Poem: Ode to the Conservative Woman Who Helped to Heal Me

The dim lights behind the curtain near the factories,
You are closer to the low hum and rumbles,
Closer to working class struggle of sounds that snuff out your dreams,
Sounds that silence your screams,
Sounds that perpetuate division,
Across the small town – rez town,

The door opened,
I greeted her and sat down,
She said she should couldn’t stop crying,
She showed me the book that she was reading,
The Verbally Abusive Relationship,
Expanded Third Edition,
How to recognize it and how to respond,

The dim light,
Curtains drawn,
Low hum working class sounds,
Mold and mildew smells,
How to respond? 

I too was frozen

She cried in her bedroom,
She said she couldn’t stop crying,
The love she felt,
It never went away,

I too was frozen

How to respond?
But to close the door,
To listen to the low hum,
Watch the steam rise from the factories at night,
The food bank corn,
The Kmart shoes,
The tears soiling sheets, 

She too was frozen

The conservative woman in Manistee, Michigan,
Aninshinaabe Aki,
Was this woman,
Was me,

The book I emphasized as resources to others,
I sat gazing out the window,
Crunched up in a ball,
Sipping tea,
Laying my asema on the snow,
Dim lights flickering,
Bad wiring for the working poor,
The factory smoke,
The low hum on the land, 

The door I shut numerous times,
The pinnacle of this moment,
I couldn’t stop crying,
She couldn’t stop crying,                                                

I was frozen,
She was frozen,
We were frozen,
But we were healing together.

Poem: Indian Trail in 48073

The divided up blood quantum,
Between divided up treaty territories,
Between divided up hearts,
Separated souls,
Dispersed between colonial county and state lines,

Christianity on the land,
In our governments,
Blessed the ink to sign the document,
Sign the treaty,
Sign away a culture,
A people,

As a kid I followed the remnants of this,
In a suburban town where there was an “Indian Trail,”
My Mom took me there after going to Meijer's one day,
We turned off Crooks Road in 48073,
Near the old “historic” farm houses,
Park on the side street,
And got out of the car,
We walked up the very small hill,
Between a few suburban trees,
Planted in 1964,
While the suburbs were booming and building,
Gas station and church,
Prayer and work,
Fuel and sinning,
This small spot was left for our people,
My Mom told me about this spot,
It was a small corner of a suburban lot,
There was a rock with a sign,
This was a trail of my ancestors,
On a summer day,
My Mom shares a little bit of Anishinaabe lore and legend,
We walk down that lil’ hill and back into the car,

The memory sticks with me to this day,
I thought of major roads leading out of the mega metropolis heading north to my home,
I never considered the big city of Detroit my home,
The land seemed hurt and sad,
Eager I always followed every trail I could in Southeast Michigan,
Was it an “Indian Trail,”
My peoples trail,

Then I followed that trail to the train tracks like so many of my ancestors did before,
The train tracks as a refuge,
13 year old boy-girl-tomboy-she-he-her-queer,
I knew all the viaducts,
My hands scathed the surface,
I crumble particles of paint attempting to cover graffiti from my hands,
Then hyperactively picking up and chucking a rock,
To an unknown location,
The fuse of anger,
Almost got me in trouble,
So I leap into the bushes,
Kneel down and hide,   

Like many Indian kids,
Like many Indian adults,
We ended up on a modern "Indian trail" we often called the railroad tracks,
A place to vent,
A place to connect with industrial disconnection,
A place to smoke-drink-drug,
A place to cast dreams as pennies,

When I grew up I wanted to be a train engineer,
Just like the "guy in the green hat,"
A wayfaring stranger,
An unknown,
Or was this feeling in my blood?
Because Great-Grandpa was a train engineer on the Soo Lines in the UP, 

The sunsets were beautiful,
Especially when it was time to head home,
The night birds swooping,
Bats flying about,
The train light off in the distance,
A light,
A metaphor,
To resist temptation,
To resist what so many Indian's couldn't,
To walk away and rise above,
To resist beautifully.

Poem: Reporting Live From the 1842 Treaty Territories

It's a little cold up here,
Should I reach for that beer?
Or hang my laundry on the door?

I can't see straight,
I can't feel my heart,
My hands are cold,

There is a truck parked out there on the lawn,
We haven't seen the sun for days,
Centuries,
What can you do about the factory of your mind?
Environmental injustice all around,

I can't fight no more,
I can't see straight,

There is nothing for miles in the void of my soul,
This land unheard,
These waters,
A thirst,
A hunger,

Cultural retrofits,
That make-shift dangle that sways in the wind,
Broken,
Broke,
There is a shame we don't want to feel,
So we hide away,

Mattress on the floor,
It's not comfortable here,
There wasn't a doily or lace,
Curtains were ripped,
Soiled with tears,
We exited through the door and left our heart on the front steps.

Indian, Non-Indian Conversation

The Indian and Non-Indian are having a conversation about their lives. 

Non-Indian: "I've got a shiny fancy car and I WORKED for it!"

Indian: "People assume I am poor.  I got this Indian truck.  Its rusty and the door is creaky."

Non-Indian: "I really worked HARD for what I've got.  I know it must be "God's will."

Indian: "I work really hard but nothing ever seems to come of my efforts.  I just remain poor, invisible and undervalued."

Non-Indian: "I've been able to keep and hold down jobs.  I don't like people using the system."

Indian: "I've had my share of part time jobs often with no benefits and I've dealt with racism in many of my jobs.  I can never seem to get an interview for a full time job."

Non-Indian: "My parents both graduated from college."

Indian: "My home life was really hard and there was a lot of abuse.  I also got bullied in school so I dropped out in 11th grade."

Non-Indian: "I demand good customer service and I expect it."

Indian: "Usually I get treated like shit."

Non-Indian: "I don't understand why people just can't pull themselves up by their bootstraps?"

Indian: "I found boots at Goodwill but there were no straps."

Non-Indian: "I spent $300 this week at the grocery store and dropped off a bag of groceries at our church's food pantry.  I feel it is good to help the "poor."

Indian: "My food stamp allotment was $170 for the month and I picked up a box of food at this local church because my food stamps couldn't cover everything."

Non-Indian:  "I decided to go to this super progressive chocolate shop and treat myself.  I had an extra $40 bucks so I got three chocolate bars and 3 truffles.  I was waited on right away and the customer service was phenomenal." 

Indian:  "I decided to go treat myself and get a single $2 truffle from this fancy bourgeoisie "fair trade, progressive and liberal," chocolate shop.  However I waited 15 minutes in line and was ignored while other well dressed customers with credit cards were served before me.  When I spoke out against the apparent injustice and discrimination I experienced the workers denied it."

Non-Indian: "I once went to a reservation for a "mission" trip with my church."

Indian: "I got angry at the people trying to "help" us.  They brought a bible with them and were imposing their religious views on us."

Non-Indian:  "In my past life I know I was Native American.  I really love the culture."  

Indian:  "If you were Native American in your past life I wonder if you lived on a rez, worked at the tribal gas station for minimum wage, dealt with constant racism and discrimination like I have my whole entire life.  Please stop romanticizing who we are."

Poem: Nin Wassitawidee

Waawaashkeshi,
Shadows,
Silently waiting,
Leaves crunching,
Vanishing look,
Our eyes meet,
Soul,

Naanan ajijaak ishpiming,
Traditional culture evaporated,
Sugar bush dissolved,
Melting of snow,

Gekek,
Niizh aandeg,
Beautiful,
Catapulted,
Lifted,

Niizh ajijaak,
The celebration of transition is not seen,
Kiishig,
Biboon,
Kikaa,
Mnookmi,
Enmanjiwang.