Orenoque,Wetumka, and Other Poems

By Robert Bensen

Blacksnake at the Iroquois Festival                                    

We set three paper plates in the grass
between the picnic tents and ravine at the wood's edge.
I broke our daughter's fried bread, murmuring thanks.
Steam uncoiled, brushed my hand
and branched along some shifty breeze.
A handful of Mohawk kids scooped polliwogs
in cups from the concession, their family's current stand.
They flocked around a lean, sweat-beaded young man,
who drew a hoop of writhing snake from the reeds,
a red blossom where he'd sliced the head off. 
"You know this snake?" he called across the ravine. 
"Can't say I do," I said.  "But why risk it with them?" 

Past the woods we couldn't see a lumbering freight
shake the trees and hoot some vestige of its victory. 
Our girl asked to touch the snake.  I carried her over.
She smoothed its patches of tweedy, irridescent black. 
"She's more brave than you," the boy in a Barney shirt
needled his brother.  "You were right," I said again,
"not to take a chance.  Not with them." 
But he, astonished at the drive in that headless spine,
roped it over his arm again and again.

The kids packed behind him when he crossed the knoll
to find the museum's naturalist.  He scanned the faces
of milling visitors suddenly hushed at this apparition
from some world where men strode bare-chested out of the wood
wearing snakes on their arms.  He'd hoped the white man
with the curious girl had known something final.

Well, back in the sluice, a deathmask stared
down narrow, trackless halls of reeds, 
while in the tents a woman beaded lightning down my sleeve.
And now, through apple leaves, as dawn pales blue
the hood of the moon's last milky eye,
I'm after sliding an arm around my sleeping girl,
who's of another mind:  she squiggles down,
feet perched on my wrist, poised to chase or be chased
around the circle we make.  Soon must come her dream
of another life she has to run through one more time.

Contaminated Culture: Native people struggle with tainted resources, lost identity

For the Anishinaabe people at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron, cedar is not just a tree – it is sacred. Used in medicines and teas, the tree’s roots, bark and sap have been central to their physical, mental and cultural wellbeing for centuries. “We smudge with it, as singers we inhale it, as a medicine we bathe in it,” said Ron Plain, an Anishinaabe tribe member. But the tribe has abandoned its generations-old tradition. The cedar is tainted with cadmium, a metal linked to cancer and learning disabilities. In this region of Ontario, dubbed “Chemical Valley,” the contamination is part of everyday life for the Anishinaabe. For decades, indigenous people in the United States and Canada have been burdened with health problems linked to environmental pollutants. But that isn’t their only sacrifice: Pollution is crippling some tribes’ culture. Their native foods, water, medicines, language and ceremonies, as well as their traditional techniques of farming, hunting and fishing, have been jeopardized by contaminants and development. And as indigenous people lose these vital aspects of their lives, their identity is lost, too.
Toban Black/flickr
The Anishinaabe people from Aamjiwnaang First Nation are surrounded by heavy industry.

By Brian Bienkowski
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News
October 25, 2012
Reprinted with permission

For the Anishinaabe people at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron, cedar is not just a tree – it is sacred. Used in medicines and teas, the tree’s roots, bark and sap have been central to their physical, mental and cultural wellbeing for centuries.
“We smudge with it, as singers we inhale it, as a medicine we bathe in it,” said Ron Plain, an Anishinaabe tribe member and environmental policy analyst at the Southern First Nation Secretariat.
But the tribe has abandoned its generations-old tradition. The cedar is tainted with cadmium, a metal linked to cancer and learning disabilities. In this region of Ontario, dubbed “Chemical Valley,” the contamination is part of everyday life for the Anishinaabe.
For decades, indigenous people in the United States and Canada have been burdened with health problems linked to environmental pollutants. But that isn’t their only sacrifice: Pollution is crippling some tribes’ culture, too.
Their native foods, water, medicines, language and ceremonies, as well as their traditional techniques of farming, hunting and fishing, have been jeopardized by contaminants and development. And as indigenous people lose these vital aspects of their lives, their identity is lost, too.
“Animals have died off or left, the water is no good. This is not the world that we know and rely on,” said Kathy Sanchez, a member of the Tewa Pueblo, a tribe in New Mexico that is living with a legacy of pollution from uranium mining.

“It’s contaminated our culture.” 
Life in Chemical Valley
About 850 Anishinaabe live on the Aamjiwnaang reservation just east of Michigan’s thumb across the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario. The area has earned its ominous nickname, Chemical Valley, because it is home to 62 industrial facilities – 40 percent of Canada’s chemical industry. Chemicals such as benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde and lead permeate the reservation.

Okie Survival and WINNING THE DUST BOWL


By Carter Revard

My cousin Roy Camp was one of the better watermelon-stealers in our part of the country, between Pawhuska and Buck Creek--or at least he told the best stories about when the farmers really DID use rock salt in the shotgun, and he once went around for days unable to sleep on his back or even sit down because he got peppered with some of it one afternoon.  Sixty years later, when I was out in California visiting with him and his family, we got to talking about some of those good old bad old days, so after I was back in St. Louis, in June 1996, it was time to write Winning the Dust Bowl for Roy, who as is said in the poem had taught me to read back in 1936.  He had lived with us that whole year, out in the Buck Creek Valley, because not long before his father had been beaten to death in the Pawhuska jail (Roy had tried to pull the policemen off as they dragged his father through the doors).  When his mother remarried, Roy did not at first like the new stepfather; so the year my twin sister and I started to Buck Creek School he lived and went to school with us.
            
Three years later--as Steinbeck was writing The Grapes of Wrath--Roy and a buddy hopped a freight train and rode out to California to join his mother and stepfather at a sawmill near Truckee, up by Lake Tahoe.  A few years later he married a good strong woman, served in the Marines in World War Two, then saw to it that his mother Loretta had a good house right near where he and Celestine located in Porterville.  When I visited them for Roy's seventieth birthday and went down to the local mall for a birthday dinner, we couldn't move twenty feet along a sidewalk or an aisle without people greeting him with a big grin and handshake or hug.  So when I wrote this I wanted to remind Welfare Kings like certain governors and presidents that the food on their table is put there not only by "immigrants" but also by "natives"--people looked down on by those in power, even as they hand rich contributors largesse from the banks and businesses and porkbarrels made possible by the Okies, Indians, Chicanos, Koreans, Blacks, Hmongs, Vietnamese and probably even a few capitalistic Brits and Ayrabs and Noo Yawkers out there in LaLaLand. 


WINNING THE DUST BOWL

There was a reaching up
into the dusty leaves after
the biggest most golden ones, and almost
falling off the ladder--stretching up into
the stiff pungent leaves, on through
dead twigs, brushy branches where my fingers
just barely touched, touched and tipped
a heavy orb till with one last touch it
dropped upon my palm--
deep gold with greeny tinges, warm to fingers
closing despite the ladder's shaking--
and then a turning cautiously on rungs to toss
that last tree-ripened navel orange into
the sure and waiting hands below
of my cousin Roy--and the climbing down
to the solid loamy ground of his back yard
behind the house he built at the edge
of Porterville, by now just fringing the upper
middle class's brick and well-coiffed
development houses built over orange groves
and olive trees where as he says
if he and Celestine could have saved a little more from
their migrant Okie labor up and down this Gold Rush State
and further, from the Salton Sea's tomatoes all the way up
to Oregon's cherries, Washington's apples, all that
stoop labor, ladder aches, labor camps, sometimes
our Ponca cousins working alongside--as he says,
a little more in the savings bank and maybe
some twenty acres bought at the edge of Porterville
when land was still dirt cheap
would have made him a millionaire where now the bankers,
lawyers, heads of businesses live, as well as the doctor
from Pakistan who diagnosed his pancreatic cancer--but then
what's in THEIR yards is ornamental, flowers briefly,
looks beautiful but not for eating, what's on
their tables grows on some other field
of earth where Others work, and here
are these tree-ripened oranges, navels and
Valencias, in Roy's back yard.  I can't wait, we peel
and eat two big ones bursting with juice
and sweetness, then we wipe our hands
and mouths and he puts
into a plastic grocery bag two dozen dusty globes
for me to take back down to Pasadena, and walking back
toward the house we stop for onions,
enormous purple ones he's just dug up,
we find some ties and string the onions up to dry,
we look at the green tomatoes in their mini-jungle there
in his garden plot, the peppers, okra just poking up,
see where small apricot and peach trees now have bloomed,
and then past his window cooler that he built
and hooked up specially to a backyard hydrant here
(last night, cool breezes from it helped me sleep),
we see the huge rose-tree still in bloom and he pauses there
before its great crimson depths and fragrance and says quietly
that this was given by a friend before he died
who said he hoped that when it bloomed
they'd have good thoughts of him,
which, as Roy said, they surely do, and then
Celestine came out the front door past the amaryllis
with its humongous scarlet blooms and we walked
to my car, opened the trunk and flumped
the oranges in their plastic bag into its depths and slammed the lid
and we hugged and said we hoped
that next year on his seventy-second birthday
we'd have some more strawberries over angelfood
with whipped cream like Celestine had just fixed for us--
"You realize, Mike," he'd said,
"these aren't my strawberries--we
bought those a couple blocks away at that fruit stand
in the corner of that big strawberry field,
three dollars for what seems like half a bushel
from that Hmong family who run the stand--if all
those Hmongs the government's bringing in here now
would work like them I'd never object
to all the government's doing for them
and never did for us."So we had talked a little
about Viet Nam, and what we owed
the people we had used to kill and save our empire,
and what the Okies of the Dust Bowl times,
Roy and Celestine and our families,
had done for California--but now
when I closed the trunk-lid and we hugged
and said good-bye for this year and who knows
how long, it wasn't Hmong and Okie,
Mexican, Black or Indian, but just the three of us now--
a cousin like an older brother who'd taught me to read
in the first grade,
the beautiful woman he had married
when he had joined the Marines and might have gone
down on Tarawa in the South Pacific,
and me, the academic Osage Okie out for a visit.
"Now listen, Mike," Roy said, and I could tell
my getting lost in a different way,
each time I came to Porterville, was on his mind,
"the only thing you have to do to reach the highway
is turn right, right down where I'm pointing,
and follow that all the way."  And so I did,
never got lost and drove right down
past orange groves, English walnuts and olives,
past Bakersfield and oilwells pumping,
down Highway Ninety-Nine with its rose azalea blooming, on
into Pasadena where I had some work
on medieval manuscripts to do
at the Huntington Library, on that huge estate
the railroad magnate bought when land
was dirt cheap, built his mansion there, acquired
the Earl of Bridgewater's manuscripts and planted
a lot of cactus, made a Japanese Garden,
a Shakespeare Garden, built
an Art Museum, made a big Foundation--
or should I say he hired
a lot of workmen and they did it for him?  It may have been
on Mister Huntington's railroads that my cousin Roy
was riding, in or under boxcars, four years after his dad
was beaten to death in the Pawhuska jail, and Roy
rode freezing out to California and made a way
to put good food on many tables and to build
a family, house, a life with friends, children,
grandchildren, fellow fishermen who laugh and know
what it's like to catch
and let them go, and stretch the truth only
enough to make it credible.
Meanwhile, for academics the Huntington's
a gorgeous place to work, whole gardens full
of roses named for people who all hope
we'll have good thoughts of them when they bloom,
and there are many Friends of the Huntington
who surely do.


Copyright © Carter Revard. All rights reserved.

Carter Revard, Osage on his father's side, was born in the Osage Agency town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma and grew up on the Osage Reservation there.  He attended a one-room school in the Buck Creek rural community, won a radio quiz scholarship to the University of Tulsa, and was given his Osage name in 1952, the year he went to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship.  After taking his B.A. there, he earned a Ph.D. at Yale and taught medieval literature, linguistics, and American Indian literature at Amherst College, Washington University St. Louis, and elsewhere.  He retired in 1997 but continues to write and publish poems and scholarly essays.  His books of poetry include Ponca War Dancers (1980), Cowboys and Indians, Christmas Shopping (1992), An Eagle Nation (1993), and How The Songs Come Down (2005).  A collection of essays published in 1998, Family Matters, Tribal Affairs, was followed by Winning The Dust Bowl (memoirs and poems) in 2001. Some recent poems, including "Deer Mice Singing Up Parnassus," appear in AHANI Sing: Poems of the Indigenous Americas, edited by Allison Hedge Coke, from The University of Arizona Press.

Three Dreams Deep

By MariJo Moore


Trees are dreaming
of 
owls  dreaming
of 
Spirits dreaming

of 

humans understanding


ceremonial water                         




is what is needed
all

around

the

world.

  
Copyright © 2012 MariJo Moore. With inspiration from Bruce T Martin's www.brucetmartin.com photographs of cenotes.  In their world view, the Pre-Columbian Maya  - and some still do today - believe that cenotes are the homes of the Chac Gods,  the gods that bring rain....... and dedicated to Suzie Engel.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MariJo Moore, Cherokee/Irish/Dutch is an author/editor/poet, psychic/medium/spiritual advisor. Her published works include The Diamond Doorknob, Red Woman With Backward Eyes and Other Stories,  Genocide of the Mind: New Native Writings, and A Book of Ceremonies and Spiritual Energies Thereof.  She resides  in the mountains of western North Carolina. www.marijomoore.com

An All-American Korean American 4th of July

By Terra Trevor 


An armload of bulgogi covers the grill and a circle of friends surround the barbecue. Everyone has a pair of chopsticks in hand and turn slices of the sizzling beef. A picnic table is laden with platters of pindaettok, mandu, heaping bowls of kimchi, chap chae, and romaine lettuce leaves with red bean sauce for dipping. There is plenty of sliced watermelon of course, and three rice cookers stand ready in a row. 
 There is laughter around the table.

After another helping of dry cuttle fish, after we eat as much food as we can hold, we find a grassy spot under a shade tree, pull out a folk guitar, stretch back on the grass, and sing. The familiar melody has me humming along, while the group sings the lyrics in Korean. 
Most of the time I forget that my husband, our youngest daughter and I are the only ones who are not Korean. At these gatherings all my friends are Korean American, like two of my children.The afternoon leaves me with a contented feeling, a sense of belonging, like I have when I go to a family reunion. 


However, my friends within the Korean community didn’t feel like family in the beginning, way back when we began attending a Korean church in 1987, when my kids were then four, six and ten. I needed to reach deep with faith, because in giving my kids the opportunity to grow up within an all-Asian group I also had to let go of them a little bit in order to allow them to find their place within the Korean community and to learn to identify and express themselves as Korean adoptees, instead of tying to fit into the stereotypical Korean model everyone expected them to be.


I’ve heard adoptive parents say they want the Korean American community to accept their family on the adoptive parents terms and not to absorb their kids. They don’t want them to take over. But I’ve never felt this way. I wanted my children to have the same opportunity to be immersed in the Korean community and discover their identity, as I did growing up mixed blood Native American within Indian country. The difference is Korean culture was initially unfamiliar to me. We were making new friends and I was allowing them to take my children into a world unknown to me.


I remember my grandmother’s words. “Child,” she said, “We’re Indians, and our Cherokee, Delaware and Seneca culture has been scattered into odds and bits, yet Indian people are determined to keep our life ways alive.” 


I wanted to give my kids what was given to me, to make it possible for them to gather bits and pieces of Korean culture and braid it into our lives, and show them how to hold their heritage high. 
While my son and my oldest daughter explored the constantly evolving questions of what it means to be Korean American, and my younger daughter who is Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca and Irish, grew increasingly more diverse, my husband and I sank in roots and worked to build lasting relationships and to let our new friends know that our interest in doing so was heartfelt.

Over the past 25 years our Korean community gatherings has provided me with some of the deepest sharing I’ve ever known. 
At the picnic we rest just long enough for our food to settle, and then it is time to play games. There are sack races, three-legged races, a water balloon toss, followed by a scavenger hunt. Everyone plays, the grandmas and grandpas, even babies are encouraged to join in, and there is always someone willing to lend a helping hand.


I find it wildly wonderful that fancy equipment is not needed for our game playing. We have a ball, a blindfold, two gunnysacks and we have each other. Just people enjoying one another, a day of slowing down and relaxing at the park, it’s not always an easy thing to find.


This essay was first published in a slightly different form in Terra's memoir Pushing up the Sky: A Mother's Story. This essay also appears in The Huffington Post

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHORTerra Trevor is a prolific writer of a diverse body of work. She values the collective experience and has collaborated with other writers across genres and is a contributing author of 10 books including The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal, The University of Oklahoma Press, Birthed from Scorched Hearts: Women Respond to War, Fulcrum Books. Her memoir Pushing up the Sky: A Mother's Storyis widely anthologized with excerpts included in Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices On Child Custody and Education, The University of Arizona Press. 

Born in 1953 to a mixed blood family of Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca and German descent, and raised in southeast Los Angeles, with roots in Colorado and Oklahoma, her life was divided into two seasons; winter and camping. The home she carries within is mountains and pine trees. terratrevor.blogspot.com
"We have stories / as old as the great seas / breaking through the chest / flying out the mouth, / noisy tongues that once were silenced, /all the oceans we contain / coming to light."
—Linda Hogan