• New Poetry by Queer Indigenous Women

    A Series Curated by Natalie Diaz

    In my Mojave culture, many of our songs are maps, but not in the sense of an American map. Mojave song-maps do not draw borders or boundaries, do not say this is knowable, or defined, or mine. Instead our maps use language to tell about our movements and wonderings (not wanderings) across a space, naming what has happened along the way while also compelling us toward what is waiting to be discovered, where we might go and who we might meet or become along the way.

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    This feature of indigenous women is meant to be like those song-maps, to offer myriad ways of “poetic” and linguistic experience—a journey through or across memory, or imagination, across pain or joy or the impossibility of each, across our bodies of land and water and flesh and ink—an ever-shifting, ever-returning, ever-realizing map of movement, of discovery, of possibility, of risk—of indigenous and native poetry. It is my luck to welcome you to this indigenous space and invite you into the conversations of these poems, languages, imageries and wonders. In the first installment of this bi-monthly feature, I’m pleased to share the work of Noʻu Revilla, Janet McAdams, Lehua M. Taitano, Deborah A. Miranda, and Arianne True (full bios below).

                                                    –‘Ahotk, Natalie Diaz

    *

    Noʻu Revilla

    No’u Revilla

     

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    Memory as Missionary Position

    Inside the dress, there is a creature, she

    careful

     

    is a cliff in a girl’s body.

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    And the cliff was a lizard once still             turned

    to rock she gazed too much like she

     

    careful

     

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    had a kingdom inside.

     

    Inside the dress, holes are cut

    so the cliff can breathe and

    any girl watching

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    any girl waiting

    any glint of a girl’s

     

    mother’s metal scissors can still find her –

     

    careful

    there are still pins inside.

     

    To fit a lizard, the jaw of this dress unlocks.

    Fitting sounds like eating and mothers

    tell their daughter to shut their eyes

    pins inside the unmarried

    pins to decorate

    the insides of a church.

    Girls wear dresses that mothers sew for them.

     

    this dress // shroud // napkin // flag

     

    In the 1800s my greatgreatgreatgreatgreat grand

    mothers swam to ships

    to trade sex for cloth, iron, and mirrors.

    A body for a body.

     

    Did you see yourself in their glass, mother?

     

    Did you cut the shape of your body

    and send it whistling through the ocean?

     

    when a cliff becomes altar

    and the Pacific

    in the name of civilization

    is properly dressed   

     

    daughters inside

    pine away

     

    the altitude of faith.

     

    After She Leaves You, Femme

    1. you will be a hole in the ground.

        a crater without glory,

        without science. in the ground

        you will forget we are the ones

        whose legs double as thunder.

     

    2. tell me where it hurts, no one will say.

        leave land. leave sleep.

        walk to the ocean

        like your grandmother did

        when grandpa died.

        “she just kept walking,” aunty tells you.

        “no mo’ slippa, not looking at anybody.”

     

    3. read nayyirah waheed every night.

     

    4. piling our legs like kiawe.

        let it be this skin, this form. if something has to burn.

        red flags we cackled and cut into skirts.

        maybe we are passage to the divine.

        and maybe we fuck ourselves in the shower

        & rub storm clouds alive.

     

    5. wash your sheets   don’t wash your sheets

     

    6. in seven days, she destroyed your world.

        for the next seven, eat with your fingers

        & trust only the moon.

        there will be pressure-cooked pork.

        there will be gauze.

     

    7. remember the smell of ocean.

        remember bare feet.

     Janet McAdams

    Janet McAdams

    Pulse

    It isn’t over       in the after you could be
    anything         a horse a red pepper heating up
    in the sun of the garden                                 or be

    A dust mote floating              wanton
    into an eye      that will not water      that mistakes
    sadness for irritation

    O be the edge of winter corruscating
    the ibis moving          north
    Be the fuel        carried in a red tin can

    The lace that leaves come down to
    rained on          by engines        by the motors
    that run us                                              that run us down

     

    Little Bones

    A birch sheds its bark and we read the list
    of lost rules: what
    to sort for, what
    could stay, and why the light
    laddered the long walk down to water.

    We catalogued that land to make it ours.
    Wrote down the trees, the kinds of trees,
    their heights, their girths, what winters
    they had lived through:
    Maple Leaning East
    Oak with 9 Branches
    Pine Tree Bored by Beetles

    We’ll crawl out of this, you said, study
    how to be human.
    I left a finger at every crossing
    and scattered teeth like pebbles–
    anything to point you the way
    you said you needed to go. I never
    looked back. I knew the curse of it.

    I used a shoulder for the first buoy,
    and anchored it with a braid of hair.
    I set my left eye high
    in the north sky,
    gathered my skin to net one last
    hunger, to offer you
    a meal of cracked shells for sucking

    and hoisted up my mast of spine
    until the wind filled a sail
    stitched from eyelash, from the viscera
    that surrounds the heart
    and you sailed on—
    the sea was that calm—
    to that other country

    and how you kept
    a knuckle or a nipple
    to remember—
    long lost in the hot
    happiness of that other nation
    and unremembered
    as the air that once filled a lung
    the faint salt of someone’s skin
    a flavor, then gone, like anything
    ever eaten.

     Lehua M. Taitano

    Lehua M. Taitano

    Low Mountain Lake Song

    Summer’s hem. The moon, a swelling. Too, bullfrog throats, vibrating across the slick green bay. Full low like a plump lip jug pressing. At night, this side of things is settled without the memory of ache. Even the shallows are pregnant. Slow fish, the terrapin’s slide. In the trees, a ladder to nowhere. A fire for the color of it, the air warmer than smoke. A cupping, an ease, a drifting you want to pocket.

    Past midnight, the crescent of green water holds, tongue warm. The boat green, the shore grass green. Flute green the swamp reeds. Green the unseen frogs, the firefly pulse. Beneath the mouth of a moonbright sky, sway. Spilt green, the moment before a song. A song, green, silt green in the lungs.

     

    Come Sit Around This Stone

    The International Hotel, Manilatown, San Francisco, April 21, 2016

     

    for Aimee, Angela, Arlene, Barbara Jane, Javier, and Urayoán

     

    Kuwentuhan! Kuwentuhan!

    What stories on the corner

    of Jackson

    which exhumes                  Tubman, strata,

         press              of time

    beneath sidewalks stained                        today

    with piss,       yesterday’s blood.                                                         Batons

     

    polished,                   bullets,                         helmets,                                    the same

    backdrop,

    the burst

    on loop on loop on loop:

    I only want to see you

     

    Across,               the House of Nanking,                 a man in     khaki           head-

    to- toe

    scooping paper                                   and

    soggy                   pigeon                                                              mess.

     

    East/West Bank.

    I only want to see you               on loop on loop on loop:

    49 mile              scenic                    drive

      LED man    housed in     a box,   mid-stride

    crossing,

    See you standing

    super imposed                         orange                                                                      ticking

     

    countdown        to       Kearny.

      Exhume  this brickscape,

     

    the  signs  are                    flashing                   move                move move.

     

    I only want to see you

    Police                 crusade              on                 horseback,

    beating stick a

     

    casual           caress                                             and             the horse’s

     

    eye, stuttering.

     

    See you laughing

     

    Leaflets       newsprint        scrawl spitting                                   rain                 khaki   man

    bends  to

                      a                  parcel                                       and we

     

    were talking of Tubman.

    Will  her face        imprint                            on any policy

    more                   than    a                                                         sheaf.

    On loop on loop:                                                                      purple

     

    the corner of Jackson             10,000        carabaos,                    a       newer

    version

    laughing

     

    of the same old dark

     

    the brick canvas                                          exhumed,                       a rifle

     

    thrusts             up       through       asphalt        pooled        with              rain-diluted

    urine.

     

    God

    damnit.

     

    God                             damnit.

    purple, purple, purple, purple, purple, purple, purple

     

    At                  eight-             forty                  -eight                               International,

    a corner enfolding

    tableau:

     

    this  bed frame           of brown                                         poetas,               the thrum of

    the

     

    unearthed                             ( here Harriet’s rifle juts

     

    up from beneath the sheets).

     

    Here,                                                                the Bay Shore Fish Wharf,               Great Saigon

     

    move move                                                            move

     

    I only want to see you

     

     

    quickly,                            Kobe Bento,                                                                            move!

     

    laughing in the

     

    Nightstick                    slick with

     

    rain.

     Deborah A. Miranda

    Deborah A. Miranda

    Palimpsest

    A manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing
    has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

    How does obsidian forget the hiss of magma?
    How does water forget the cloud of its birth?

    Can wild iris forget the dark belly of the bulb?
    Does scar forget the torn, raw edge of flesh?

    Hands that reached inside chaos, brought me out into the world.
    Mouth that breathed into mine a language wild enough to wake me.

    When does fire forget lightning?  Should canyon forget river?
    Might skin renounce fingerprint?  Will honey deny the bee?

    Don’t ask me to forget.  Don’t tell me this is over.
    Beneath sand and broken mountains,

    even the Mojave remembers salt of a fickle sea.

     

    Love in the Margins

    Come on, shapeshifter—
    I can’t dance either.
    But I want to hold

    your shadowy body,
    hum crooked tunes
    into your abalone ear.

    Out here on the edge,
    desperadas don’t always
    make good lovers.

    Sometimes our scars
    match too well; touch
    is barbed wire and border.

    I’ll try not to hide behind
    my bruises if you’ll
    give me the hard gray line

    of your shoulder.
    Can’t you hear
    the cricket’s ebbing

    daysong?  Let me
    tuck that tidal melody
    into the wine-colored

    strands of your hair,
    braid your name
    with horizon’s indigo

    kiss. Glorious outlaws,
    we’ve got nothing to lose
    but this edge.

     

    When You Forget Me

    with thanks to Pablo Neruda

    the past is a poor broken basket,
    woven by hands that had no muscle, no song.
    When you forget me, every word we spoke together
    just before or after slow first light, lips still wet,
    doe, heron, stone, prayer – erases itself
    from every language, as if never spoken. Extinct.

    When you forget me, dream of other women,
    offer them the dance of your heart, recline
    in a meadow, drink red wine, seek another woman’s
    blush, what basket could hold all this desire?
    I’ll gather black maidenhair fern stems, redbud,
    bear grass from our sacred places; I’ll harvest,
    split and dry each piece.  My busy hands
    won’t miss the obsidian outline of your face.

    When you forget me, that river where we first kissed
    won’t stop flowing down from mountains older
    than desire; when you forget me, the forest that cradled
    our creation won’t burn down. Some things last.
    I’ll remember what they are, one by one, as I dye
    my bundles, start the coil, fit weft around stave.
    I’ll remember how to make a life out of fragments,
    how to splice so skillfully, no visible break remains.

     Arianne True

    Arianne True

    this story doesn’t end in the unobscured

    Cato shakes me gently among

    the full floor bodies companionable

    room a drowse hung with breath

    shaky hands morning blotted blonde

    birds open slowly their coats

    before the sun can throat a sky

     

    a curling shaft of bird calls

    waves to the salt line

     

    it is little past four

    in the morning

     

    tracking baretopped feet on the blacktop paved

    calflines              drag up islands            currents pull both sides of shore

    sand evaporated, wood washed white, wrong side of the ocean

     

    and Cato

    like mouse like stoat like fennec unfurling

    her shirt against the mist her

    paleness a bull against the churned sea

    her body distilled salt                     porous, lit

     

    I look back         at the dogs of the beach

    suppose them

    the furious hounds of something

     

    arms spilt light, ailing tang

    toward her crystal gleam and ache

    the flush of cold spills into ships

    my sunk hips               at the long mouth

    of a balloon

    the sun chilled and rosy

    breathes fast, hard,

     

    the aftermath of what

    I

    is it raining ash there?
    it’s raining ash here.
    bits of mountainside catch
    in the window mesh
    sap holds ash to oak leaves

    all light red
    shadows, red
    red holes in shadows
    ash so pale in all that ::

    the whole street lit as if by ::

    the volcanoes :: south
    hold quiet
    in the aftermath of what
    exactly

    II

    who knew mountains could burn
    a range ablaze
    my lover sweats out
    a fever in the living room

    the wind coughs through window screens
    soot collects the sill grey
    the grass sleeps yellow
        overhued and oblivious

    III

    ash films spider webs
    when you mourn
    where                     does it go

    Noʻu Revilla is a queer Indigenous poet and educator of Hawaiian and Tahitian descent. Born and raised on the island of Maui, she has performed and facilitated creative writing workshops throughout Hawaiʻi as well as in Canada, Papua New Guinea, and at the United Nations. Her work has been exhibited at the Honolulu Museum of Art and appears in Poetry magazineBlack Renaissance NoireThe Missing Slate, Hawaiʻi Review, and Poem of the Week by Kore Press. Her chapbook Say Throne was published by Tinfish Press in 2011, and she is currently finishing her PhD in creative writing at the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa.

    Janet McAdams is the author of three poetry collections, most recently the chapbook Seven Boxes for the Country After.  With Geary Hobson and Kathryn Walkiewicz, she coedited the anthology The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing after Removal. A writer of mixed Scottish, Irish, and Creek (Muscogee) ancestry, she grew up in Alabama and now lives in Ohio, where she teaches at Kenyon College.

    Lehua M. Taitano, a native Chamoru from Yigo, Guåhan (Guam), is a queer writer and interdisciplinary artist.  She is the author of two volumes of poetry–Inside Me an Island (forthcoming 2018) and A Bell Made of Stones. Her chapbook,  appalachiapacific, won the 2010 Merriam-Frontier Award for short fiction, and her most recent chapbook,  Sonoma,  was published by Dropleaf Press in 2017. She hustles her way through the capitalist labyrinth as a bike mechanic who sometimes gets paid to make art.

    Deborah A. Miranda is the author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award), as well as three poetry collections, Indian CartographyThe Zen of La Llorona, and Raised By Humans.  She is co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: An Anthology of Two-Spirit Literature and her collection of essays, The Hidden Stories of Isabel Meadows and Other California Indian Lacunae is under contract with U of Nebraska Press.  Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of California.  As John Lucian Smith Jr. Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, Deborah teaches Creative Writing (poetry and memoir), composition, and literature of the margins (Native American, Chicana/o, LGBTQ, African American, Asian American, mixed-genre, experimental).

    Arianne True (Choctaw, Chickasaw) is a queer poet and folk artist who has worked everywhere from the temperate rainforest canopy to the rocky edges of the Salish Sea. Arianne has taught and mentored with Writers in the Schools (WITS), YouthSpeaks Seattle, and the Richard Hugo House, and has served as a guest editor for cloudthroat. In May, Arianne will graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.






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