Smuggling Cherokee

I unroll my map
And a photocopy
Of the palm of my left hand,
Weigh down the corners with
A fist sized chunk of peach colored flint, a
Barite rose
Some gypsum and
A piece of ruby jack
Then set in to work.

There is a certain art
To a good mistranslation.

I remember rage and impatient violence.
These days
I’m more likely
To pile river rocks in the bathtub
For love of smooth things
Things as edgeless as I can have them.

The man asks me
“Do you speak Cherokee”
But it’s all I ever speak
The end goal of several generations of a
Smuggling project.
We’ve slipped the barriers
Evaded border guards.
I smile,

Bridges and Crossroads

WPA bridge over the Neosho I
Stood on it in full flood with my
Dad the water just
Kissing the underside of the boards the
River moans shivering up my legs it stood until a
Flood licked out the
Footings they
Replaced it but when I dream the Neosho the old bridge is there

They took the zinc out until they hit the
Daylight of 3rd street you could
See the crack in the pavement
Looked like another pothole and there was
Sunlight in the mine
Sunlight just there with the
Dull ache of lead and the grim
Scowl of jack

Those cottonmouths know some songs too they
Know some fish songs and once crossing Tar Creek
Bridge a grandma snake got hit by a
Pickup and in her last breaths we
Drove up on her there like a burning
Library her songs falling away in curls
Taken by updrafts like smoke prayers near the water she
Looked me in the heart and whispered just the one secret


In gratitude for all of it- theft, small pox, relocation and denial. Wa-do

We need to be stubborn for this work
Stubborn and loving.
The most difficult of lessons for me
Generous gifts
Are often given
By those who didn’t intend to give anything at all.

I call the slave master
Who lost track of my ancestor
A blanket for you
In gratitude.

I call the soldier
With a tired arm
Who didn’t cut deeply enough
Into my great great grandfather’s chest to kill clean.
I return your axehead
Cleaned and sharpened
May you wield it against others with equal skill.

Will the boarding school officer come up?
The one who didn’t take my Gram
Because of her crippled leg.
No use as a servant-such a shame with that face…

Finally the shopkeeper’s wife.
Who traded spoiled cans of fruit
For baskets that took a year each to make.
Thank you, Faith, for not poisoning
Quite all
Of my

Blankets for each of you,
And let no one say
That I am not
Grateful for your care.

The Overseers of Complexity

            I have an innate fascination for gadgetry
            Old constructions of brass and glass and numbers
            Designed to measure one thing or another.
            Enjoy compasses and sextants
            Things with gears
            Or wires that spin
            Something meant to determine location.
            The ritual adjustment of the divining tool appeals.
            If I can just get the alignment
            When the proper stars are up
            And present the correct offerings to the overseers of complexity
            Perhaps I will know where I am.

            I like small brown rocks for the same reasons.

           Fits of homesickness come and go,
           Obeying no known rules of logic.
           I may be getting off of a plane from Oklahoma
           And already be missing the heavy, wet air
           Smell of terrapin
           Mine tailings
           The flood plain of the Neosho river.


            Stirring the Creek water
            “A-m (a)”
            She said.

            Later I asked her,
            “Is it still
            When it comes out of the tap?”


            While planting the garden
            I discover
            Four mason jars containing
            Words on paper.
            Pages torn from a
            Ledger book,
            Covered in
            Tiny writing
            Three seem to be poems
            One just says,