So Call it Grace

The first plea-

sure was,

someday, a man

amen a boy be-

fore this boy

without form

yet here god-

send said god—

send me an-

other portion

of sky ’ipelíikt

turns to bruise

pressed to our

skin now skinn-

-ed touch us

into extinction

where we are a-

live, so say it:

live—no out-

live any god

salvaged by

the image a-

flame trapped

in the night

of the throat

like a gun-

lit glimmer

in a room sh-

redded with

our pleas-

                    ure.

Countdown as Slow Kisses

10. Here on my knees I look for the single animal: you left
                                                   ravaged at the edge of a meadow

9. Is everything accounted for? The fingers dipped
                                     beneath the torso—to keep this body bright

8. Every breath we are desperate to take
                             sounds as if a war lost against a country of promise

7. Discarded halos: the light you remember
                   in your head—you feed on what is crushed between the teeth

6. America declares these dreams I have every night be re-
                                                      dreamed & pressed into names

5. Upended petals of qém’es
                                 abandoned like torn butterfly wings—we’é I pray

4. I pray that nobody
                  ever hears us

3. An eye gone
           bloodshot: I tear through the crisp apple of your throat & find—

2. myself: this—a boy beside a boy. An eyelash
                            fallen at the base of a valley, our dark bones bursting in-

1. to bloom. I stare into your beloved face & enter: yes,
                 yes, this nation, under god, its black sky we lay our nightmares to

0. where I am your animal: my Lamb—now eat
            me alive.

The Exile

Chilocco Indian School, Oklahoma, 1922: A disciplinarian says, There is no foolishness, do everything just so… such as keep your room clean, keep yourself clean, and no speaking of your Native language.

For now I can
             just whisper 
kál’a sáw

                  the ’óx̣ox̣ox̣ 
      of your hím’ k’up’íp

wrecked at the base
                         of a century that burns

through my slow blood

/

                                 kiké’t caught

in the blink                                       silúupe

so draw the eyelids
       shut & forget the fire 
tangled among the branches

of your spine
             start where the skin meets

half an autumn
       rusting the edge of winter that is

knifing                        between me & ’iin

you & ’iim ’ee

/

boy     have you forgotten us
                                                is not what they are saying

or are they        asks another century

        how are we remembered
in our choreography
of bones?

/

mouth your birthplace          boy
without mouthing off           tim’néepe    is at the heart

or the heart of the monster
                                         or the grass blood-soaked

from the fresh kill that finally isn’t
                                                             your father

& pray héwlekce when your body is given away       says the
     orphan boy

with lashes licked into his shoulders

forget ’im’íic   because they can         tear every lip from every
     memory

                                     of your mother

/

because you are
torn & because you are
what song fills
your throat
with the color
of carved out tongue

peewsnúut & hi’lakáa’awksa
              is what is voiced in the dark
& so what does it mean
                           asks the boy

/

as the moon
glows mouth open
to the unbearable
taste of ash
blown among the stars

that the boy learned
the ghost’s trail

that milky way
is lit by the dying
brightly echoed

/

c’ewc’éewnim ’ískit
so there had to be breathing

there had to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translations:
kál’a sáw—just in sudden silence
'óx̣ox̣ox̣ —sound of bones and flesh tearing
hím’ k’up’íp—sound of a mouth breaking
kiké’t—blood
silúupe—at or in the eye
’iin—I
’iim ’ee—you (with emphasis)
tim’néepe—at or in the heart, where the mind and felt emotions are housed. Also, the name
of the Nez Perce creation site, Heart of the Monster, located in Kamiah, Idaho.
héwlekce—I disappear
’im’íic—your mom [more intimate] (as opposed to your mother)
peewsnúut—without tongue, or cut tongue, or removed of one’s tongue
hi’lakáa’awksa—he, she, or it is lit all through the night
c’ewc’éewnim ’ískit—the ghost’s trail / the Milky Way

Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Awake again, I find my name as
                                              vanished as a midnight I want
      to salvage. To have those black teeth sinking back
                                                                      into my skin—you enter me
through an opening in the sky
                                     of my body like a face,
             a moon behind me falling slow
                                                  & moving its fingers to a mirror made
of the window above my bed. I hear the weight of its life
                                                                   pressing down & the image
cracks. A figure stands
                  in a gown of blued smoke—this me
                                                                  & you—a shadow laid over
                         the surface of a puddle. Its eyes
                                                                      lit up like those
of wolves brimming with winter. So let this body. Let it go:
                                                                                       as though a breath
wanted to be saved, I part my mouth into
                                                             púuceyxceyxne & into pieces
as I am. But language between the lips
                                                    shrapneled into air is all that ever touches
                           the never-seen
pink of my lungs. I breathe in & breathe out. For what
                                                                        we’ve lost—my dear
ghosts. The sound of the field
                                       long after the war

Related Poems

I Cast It Away, My Body:

after Georgia O’Keeffe’s First Drawing of Blue Lines, 1916

Because two brothers make a body where none existed
God drew two bodies as one went crooked

There is a war between us. And I am losing
My brother, fabulous night panther & copper-horned

Struck by lightning, electric blue: two lines
My father pulls two ribs and one snaps into angles
In the waiting room, a body begins to fold in on itself
A body begins to pull a breathing tube from out of itself

There is a war between us. And I am losing
My brother, all copper feathers and dragon tail, chosen

In the mud of a battlefield, you’ll find my heart
Buried in the soft red clay, my body

Broke and anchored to this earth, a bolt
Jettisoned, my brother is my father’s first son

Poem in Which the Writer Sees Himself in an Old Textbook, 1943

They cut off our hair
& there we were
Hairless.

A photograph
In a history i skimmed
So quick
I missed

We were there
Less than elsewhere
Our hair cut
So close the scalp
Gleamed

A row of six
Pixelated moons

Blood rose
To its feet

Our hair not ours
Once separated
Like a finger
Nail

The gold
From our teeth

Our hair burned
Made upholstery
Braided for women
Down the street

There on the page
The photograph

A camp  A cage

Right angles
Impossible
Sharp as a fade
Razors in drag
Black boots & blades

I pull the image up
On my screen
Thumb the six
Bare heads
Sex organs
My face
My face

I’m alive of course
Because others died
& i’ll be survived
By no one

[amen] [amen] [amen]

My gift
To this planet
Extinction
The singed end
Of a family line

Today a man sits
Beside me
At the piano & plays
A song

My name’s in it
The one about a man
Rendered powerless
By the woman
Who takes his hair

Even here
With his breath
A flatiron
I’m standing
Between twin pillars

My arms cargo
Hardly mine

When he’s done
I take him
To bed & empty
My family
Into his darkness
Apologizing

[I’m sorry]
Again & again [i’m sorry] [i’m sorry]

Though i can’t quite say
Why

Mass Effect

Pushed together, pulled apart, we were purported pluripotent.
We developed as an organ, a benign and beating heart.

We sought physicians for histology. Discovered spinal symmetry.
Within the sacred bowl of life, our innards spilled in red array.

I wondered what you'd have to say if in your mouth you grew a tongue.
I wondered what I'd have to say if in my head I grew a mouth.

Instead we moved into a house, connected by a modem.
A surgical removal could have cured us of our malady.

But seeking to remain benign, we discoursed through telepathy.
How long could we have lived like this?

With our then-rudimentary eyes we saw shapes coming toward us:
amorphous and black, shedding tears. We had nothing to say.