New Poetry by Queer Indigenous Women

A Series Curated by Natalie Diaz

By  Literary Hub

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.

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

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Noʻu Revilla

No’u Revilla

 

Memory as Missionary Position

Inside the dress, there is a creature, she

careful

 

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is a cliff in a girl’s body.

And the cliff was a lizard once still             turned

to rock she gazed too much like she

 

careful

 

had a kingdom inside.

 

Inside the dress, holes are cut

so the cliff can breathe and

any girl watching

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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