aisles,
twirling tapers, flinging Sunday hats.
The rapture came and went, left
me, the choir's bright robes,
and collection baskets like broken tambourines—
What poverty, to never know,
to never slide over the lip of a candle
toward flame—raving to touch
her bare brown toes.
Forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review issue on Adolescence
No More Cake Here
When my brother died
I worried there wasn't enough time
to deliver the one hundred invitations
I'd scribbled while on the phone with the mortuary:
Because of the short notice no need to RSVP
Unfortunately the firemen couldn't come,
(I had hoped they'd give free rides on the truck).
They did agree to drive by the house once
with the lights on—It was a party after all.
I put Mom and Dad in charge of balloons,
let them blow as many years of my brother's name,
jails, twenty-dollar bills, midnight phone calls,
fistfights and ER visits as they could let go of.
The scarlet balloons zigzagged along the ceiling
like they'd been filled with helium. Mom blew up
so many that she fell asleep. She slept for ten years—
she missed the whole party.
My brothers and sisters were giddy, shredding
his stained t-shirts and raggedy pants, throwing them up
into the air like confetti.
When the clowns came in a few balloons slipped out
the front door. They seemed to know where
they were going and shrank to a fistful of red grins
at the end of our cul-de-sac. The clowns played toy bugles
until the air was scented with rotten raspberries.
They pulled scarves from Mom's ear—she slept through it.
I baked my brother's favorite cake (chocolate, white frosting).
When I counted there were ninety-nine of us in the kitchen.
Everyone stuck their fingers in the mixing bowl.
A few stray dogs came to the window.
I heard their stomachs and mouths growling
over the mariachi band playing in the bathroom.
(There was no room in the hallway because of the magician.)
The mariachis complained about the bathtub acoustics.
I told the dogs No more cake here and shut the window.
The fire truck came by with the sirens on. The dogs ran away.
I sliced the cake into ninety-nine pieces.
I wrapped all the electronic equipment in the house,
taped pink bows and glittery ribbons to them—
remote controls, the Polaroid, stereo, shop-vac,
even the motor to Dad's work truck—all the things
my brother had taken apart and put back together
doing his crystal meth tricks—he'd always been
a magician of sorts.
Two mutants came to the door.
One looked almost-human. They wanted
to know if my brother had willed them the pots
and pans and spoons stacked in his basement bedroom.
They said they missed my brother's cooking and did we
have any cake. No more cake here I told them.
Well what's in the piñata they asked. I told them
God was and they ran into the desert, barefoot.
I gave Dad his slice and put Mom's in the freezer.
I brought up the pots and pans and spoons
(really, my brother was a horrible cook), banged them
together like a New Year's Day celebration.
My brother finally showed up asking why
he hadn't been invited and who baked the cake.
He told me I shouldn't smile, that this whole party was shit
because I'd imagined it all. The worst part he said was
he was still alive. The worst part he said was
he wasn't even dead. I think he's right, but maybe
the worst part is that I'm still imagining the party, maybe
the worst part is that I can still taste the cake.
When My Brother Was An Aztec
he lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents
every morning. It was awful. Unforgivable. But they kept coming
back for more. They loved him, was all they could say.
It started with him stumbling along la Avenida de los Muertos,
my parents walking behind like effigies in a procession
he might burn to the ground at any moment. They didn't know
what else to do except be there to pick him up when he died.
They forgot who was dying, who was already dead. My brother
quit wearing shirts when a carnival of dirty-breasted women
made him their leader, following him up and down the stairs—
They were acrobats, moving, twitching like snakes—They fed him
crushed diamonds and fire. He gobbled the gifts. My parents
begged him to pluck their eyes out. He thought he was
Huitzilopchtli, a god, half-man, half-hummingbird. My parents
at his feet, wrecked honeysuckles, he lowered his sword-like mouth,
gorged on them, draining color until their eyebrows whitened.
My brother shattered and quartered them before his basement festivals—
waved their shaking hearts in his fists,
while flea-ridden dogs ran up and down the steps,
licking their asses,
turning tricks. Neighbors were amazed my parents' hearts kept
growing back—It said a lot about my parents, or parents' hearts.
My brother flung them into cenotes, dropped them from cliffs,
punched holes into their skulls like useless jars or vases,
broke them to pieces and fed them to gods ruling
the ratty crotches of street fair whores with pocked faces
spreading their thighs in flophouses with no electricity.
He slept in filthy clothes smelling of rotten peaches and matches,
fell in love
with sparkling spoonfuls the carnival dog-women fed him.
My parents lost their appetites for food, for sons.
Like all bad kings, my brother
wore a crown, a green baseball cap turned backwards
with a Mexican flag embroidered on it. When he wore it
in the front yard, which he treated like his personal zócalo,
all his realm knew he had the power that day, had all the jewels
a king could eat or smoke or shoot. The slave girls came
to the fence and ate out of his hands. He fed them maíz
through the chain links. My parents watched from the window,
crying over their house turned zoo, their son who was
now a rusted cage. The Aztec held court in a salt cedar grove
across the street where peacocks lived. My parents crossed fingers
so he'd never come back, lit novena candles
so he would. He always came home with turquoise and jade
feathers and stinking of peacock shit. My parents gathered
what he'd left of their bodies, trying to stand without legs,
trying to defend his blows with missing arms,
searching for their fingers to pray, to climb out of whatever
dark belly my brother, the Aztec,
their son, had fed them to.
Published in Nimrod International Journal - winner of the Hardman Awards Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry
Two Things You Need Balls To Do: A Miscellany From a Former Professional Basketball Player Turned Poet
The basketball court = the page
Buzzer-beaters and miracle shots are non-existent in poetry—every poem I’ve desperately heaved into the mail with more prayer than craft or confidence has been off the mark.
You need one to play pro ball.
You can write in only your undies, or in just an Allman Brothers Concert t-shirt, or better yet, nothing more than your housecoat and dark socks, sans sports bra…no one cares.
Once you’re issued a uniform on a professional basketball team, you’re an official professional.
Until you publish a book, you’re in a developing league, i.e. playing for love of the game.
You can exaggerate, embellish, imagine or lie about what happens in a poem.
In basketball, a man or woman in stripes will blow a whistle that means, ‘Yeah, right. You know you slapped her arm. I saw you.’
Basketball, like poetry, is a universal language, but not yet like fiction and fútbol, but we’re working on it.
Traveling: (a) in poetry is encouraged, (b) in basketball will land you on the bench.
Sitting: (a) again, highly encouraged in poetry, (b) not so great in basketball, regardless of whether it’s a bench or a chair.
Solitariness: (a) a must for writing poetry, (b) technically speaking, it’s not possible to play basketball alone (however, some people are much better when they have no opponent).
Suicides: (a) not good for poets, ever, (b) never good for basketball players either.
Fouls = Rejection Letters
BUT in poetry, you don’t have to keep track of the # you accumulate, which is a good thing for some of us. (In the event there is a rejection letter limit, please, I’d rather not know.)
The Matter of Rejection Letters: Sure they hurt. They bruise the ego a little. This is where basketball comes in handy—remember ‘No Blood, No Foul,’ and, ‘You’re either hurt, or you’re injured.’ If your fingers aren’t broken, if your nose isn’t bleeding, get out there. Plus, getting your 3-pt shot blocked (a.k.a. rejected, stuffed, packed, denied, shut down, faced, etc.) into the 3rd row by Chamique Holdsclaw in the NCAA Finals, in front of over 30,000 people, and on national TV, is so-much-worse than having the New Yorker reject you quietly, politely, and over the privacy of your email. Another thing, in basketball, no one will give you cryptic pointers about your shot, like ‘Memorable, but needs culling.’
I tore my ACL, meniscus, and MCL (the unhappy triad), fractured my leg and wrist, severed a blood vessel under my eye socket, had numerous concussions, many jambed fingers, dislocated a shoulder, gritted through IT-Band Syndrome and cortisone shots, pulled muscles, sprained ankles that I still have nightmares about—all playing basketball.
Once, I was rushing to the post office to make a post-mark deadline and I stubbed my toe on the curb out front.
The cost of basketball shoes, which need to be replaced every 3 months, is equal to the amount you’ll spend on contests.
Which brings me to contests:
For those of us ‘retirees,’ the absence of the thrill of competition has left us hungry and desperate. I am, to my detriment, a contest junkee, often foregoing open submissions because I’m determined to win something, ANYTHING, one last time. It’s not the prize money I’m after, it’s the word: Winner.
I’ve stooped so low as to only apply for fellowships at universities that my college basketball team beat during my playing days. If I’m rejected, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that, one time, not long ago, I was the winner.
Another similarity: I used to be a champ at playing H-O-R-S-E and recently I wrote a poem about a horse.
I know I can’t fill the void that basketball has left, but some days when I rise from my desk chair and feel shooting pain in my knees (which are not yet thirty in poetry years, but in basketball years are ancient) and creaking in other joints, I recognize these aches as close to what I once had. And every now and then, I let go of a line or an image and know instantly, as soon as it rolls from the curve of my mind or my gut, that it’s going in, that it won’t rattle around the rim, it won’t brick-up and fall short or bounce too hard from the backboard, that it won’t fall flat on the page…and it’s smooth and sure and turns the net to flames, and as much as I want to stand and watch it, and pat myself on the ass for how beautiful it is, I know I have to keep moving on down the page.
Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan- Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation
Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan-
Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation
Angels don't come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe. Or owls, boxy mottled things;
coyotes too. They all mean the same thing—
death. But angels? No way. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven't seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named Gabe though.
He came through here one pow-wow and stayed, typical
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jail bird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars.
Wherever he stops, kids grow like gourds from women's bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I've ever heard of has ever been
or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something.
Nazarene Church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John's wife. It's no wonder
Pastor John's son is the angel.
Everyone knows angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say,
they’re no good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean.
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting in castles
across the sea wearing velvet robes and golden wings,
drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we're better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
exactly where they are—in their own distant heavens and worlds.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez.
If you do, they'll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they've mapped out for us.
Of Course She Looked Back
You would have, too.
From that distance the city
fit in the palm of her hand
like she owned it.
She could’ve blown the whole thing—
markets, dancehalls, hookah bars—
sent the city and its hundred harems
tumbling across the desert
like a kiss. She had to look back.
When she did, what did she see?
Pigeons trembling like debris
above ruined rooftops. Towers
swaying. Women in dresses
strewn along burnt-out streets
like broken red bells.
The noise was something else.
Dogs wept. Roosters howled.
Children sang songs of despair.
Guitars fed the dancing blaze.
Her husband uttered Keep going.
Whispered Stay the course, or
Forget about it. She couldn’t.
Now a blooming garden of fire
the city burst to flame after flame
like fruit in an orange orchard.
Someone thirsty asked for water.
Someone scared asked to pray.
Her daughters, or the angel
maybe. She wondered
had she unplugged the coffee pot?
The iron? Was the oven off?
She meant to look away.
Long dark legs of smoke opened
to the sky. She meant to look
away, but the sting in her eyes
held her there.
Why I Don’t Mention Flowers When Conversations
With My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
In the Kashmir Mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.
Were there flowers there? I asked.
This is what he told me:
In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.
They laid her in the road
and stoned her.
The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.
The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.
Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.
The Girl From Yu Mountain
Bamboo, slender and lime ripe, shoots straight, hard and up
from cobalt and white hand-painted vases like prison bars
cutting you into halves, fracturing the world until you forget
which side is caged which side is free, you suffocate and breathe,
gasping for answers that hide
like flowers too weed to bloom, leaving you to part the stalks
see see but you never do
in the jeweled box behind your eyes you can,
inside you are a baby, your head a round jade bead,
heavy, smooth you cry when the red egg is rolled on your crown,
you cry when you are hungry
when you are sleepy,
stopping only when your mother folds you to her breasts
where you grow golden
suckling on jasmine and candied ginger,
you learn to speak orange-flavored words that sting your tongue
shi shi your mother says, rocking her body in rhythm
you mistake for heart beat;
pulls of thick skin, shiny scars, remember the German Shepherd
that bit below your ear, shredding your throat like rice paper
the spot on your elbow, a fall you never rose from,
still peppered with asphalt on your twelfth birthday a priest
brought you the purple twelve-speed bike you wanted
the death of your father came the day before,
unwrapped and ribbonless, you accepted
them both with unmoving lips and eyes
trembling inside like a broken-winged bird,
you listened for your mother’s words
instead she fell to the bed, you nodded your head
and pressed your face to her
now flat and empty, yellow and hard like a callous,
you heard no song in either chest—
you shut your eyes for the first time like tiny bronze shields,
lychee blossoms sprouted
filling the garden beyond the stretch of stone wall
yes yes you said, because you knew—
Who is there now to lift their shirt to you? To recognize
the salt in your tired breath
and pluck the leathery fruit from the place where hearts
were meant to grow?
Who will speak the words across your eyelids shh shh?
—I can only write.
Houdini arrived first, with Antigone on his arm.
Someone should have told her it was rude
to chase my brother in circles with such a shiny shovel.
She only said, I’m building the man a funeral.
But last I measured, my brother was still a boy.
The doorbell chimes and chimes.
Other guests come
in and out, snorting, mouths lathered, eyes spinning
like spirogyras. They are starving, bobbing their big heads,
ready for a party. They keep saying it too, Man, we’re ready
for a party! In their glorious twirl and dervish,
none of them notice this is no dinner party. This is
a jalopy carousel—and we are
dizzy. We are
here to eat the horses.
There are violins playing. The violins are on fire—
they are passed around until we’re all smoking. Jesus coughs,
climbs down from the cross of railroad ties above the table.
He’s a regular at these carrion revelries, and it’s annoying
how he turns the bread to fish, especially when we have
I’ve never had the guts
to ask Jesus, Why?
Old Houdini can’t get over ’em—the holes in each of Jesus’ hands—
he’s smitten, and drops first a butter knife, then a candelabra
through the gaping in the right hand. He holds Jesus’ left palm
up to his face, wriggles his tongue through the opening,
then spits, says, This tastes like love. He laughs hysterically,
Admit it Chuey,
between you and me,
someone else is coming.
Antigone is back, this time with the green-handled garden spade.
Where is your brother? she demands. She doesn’t realize
this is not my brother’s feast—he simply set the table.
Poor Antigone. Bury the horses,instead, I tell her.
What will we eat then? she weeps, not knowing weeping
isn’t what it used to be, not here.
Poor, poor, Antigone.
I look around for Houdini to get her out of here.
He’s escaped. In the corner, Jesus covers his face with his hands—
each hole an oubliette—I see right through them:
None of us belong here. I’m the only one left to say it.
I ease the spade from her hand. I explain:
We aren’t here to eat, we are being eaten.
Come, pretty girl. Let us devour our lives.
Natalie Diaz was born and raised on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Needles, California. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia for four years, she returned to Old Dominion University and completed her MFA, in 2007. Diaz has been awarded both the 2007 Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry and the 2007 Tobias Wolff Fiction Prize. She lives in Surprise, Arizona.
As a Consequence Of
my brother stealing all the lightbulbs,
my parents live without light, groping,
never reading, never saying You are lovely,
a broken Borges and a gouged Saint Lucia, hand in hand
shuffling from the kitchen linoleum to the living room rug.
The only pants my father wears are wobbling silhouettes.
My mother paints her face with distorted shadows.
One says rosaries to become a candle.
The other tries hard to be a Coleman fishing lantern.
Both eat matches like there’s no tomorrow—
but just because they choke on today doesn’t mean they aren’t
proactive. They’re building a funeral pyre
out of their house. This makes it very hard
to visit them. This makes it a lot like digging them out
from under an intimate sort of rubble—I recognize some things:
my brother’s high school football helmet, first Communion pin,
green plastic army men with noses and arms chopped off,
so much more that has been disguised by being dismantled
and spastically reassembled at 2 a.m.—lives, the electric Virgin
Mary picture with a corona that changed color, guitar amps,
deals with gods, the Electrolux canister vac. Mom and Dad
snapping matchsticks between their tender teeth
makes me taste a green clock at the back of my throat.
The ticking is cold or sour or really a pickax—
worry tastes so dirty when it’s spread out like a banquet.
It’s tough to vacuum up the food scraps fallen under the table,
especially when the nozzle and motor are in pieces
in my brother’s hands.
My brother the myrrh-eater—lost fucked-up Magi,
followed the wrong star—licking his sequined lips which
can’t shine in the shade of this growing pyre.
My dad drinks the gasoline,
siphons it from his work truck so my brother can’t steal either.
My mom tries to dress the place up—riddled doilies,
the burning heart Jesus with eyes that used to follow us
around the room—someone bored the eyes out. Now my fingers
slip down in the slick holes in his face. My mom can’t
wash the windows because my brother ate them,
instead she ties ribbons on the wood stack, hangs blackened spoons
her grandfather carved and says, What can you expect from a pyre
but a pyre. When I visit, I hate searching for the door—
usually my brother’s shoe print on my dad’s ribs. Once, it was
a hole in my momma’s chest that changed her into a sad guitar
for three years. These are more like exits than doors—
they are difficult to get through. It takes a ton of shrinking
and bending over backward to make it. The walls
have been painted misery, black enough to make blindness
a gift—we don’t have to look each other in the eye.
It’s crazy how loud it is inside a funeral pyre. We don’t
talk much. We can’t hear each other over so much stumbling.
When I do hear, the only thing my mom says is How
much longer? I prefer that to what she wrote in fluorescent paint
on the ceiling last weekend: What does he do with the lightbulbs?
But we don’t talk about meth in our house, particularly
not since it’s been converted to a funeral pyre. Anyway,
my dad only sings these days, not with words,
with small strikes and sparks. Those quick flashes
of fire that seem to satisfy my mother’s questions.
Monosonnet for the Matriarchy, Interrupted
(O, O, O, O, the owl dance, two steps forward, one step back, O, O, O, O, listen to the drummers attack that drum, O, O, O, O, if a woman asks you to owl dance, you have to accept her offer, O, O, O, O, but if you still have the nerve to decline, then you must pay her want she wants, O, O, O, O, give her some money, honey, fill her coffers, O, O, O, O, and then you have to stand in front of the entire powwow and tell everybody exactly why and how you refused her, O, O, O, O, and if you refuse to detail your refusal, you will be named and shamed out of the powwow, O, O, O, O, but, mister, why would you want to say no to your sister, O, O, O, O, but, brother, why would you want to say no to your mother, O, O, O, O, all of these women are your sisters and mothers, O, O, O, O, they're somebody's sisters and mothers, so, mister, so, brother, dance with the women, mister, brother, dance with the women, mister, brother, dance with the women, mister, brother, dance with the women, mister, brother, they're everybody's sisters and mothers),
Monday, March 23, 2009
1:: The Late Julian Hurtubise's Dream
I was elected
Emporer of China
and what could be more fun?
But soon after the election
I was stripped of my crown
during an assembly
at which no one
person in the realm
would step forward
to say a good word
about anything I'd done
since I'd been elected.
With bamboo sticks
I was driven from the palace
and the only job I could find
in all of China
was working in a rice paddy
from sunup to sundown.
2:: He Went to the Mountaintop
by the force of his will
to the top of the mountain
but his will couldn't stop him
from sliding back down
and while sliding back down
he broke a leg in three places.
At the foot of the mountain
a kind sister
a Mother Superior
wearing ancient lace
yellowing and moth-eaten
fixed his leg instantly
with her magic
he requested her phone number.
She gave him an envelope
which contained her business card
and a three-dollar bill.
Printed on the card
were her phone numbers
and the names of several cities
and San Paulo.
Dreams and Memories Within a Reverie
I'd turned off the TV and was sipping
green tea when I imagined that I
was an Iraqi soldier--not an elite
Republican Guard, just a regular
lousy grunt with an officer's wacky
eyes and gun aimed at my back.
Bombs shook the sky. Loose
dirt sifted onto my tin plate
filled with endless lentils and rice.
There I dreamed of my mother's great
chicken stew simmering on her
charcoal stove and of melting
into my wife's cool flesh
in a hotel room in Baghdad,
where my pals and I used to stroll the streets
after the sun went down
and then stop beside the Tigris
for dishes of strawberry ice under stars.
How I laughed at the deep frown
which appeared on my grandfather's face
when he saw me in uniform
for the first time.
Ain't nothing to do now, boys,
but gag down the rice and dig deeper.
Listen Up, Old Bastard
There comes a time to roam the world. After the debts are paid
(or successfully ditched) and after the charming children are
safely careered or married, there comes a time to sell the
house or break the lease, a time to break the leash
and roam the world. But you must move quickly:
an old dog must trot chop-chop (and you do remember how?)
to escape the four warm tar babies of the "new" apocalypse;
Social Security and medical science, whose grand and
well-lit hospitals are dark and narrow hallways to the
grave, laundry chutes to the garbage cans of the moon.
But mostly an old fool must speed up (chewing a few
peyote buttons might be indicated as a radical jump
start; but consult your local witch doctor) to escape
the quivering pit of bullshit, pride and opinions
that he's spent a lifetime making and has come
to call his featherbed. You'll know it's time
when you see that the grass is red, not green,
when "every" day is dead, like Sunday or your
birthday, and when the buried roots of trees
shine brighter than the branches. Wake-up,
old man (ravaged face in the mirror), let's
go. Together we might find the younger
woman, man, or whatever, whose eyes
flood sunshine and who seems
perpetually poised for flight.
Together we might slide
on by the garbage cans
of the moon.
Bait & Switch
Can you remember when you picked this
up, started reading and thought: "How
nice, a flow of ice cream splashing
into a plum purple bowl of syllables
that go crack, pop, snap; topped
with a fistful of wild mount rasp-
berries, so plump and sweet
that a black bear might kill for them?"
Well, that's what it was--"was".
That was the bait. But when
you took your eyes off the page
and thought,"What trash! That crass
low poet will get none of my praise:
I'll slice up his poem with my razor
tongue"--that's when I made the switch.
What you've got now is
a sack of dirty sand, and
I'm not going to untie your ass
until you've swallowed every bite.
For thirty years I lived alone,
watching TV cartoons, canned
laughter and sports.
My dead food came
in cartons and cans.
When I died alone, drunk in
the tub, they packed me in a
tuna fish can, Bumble Bee, and
shipped me off to the moon.
The moon's not half bad
and I should last indefinitely
or until someone
opens the can.
Jack's DayGlo Time Warp Chair
"The 70s, 80s and 90s were
such a bummer; and the new
millennium's creeping forth
even dumber, so I'm warping
back to the 60s. Will you
come too?" Jack said, sitting
backwards on his chair.
"But let's do it right this time:
no drugs of any kind, no pro-
miscuous sex, no jungle jabber jazz,
Stones nor Grateful Dead, no pigeon
politics, no Zen, no Hin-
doo gooroo razzmatazz."
"What's left?" I asked, scratching
my old bald head.
"Well, there's travel, hos-
pitality, patchouli, gen-
erosity, DayGlo poetry,
long hair laughter and
Ravi Shankar records."
"Alright, Jack, I'll go,
but on one condition--no
Ravi Shankar records!"
"O.K., man, fuck a bunch of
Ravi Shankar records--let's go.!"
Three Seattle Songs
In Emerald City
when you gaze up toward the stars
for inspiration and faith
you often get a face
full of rain
which could explain why
Seattle's the nation's
moist livable city
and the suicide capitol
of the Pacific Rim.
If Seattle's brain
were somewhat less wet
she'd quickly erect
a tall and glittering gambling casino
and pleasure palace
complete with viagra and whores
to cater to millionaire
perhaps at Snowqualmie Falls
where now squats in the thundering
I like Seattle best
when the mystical fog rolls in
and you can't see a thing
especially the Space Needle.
Now I Have To Leave This Sofa
Now I have to leave this sofa
where I’d gladly remain until
the end of my earthly days.
I must get in my car and drive
where many other cars will be,
my standard transmission
making it even harder to be
the lazy one I so love to be.
And the sofa will miss me,
will remember and keep the
indentation of my buttocks
until I return. (If I return.)
But I should return, as
there is a thick fog and
traffic will be slow — no
spectacular crashes today.
Bumper to bumper, I’ll
push that freaking clutch in
500 times until I’m back here.
But I shouldn’t complain.
I am heartily loved and someday
The Child will be a teen, driving
herself to my hell and back
and no doubt I’ll be missing
these simple days when all I
had to do was pick her up and
drop her off places I’d planned
for her to be, not sitting at home
worrying where she is and if she’s
okay, while this or another fine sofa
will have all my buttocks it can handle.
Jannie Funster March 2009
We sat on the bench
outside the cafe
facing each other,
knees touching –
a diamond of
She was five.
I took her small
hands in mine
to tell her that
her ”best friend”
had not invited her
to the sleepover party.
Overall, she took that
much better than I.
Jannie Funster March 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
"Ladies & Gentlemen, the ROLLING STONES." We have been hearing that, most of us for over half our lives, since the early 1960's. For a time, when i was young, dumb, and rebellious, during the seven year reign of the Beatles, whom we thought would go on forever, we used to jokingly say, "If you have one Rolling Stones record, you have them all." No one ever thought that 60's rock bands would be resurrected and would tour with never less than one surviving band member way up into the new century. And then you have the Rolling Stones, the most successful rock and roll band in history. I just finished viewing Martin Scorsese's SHINE A LIGHT, his documentary on the Stones done last year, and released in IMAX theaters. Scorsese captured the energy, the humanity, the fun the group still has after all these years. One forgets that Mick Jagger can do more than sing off key and wiggle his ass. He plays a mean blues harp, and actually is not a bad guitar player either, doing a slide guitar number that holds up well. Coming off the intensity and drive the film exerts, I could not get the band out of my mind. So here is a pictorial of 100 shots to let you in on some of my Stoned mania. No band will ever match their longevity, their energy, and hell, they are still out there doing it. Enjoy.