Thursday, December 24, 2015


Happy Winter Holidays and Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) to everyone who reads this!

This is a photo taken by Sue Wyatt Shinkle of Kansas City's famous Plaza lights at Christmas time right before a winter storm hit. When my kids lived in other states but came home for Christmas, they always said the sight of the Plaza lights let them know they were really home.


Standing in shopping-center lines,
I remember last Christmas in your arms.
I dream your voice on the phone at midnight,
asking to come home,
how I will unlock the door
to admit you from the black cold
and hold you,
chilled and shaking from something
deeper than cold.
I dream you
on your knees, how I will
drop to my own and join you.

A tightmouthed woman behind me
jabs my back with a box corner,
and I step forward,
one person closer
to paying for what I want to give.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Monday, December 7, 2015

COYOTE WINTER--A Poem for December


The wind wolf swoops down

on this city again tonight,

and if the snow it throws

across lit streets

and whipping trees outside

my second-story window

doesn’t make a blizzard in full cry,

it won’t be for want

of howling.

One lone shadow man

struggles up the steep street

toward the bus stop.

Why is he out in this


Where are you?

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Replies to Comments (because  Blogger still hates me):

Reine, I'm glad I was able to make you feel the winter chill. xo

Lil, thank you. That's quite a compliment for a poet.

Thank you, Elizabeth. That's one of the things that I hoped to do with this poem. 

Thank you, Margaret. I'm glad you liked it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band by Frances Washburn—Books of Interest by Writers of Color

The engaging protagonist of Frances Washburn’s novel, The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band, Sissy Roberts, a self-aware and sassy young Lakota waitress, lead guitarist, and singer for the eponymous band, is beautiful and smart. Sissy is also gifted (or cursed) to have people confide all their secrets to her, whether they want to or not and whether she wants to hear them or not. Sissy graduated from high school four years earlier and wants to find a way to leave the reservation to go to college and avoid the common fate of her pregnant and unmarried friend, Speedy, who lives with Sissy and her family.

Part tightly paced mystery, part humorous, affectionate community chronicle, Washburn’s third novel takes place on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota and begins on Fourth of July 1969 when a hail of beer bottles chases Sissy and the guys in the band out of the Longhorn Bar in Scenic where they are scheduled to play. That same night, Buffalo Ames is murdered outside the Longhorn, drawing Tom Holm, an FBI agent, toward Sissy with her talent for hearing secrets as his unwilling entrĂ©e into the close-knit and suspicious reservation community.  The book ends four months later after much romantic and other intrigue and after many of Sissy’s friends and loved ones have become suspects in the murder at one time or another before she solves the crime.

Rich in particulars of reservation life and unforgettable characters, Washburn creates a believable, well-drawn world in which she sets her emotionally complex story of the coming of age of a young woman with the gift of being a receptive listener who pays real attention to what people tell her and the truths behind what they say and the story of a downtrodden, complicated community in a pivotal time, forming and reforming itself. Washburn’s pared-down style is ironic and taut and, even when venturing into tragedy or love, never touches on sentimentality. This richly textured novel of a strong young woman’s and her community’s development and self-determination is a fine literary work with interlocked stories and telling details that bring Sissy and her world to life on the page.

As always, I suggest that you buy the book from the university publisher and support the publishers who bring you diversity in literature. Without university and small press publishers, we would have only the few most famous writers of color, and even they were usually initially published by the university and small press community.

Frances Washburn was born on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and grew up there. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and was a visiting professor at the University of Nebraska before being hired at the University of Arizona where she is an Associate Professor in the American Indian Studies Program and the Department of English. She is the mother of two children, Lee and Stella.
Washburn is the author of the novels, Elsie's Business and The Sacred White Turkey, in addition to The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band. She has also published a biography of Louise Erdrich, Tracks on a Page: Louise Erdrich, Her Life and Works, as well as scholarly and academic articles and essays.

Friday, November 27, 2015

WHERE I COME FROM: Final poem for Native American Heritage Month

My dear friend, poet Levi Romero, turned the poem, "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon, into a writing exercise that I, along with many others, have used in writing workshops, especially with young people. One day, while teaching, I wrote my own poem based on this writing exercise.


I come from crocheted dishrags
and hand-me-down clothes from cousins
on the “good” side of the family.
I come from canvas cotton sacks (200 pounds for an adult
“but you’re a big girl now, eleven,
you can pull enough cotton to fill that ol’ sack”),
from Lifesavers and Nehi Orange
and salty peanuts dropped into sweating-cold bottles of RC Cola
and traded among us kids for back rubs
when we couldn’t quite stand up straight after a day in the cotton rows.

I come from the heady, dangerous ozone smell
of summer thunderstorm nights
when I walked alone across town
to buy my mother’s cigarettes.
I come from rain-soaked redbuds and lilacs and irises,
from mesquite and cottonwoods,
from beachfront bougainvillea and date palms.
I come from drive-in movies and drunk fathers and mothers
and singing in the church choir
and stone-headed stubbornness.
I come from Sequoiah and John Ross,
from “Cielito Lindo” sung everywhere
(I thought to me since it had my name in it),
from driving out in the dark to see the desert bloom after a rain,
from altruism and diabetes.

I come from “get your nose out of that book”
and “if it’d been a snake, it’d bit me”
and Grandpa’s sermons in the pulpit on summer Sunday visits.
I’m from the Great Smokies and Tahlequah and Broken Arrow,
from Highland crofts and Dublin slums and England’s younger sons
from San Diego and Coronado and El Cajon,
I come from snobdodgers and frybread for breakfast
and from fried chicken I helped kill and clean for Sunday dinner.
I come from the month the money ran out,
even my illegal paycheck from the drugstore after school,
and the grocer wouldn’t give more credit,
when some angel left a bushel basket of turnips on our kitchen doorstep.

I come from Aunt Joan and Uncle Glyn on their dirt-poor farm
who took us in on a moment’s notice, six kids deserted by both parents,
and raised us with our four cousins
in that house the size of my living room with never a cent or a thank-you.
I come from those nights on the mattress on that kitchen floor,
waking to take little ones to the outhouse in the dark,
from cooking for harvest hands and combine crews
while Aunt spent the day on the tractor with the men,
from her dark Indian spitfire and his tall, Indian peace.

I come from all the photos of us kids in places all over the country
where Dad dragged us around like a tail behind him,
from all the photos of the five babies after me
and the photos of all of us with grandparents and cousins
and my school photos from San Diego, Kenosha, Arlington,
and so many others I don’t even remember,
stored only in my brain, except for the handful
Aunt Joan saved for me all those years until we found each other again
when Uncle Glyn was dying in his quiet way
and cousin Dickie’s abused son, raised by his grandparents,
bussed and hitchhiked back from the Navy to sleep
on the floor at the foot of Uncle’s bed, faithful hound.

I come from my grandmother’s Cherokee teaching stories and stubborn strength,
from that grandfather’s wild goose chases and big dreams and fine talk,
from my other grandmother’s domestic fussing and ambitious nurturing,
from that grandfather’s preaching and Bible values,
from my father’s hatred of his Indian half and tolerance toward everyone else,
from his bright, inquiring mind, his hope for humanity, and his drunken violence,
from my mother’s cold beauty and rewriting of the past,
from the short tragedy of her life, and the strength with which she bore it.
I come from a long line of male preachers and teachers, drinkers and dreamers,
from conjure women, curanderas, women with the Sight,
and women who survive and make do.
I come from fallen gentry and half-breed hill trash, from parsonages and trailer courts.
I contain all of these,
and I choose,
I say,
who I will be.

(published in Imagination and Place: An Anthology, 2009)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

WHAT RIVER SAYS: A Poem for Native American Heritage Month

This poem is from a suite of poems I've written called "First Cousins Speak."


The Cherokee call me Long Man,
yun wi gun hi ta,
because my body stretches and unravels
with my head in the mountains
and my feet resting in the ocean.
I constantly speak words of wisdom
to those who can understand me—
fewer every day.
It takes a quality of attention
fit for magicians or poets.
I have much to tell those
who expend the time and energy to listen.
I have seen so many things.
I know the history of rain
intimately, leaning on the world
to feel it on my skin
and take it inside me
to swell my body. Maybe,
they should have called me Long Woman.

I remember when
the mountains were home only to gods.
I knew your ancestors,
now tangled in the ground.
I swallowed my share and more.
I have seen innumerable generations
driving toward their deaths.
I am acquainted with the bones of earth,
ancient as the word of God
and stronger by far.
Men have tried forever
to change me and chain me,
but I still wander where I will
when I grow tired of being tame.
I remain the promise of tomorrow,
the hope of new growth
that haunts the night with hypnotic murmurs
and softens the edge between act and dream.

When all hope has fled,
come to me.

(Published in TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism)