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 the author 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. terratrevor.blogspot.com

The Book War

By Wang Ping

I discovered “The Little Mermaid” in 1969. That morning, when I opened the door to light the stove to make breakfast, I found my neighbor reading under a streetlight. The red plastic wrap indicated it was Mao’s collected work. She must have been there all night long, for her hair and shoulders were covered with frost, and her body shivered from cold. She was sobbing quietly. I got curious. What kind of person would weep from reading Mao’s words? I walked over and peeked over her shoulders. What I saw made me shiver. The book in her hands was Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, and she was reading “The Little Mermaid.” The day I heard the story in my kindergarten, I begged my mom to send me to school right away so that I could read the fairy tales by myself. By the end of my first grade, however, the Cultural Revolution began. Schools were closed, libraries sealed. Books, condemned as “poisonous weeds,” were burnt on streets. I thought I’d never see “The Little Mermaid” again.

My clever neighbor had disguised Anderson’s “poisonous weed” with the scarlet cover for Mao’s work. Engrossed in the story, she didn’t realize my presence behind her until I started weeping. She jumped up, fairy tales clutched to her budding chest. Her panic-stricken face said she was ready to fight me to death if I dared to report her. We stared at each other for an eternity. Suddenly she started laughing, pointing at my tear-stained face. She knew then that her secret was safe with me. 

She gave me 24 hours to read the fairy tales, and I loaned her The Arabian Nights, which was missing the first fifteen pages and the last story. But the girl squealed and started dancing in the twilight. When we finished each other’s books, we started an underground book group with strict rules for safety, and we had books to read every day, all “poisonous” classics.

Soon I excavated a box of books my mother had buried beneath the chicken coop. I pried it open with a screwdriver, and pulled out one treasure after another: The Dream of the Red Chamber, The Book of Songs, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Tempest, The Notre Dame, Huckleberry Finn, American Dream, each wrapped with waxed paper to keep out moisture.

I devoured them all, in rice paddies and wheat fields, on my way home from school and errands. I tried to be careful. If I got caught, the consequence would be catastrophic for my entire family. My mother finally discovered I had unearthed her treasure box, and set out to destroy these “time bombs.” She combed every possible place in the house: in the deep of drawers, under the mattress, chicken coop... It was a hopeless battle: my mother knew what tricks I had in my sleeves. Whenever she found a book, she’d order me to tear the pages and place them in the stove, and she’d sit nearby watching the words turn into cinder.

When the last book was burnt, I went to the coop to sit with my chickens. Hens and roosters surrounded me, pecking at my closed fists for food. As tears flowed, the Little Mermaid came to me. She stepped onto the sand, her feet bleeding, and she could not speak, yet how her eyes and body sang and summoned me to join in! That night I started telling stories--the Little Mermaid, Romeo and Juliet, Huckleberry Finn, Aladdin...first to my siblings, friends, then to the neighbors—stories I found from those forbidden treasures, stories I made up for myself and my audience. We gathered on summer nights, in the winter darkness. When I spotted my parents in the gathering and saw the stars in their eyes, I knew I had won the war.


First published at Kinship of Rivers.
Copyright © Wang Ping. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wang Ping was born in China and came to USA in 1986. She is the founder and director of the Kinship of Rivers project, a five-year project that builds a sense of kinship among the people who live along the Mississippi and Yangtze rivers through exchanging gifts of art, poetry, stories, music, dance and food. With other artists and poets, she has been teaching poetry and art workshops to children and seniors along the river communities, making thousands of flags as gifts to bring to the Mississippi during 2011-12 and to the Yangtze in 2013.

Her publications include American Visa (short stories, 1994), Foreign Devil (novel, 1996), Of Flesh and Spirit (poetry, 1998), The Magic Whip (poetry, 2003), The Last Communist Virgin (stories, 2007), All Roads to Joy: Memories along the Yangtze (forthcoming 2012), all from Coffee House. New Generation: Poetry from China Today (1999), an anthology she edited and co-translated, is published by Hanging Loose. Flash Cards: Poems by Yu Jian, co-translation with Ron Padgett, 2010 from Zephyr. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China (2000, University of Minnesota Press) won the Eugene Kayden Award for the Best Book in Humanities, and in 2002, Random House published its paperback. The Last Communist Virgin won 2008 Minnesota Book Award and Asian American Studies Award. She had two photography and multi-media exhibitions--“Behind the Gate: After the Flooding of the Three Gorges” at Janet Fine Art Gallery, Macalester College, 2007, and “All Roads to Lhasa” at Banfill-Lock Cultural Center, 2008. She collaborated with the British filmmaker Isaac Julien on Ten Thousand Waves, a film installation about the illegal Chinese immigration in London. She is the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council of the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, the Bush Artist Fellowship, Lannan Foundation Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, and the McKnight Artist Fellowship.
www.wangping.com

Mexico and the USA: My Motherland and Fatherland

By Aurora Garcia

The USA is the country where I live. While the United States is not my motherland, it is the country where I have lived the longest and the country that gave me a new life, and a son. It is not the country where fate would have me be born in, but where I actually and consciously chose to become a citizen. But of course without renouncing to my Mexican citizenship.

For the longest time I rejected the idea of acquiring a new citizenship. I felt like a traitor. I don’t know when it started to grow into me. At first I thought, well, nothing will change the facts. I was born in a house with the scent of Lime and Plumeria. I grew up in a home where I would quietly stare at the clouds and the leaves of the Lime tree. Nothing could erase the memories of the smell of my mother’s cooking or the smell on a rainy day in my beautiful homeland, and the games and the joy. This love will remain untouched.

When I came to the USA everything was new to me—the smells, the places, the language, and the people. I felt so alone and out of place for the first couple of years. Then I don’t know how or when it started. I began to have a sense of belonging. I learned the language, studied, worked, had wonderful friends, and all of a sudden, I didn’t feel like a traitor anymore. I understood. I was no longer confused. For the longest time I’d had a fight within myself on where I belonged, and which country I owed loyalty to. Then one day, out of the blue, it came to me, and I clearly understood that there is no reason to choose. How can you answer to the question, who do you love the most, your mother or your father? Both, and you don’t have to measure it, you don’t have to explain it or compare it.

I know the feeling of my attachment to the US started before I had my son, but it became stronger after he was born. All of a sudden we were creating memories together. His childhood moments were so different from mine, but equally beautiful, and I immersed myself into it.

Mexico/USA! Yes, I own one of each flags, but I don’t display them everywhere I go. It is my belief that you mostly carry those feelings within your heart. When I lived in Mexico, I don’t remember ever displaying the Mexican flag other than at appropriate ceremonies and at institutions, and in a very respectful manner. These beautiful countries mean and represent much more than their politics and their unfortunate situations. They represent the smells, the laughs, their beautiful scenery and their natural resources. These countries are the people who don’t make the headlines, but instead keep a low profile and spend their time raising a family and working hard.

So, let the eagle continue to devour the serpent and ask for divine power for that eagle to wide spread its wings. And let the stars shine brighter and us not be blinded by the glow, but instead hold on to some of that light. There is plenty love, space and time for everything and everybody.

Copyright © Aurora Garcia. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Aurora Garcia is a nonfiction writer and essayist who was born in La Piedad, Michoacan, Mexico. She moved to California in 1989, when she was 14 years old. This is about the time when she began writing, but throughout her teen and young adult years she kept her writing to herself for fear of being exposed. Although fluent in English and Spanish she instinctively writes in Spanish, as it is her native language. Aurora lives with her husband and 12 year-old son. She loves life, nature, art, music, and diversity, admiring the contrasts and richness of her homeland culture, as well as the beautiful language that Spanish is. Aurora believes her passion for writing was inherited from her father who wrote songs and poetry.


The House. Death. Dad. Thank You.

By Diane René Christian

The photograph is of the house that I lived in with my father for 8 years. The house itself was originally an outbuilding to a main house but somewhere along the way the property was divided. At some time or another the building was used as an art studio. Before I lived in the house a dear friend of my grandmother’s resided there. Her name was Mildred.

I have vague memories of Mildred. I liked all of my grandmother’s friends so I am sure I must have like Mildred too. Mildred had polio (I believe?) and, in the midst of my parents’ divorce, Mildred passed away. She was sans kin and the house was left to my grandmother who subsequently gave it to my father and me to live in. I was thirteen years old.

What I do vividly remember about Mildred was her things. Mildred was a hoarder and nearly every inch from floor to ceiling was piled with her hoards. She was particulary fond of TV shopping but she never seemed to get around to opening the boxes. When we combed through her things, after her death, many of the boxes were still sealed. All of her wares went into an estate sale and it was quite a site to see those wares spread out and filling a banquet hall.

During the cleaning of Mildred’s house, as we prepared it to be ours, we unearthed a soiled canvas painted by the artist who some years earlier resided there too.

The house is 560 square feet. When you walk in the door you enter a garage which holds an unfinished bathroom with one exposed wall. When you walk up the stairs you enter a space that would hold a dining room table and six chairs max. But, there was never a dining room table but instead two recliners and a TV. Behind the recliners are a miniature stove, sink and cabinets. That is the sole living area.

My father and I each had a bedroom but originally our rooms were one. My dad put in a dividing wall making two perfectly even small rooms. I remember when the rooms were still one.

Before the room was converted we went to visit the house with a few of my dad’s friends and their three sons. One of the sons was a boy that I was sure that I was 'in 13 year old love with’. His moppy blonde hair and searching eyes and lean strong boy body were impossible to resist. We swam in rivers together and explored trails and forests and by him I felt understood.

Fortunately he deeply admired my father. Unfortunately he listened to my father’s warning to never lay a finger on me. Only once did he break my father’s rule. 

While my father and his friends were discussing how to rehabilitate our new home the kids entered a room that was to become two bedrooms but still remained one. We went in and for some reason we decided (probably because the house had a touch of a spooky feel) to hold a séance.

We sat on the floor in the dimly lit room and we all closed our eyes. Somebody started the séance and then I felt a hand grab on to mine and squeeze. It was his hand. He kept his hand inside of mine until we were all to open our eyes and then the hand was gone and it was like it never happened. But, it did. My body remembers it well. It never happened again.

Our house and the main house shared a driveway. As I grew up and grew into new relationships with boys I never let them into our home until they really knew me and things seemed serious. I am ashamed to admit this but I would stand at the end of the driveway and allow my date to infer that I was coming out of the main house. Most people assumed that our house was a garage. Indeed the realtor who has our house listed right now describes it as.

Tax Records call it a one story bungalow. I would consider it a converted barn or garage, dating back to 1929. Great potential as an artist’s studio. Enter from the rear into what appears to have been a garage.

If I could go back in time I would wait for every date by leaning against our house and take them inside to meet my Daddy.

The last time I saw my Dad he was sitting in his recliner upstairs. I kissed him goodbye and walked slowly down the stairs staring at him and him staring at me. I said- I love you Daddy. I will see you again soon.

He smiled back and I kept walking until I reached the door and made it outside. I nearly fell to the ground as a wave of fear gripped me and gobs of tears split my eyes. I must have known. Maybe he knew too.

Days later Dad collapsed on Gram’s floor. He wasn’t breathing.  At the hospital I spoke to a kind doctor who requested that I cease life support efforts for my father. She told me that he was gone and if he somehow came back... he wouldn’t really be here anyway. I said – Ok. You can stop.

I don’t really know how I said anything coherent at all but it was clear enough for my dad to be pronounced dead.

My Dad kept my bedroom exactly the same as it was the day I moved out in my late teens. It stayed that way until I cleared my childhood space in November of 2009. I was 37 years old.


I remember when I was teenager and I was going to the bathroom in the ‘garage’ bathroom with one wall missing. There was a spider that emerged but it wasn’t an ordinary spider it was a hairy spider of nightmare proportions.

I screamed to my dad upstairs that he needed to come down immediately.

He remained upstairs and screamed down at me- You need to take care of this yourself.

And I was furious. My dad was my hero. He was my rescuer. Why wasn’t he helping me now?


I managed to circumvent the spider beast and I found a broom. I whacked and whacked the broom and the spider alluded me until finally I dealt it a fatal blow.

I swept the beaten spider into a dust pan and plopped it into a Ziploc bag. Even in shrunken death it still seemed sizably frightening.

I put the sealed spider next to the kitchen sink and wrote a note to my Dad.

I did it.

And the next morning I found a written reply from my Dad.

Good for you.

 My father was not a verbal man but he always signed his letters to me xoxo- Dad.

xoxo to you Daddy. Thank you. Thank you so much.



Copyright © 2010 Diane René Christian. All rights reserved.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diane René Christian, author of An-Ya and Her Diary, is an award winning short story writer turned novelist. She was raised in Pennsylvania and spent her childhood years playing in the fields of Valley Forge Park.  She now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Visit her on the web at http://anyadiary.blogspot.com/


  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel