New poem but also an old poem question mark

So my last commission was to write a poem for the intro of this conference on overcoming trauma in indigenous communities on my rez in early October. It’s a “new” poem in the sense that it’s a singular being, but it also smashes together some of my other work from IRL and from Nature Poem and from Junk and from Feed with new writing to serve as the connective tissue between these moments. Unforch I can’t be there to deliver the poem myself because I’ll be at Haskell Indian Nations University doing a reading and a meet & greet and later teaming up with my love Morgan Parker for a reading in Lawrence, KS—But! I thought I’d offer you the text here and my reading. It’s called “I See the Fire that Burns Within You”

“I See the Fire that Burns Within You”

It’s one of those magical early summer sherbet skies

on a thin blue blanket on a rolling grassy knoll with

the breeze off the East river tempering the city heat

as the sun begins its dip behind the buildings and all

the little office and apartment and department store

lights begin to twinkle. A sizzle of foam on the water.

I’m listening to this Neil Degrasse Tyson podcast where

they talk about the “God Gene”—Something cellular

that makes us look up and beyond and wonder at our

creator and Stephen Hawking talks religion and science,

saying they both articulate the nature of who we are,

where we came from and why, and that though science

produces more consistent results, people will always

choose religion because it makes them feel less alone

And the debate turns to whether we’re alone in the cosmos

and the guest host says she hopes so, because if not?

if we encounter an alien civilization? They would likely

be far more technologically advanced than us, “and look,”

she says, “how that worked out for the Native Americans”

and I suck my teeth because all we ever are is a metaphor

or a cautionary tale or a spirit guide, nothing contemporary

nothing breathing, nothing alive. They had just spent the

previous half hour discussing other cellular inheritances,

saying for example that trauma could be passed down

like molecular scar tissue like DNA cavorting with wars

and displacements and your bad dad’s bad dad and what

is being indigenous but understanding a plurality of time?

That I’m here right now in this riverside park across the

water from the trunk of the city in the golden light of

the golden hour and that light, that sliver of golden light

is light unlike any other light you’ll ever encounter—

Nothing we’ve ever made can come close to that glow,

not a filter not a software not a bulb. A gathering of

circumstances, of the atmosphere buffering the dusk

light and the angle of the Earth at this time right now in

this moment on top of this continent of top of this blue

blanket I’m on top of our sacred mountain I scout from

the peak. I’m dragged to the center of town in chains.

I’m old women scattered along the creek. My little hands

squeeze my little mouth shut, drawn into nooks within

the valley like a sharp breath while shaggy men on

horseback, following the water, seek brown bodies for

target practice, strong brown back for breaking in the

name of the Church. Valle de las Viejas. Blue echoes

split the early evening split the dusk. They spit

and ride on but I’ve held my breath ever since It’s like

one minute I’m onstage and the next I’m in fifth grade

ducking behind the dash after cousin, high on something,

points a gun at my face and Onstage I’m a mess of

tremor and sweat. “The gift of panic is clarity,” my

therapist says. “Repeat the known quantities.” Today

is Wednesday. Wednesday is a turkey burger. My throat

is full of survivors. “It’s okay,” he clicks his pen, getting

ready for his next appointment. “Lots of people get stage

fright.” But that’s not what I’m talking about because what

I mean is I’ve inherited this idea to disappear. In the mid

1800’s, California would pay $5 for the head of an Indian

and $.25 per scalp—man, woman, or child. The state was

reimbursed by the feds. I am alive. This is a gathering of

circumstances. This is the golden light. But when you’re

descended from a clever self, adept at evading an

occupying force, when contact meant another swath

of sick cousins, another cosmology snuffed, another

stolen sister, and the water and the blood and the blood

and the blood, you’d panic too, exposed on the stage

under the hot lights and I can’t stand in front of the

audience in Columbus, Ohio without wondering how

the last person felt, leaving the ancestral homeland

for the Indian territory but I’m on the road and when

I’m in their home I can say their names, the Ohlone,

Costanoan, Muwekma, Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot,

Shawnee, Lenni-Lenape, Tocobaga, Pohoy, Uzita, Lumbee,

Piscataway, Nacotchtank, Multnomah, Anishinaabe,

Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pattawatomie and now on this podcast

they have a linguist saying that language tells the story

of its conquests, its champions, its admixtures, while

moving onward into new vessels. That a language is dead

when its only speakers are adult. That in a hundred

years 90% of the world’s languages will be kaput. He says

the most precise word in the world is Mamihlapinatapai,

from the indigenous Yaghan language of Tierra Del Fuego

which means something like when you leave a café

bathroom and want to tell the next person in line it

wasn’t you who took the smelliest dump in American

history but you keep walking. Aaaaay just kidding it

means something like when two people look at each

other and the look is that they both know what the

other should do, but neither wants to initiate, so they

sit in the stasis. It’s a whole caravan of meaning of

feeling in a single word like how in Kumeyaay you

say “howka” for “hi” but the translation is more like

“I see the fire that burns within you” I see the golden

light and this show goes to commercial and I make

the mistake of opening the news app in my phone

and it’s a massacre in Palestine and in Pakistan the

journalists “disappeared” and in Mogadishu a bomb

explodes in the bustling city center and ICE “loses”

thousands of migrant children and drones fly over

other countries and the quote unquote “president”

says, he literally says, “we tamed the continent” he

says, “we aren’t apologizing for America” and murdered

and missing Indigenous women never ever ever ever

ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever

ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever

ever ever get an article or a shout out or a headline

and I’ve been thinking a lot about fuel sources that

produce the heat of the fire that burns inside you

and the term “resistive circuit” and active networks

and mainly about Kirchhoff’s current law, that the

sum of all currents entering a node is equal to the

sum of all currents leaving the node by which I mean:

Imagine you are a circuit. Imagine electricity. Imagine

being fed, and feeding. Imagine getting what you

need. Imagine the fire inside you. Imagine heat.

I don’t have much of anything figured out but I do know

to be indigenous is not to be a miracle of circumstance

but to be the golden light of survival, the wit of the cunning

of the cloud of ancestors above me now, a cloud of light

from which something almost umbilical is plugged into

my back, through which they feed me and flow out of

my hands and bear with me it’s like this: My dad grows

his hair long, the black waves cascade down his back

because knives cropped the ceremony of hair of his

mother’s generation in the Indian boarding school, and

while I cut my hair short in mourning for the old life, I

grow my poems long. A dark reminder on white pages.

A new ceremony. Poems light up corridors of the mind,

like food. They call where we grew up a food desert,

a speck of dust on the map of the United States in a

valley surrounded by mountains that slice thru the

clouds like a loaf, where the average age of death is

40.7 years old. I am 34. I live in the busiest city in

America. I am about to eat an orange. Every feed

owes itself to death. Poetry is feed for the fire

within me and but what is trauma but a kind of re-

wiring as in I’m nervous where I feel most free but then

the show comes back on and now they’re talking

about what else we pass on after death and you know

what? Too much for me, so I shut it off and

I crack my neck. The air is clear, and all across

Instagram, people are posting pics of the sunset.