A Poem ... a Performance
By Linda Hogan
Wings Press Copyright © 2012 Linda Hogan
All rights reserved.
What? Do I hear children? Playing a game?
No, they are singing. They are dancing.
They are saying magical words.
Oh he yay yay,
oh he yay
Hey ai Lina,
Hey ai Lina........
* * *
You're Miss Finley.
Yes, I am the one they call Indios.
You want me to call you Clare.
I like that word, Clare,
And what it means.
No, it's fine. I knew you would be late.
No one expects the guards
To go through their perfumed bag
Or examine their underwear
So they won't smuggle something in to me.
No, I don't look like you expected.
Life hasn't hardened me here.
Yes, thank you. I do like sweets.
Yes, they take them away to examine as well.
Everything goes through the hands of the guards.
Even we go through their hands
As if we are water.
But then we have flowed through the hands
Of others all our lives,
Through the hands of husbands and fathers,
Falling through the writing hands of judges.
Some have fallen through the hands of their lawyers
And even their friends.
Some flow through the hands of one another.
We are like the element water,
Always flowing back
To some ocean
Of another humanity.
I hope you are not one of the people
Who have come to prove my innocence.
No? You only want to talk about my story?
The newspapers were full of this story.
Surely you read them.
But still you come to me,
As if my words will change the clouds of history.
And so much time has passed.
Sometimes I forget Time.
It was not our invention.
But then, it has been so long
And my story, like everything, even myself,
Has fallen through that element,
Time, as if it is water.
What does it mean, my name, Indios?
I am a Native woman.
We were called that in the beginning
Because, as Columbus wrote,
We were beautiful, alive, and generous.
When we were seen the first time,
He said we were In Dios. Of God. Dios.
I think of that. We were beautiful.
I see you have written questions for me.
You want to know how we met.
It was so long ago.
He came to our world.
I was just a girl, still a girl.
But when I saw him he was like a god to me
And something inside me changed.
He was shining.
I thought my father must have conjured up
This vision of my husband
When I saw him the first time
As he stood there in all his finery, shining.
And the sun was behind him.
I was bewitched,
Although later they called me the witching one
When I found water for them with a willow twig,
Me, a young girl who diagnosed illness,
Fixed a broken leg,
Helped women's bellies grow with child
And then helped them give birth, their way, not ours.
Still, I was the one witched by love
Or some feeling that overcame me
So suddenly, so powerfully,
And I was just a girl.
I was always a happy girl
Inside the walls of our little house
Inside the walls of my skin.
Even though I never had a mother,
My father could do anything.
He could build a shelter.
Together we grew corn.
He saw illness in a person.
He was a beautiful man.
We lived with our own people in our own world
On the earth we came from.
My father could sing,
And when he did, his buffalo robe on his back,
He sang a song that would bring the whole world to a stop.
They say when he was young his songs could shake
Mountains or bring water to the surface of earth.
Still, when I saw the shining man
My heart jumped.
I was only twelve and knew no better.
I was like one of the fish that jump from water
Not aware the birds are waiting
To swallow them.
He landed his large boat near our home
To talk with my father about trading away the trees.
I didn't hear the conversation, just watched.
My father said, No. We didn't need money.
Selling the trees would have been the same
As trading away our sisters.
At first I wasn't part of any plan.
All the while they discussed these things,
I was young and my heart already taken by this man.
It was only later I realized
How much my father disliked him.
My father said No
To everything he wanted.
But I looked at him
With different eyes from afar.
I wanted to touch his hair,
Then his face.
When the golden man touched my hand to say Good-bye
Even my body deceived me with its feelings.
I was like one of the falcons on his arm,
My eyes covered over,
Me the child of a man
Who could see the future,
Could read a human and know what they are.
But the heart has a mind of its own.
It will do what logic will not.
He returned. Much time passed and the time finally came
When they talked about what was to come.
My father knew. He could see
The future was bleak for us,
That it was going to be a breaking time
And they would do as they wanted
With our world, more of them every moment arriving
To take what they wished.
Then one day when the shining man saw me,
He, the man, sat thinking
Either that I was beautiful
Or he devised another plan
To marry me for what he wanted.
I will never know the reasons
For his ways, or if I was ever loved,
But devising is what the devious do —
And he was one of those.
He kept coming back to see us,
To talk with my father
And then to walk or sit with me.
Love is an old story,
One of kings whose kingdoms fell
Because of love,
Or a beautiful woman,
A mysterious note, a death,
All for love.
And nearly all the women in this prison
Are here for love or its betrayal.
Many worlds have fallen
Just for love which changed to something else.
When he told my father
What was to come,
Despite my father's resistance,
He knew it would be best to bring our worlds together.
It was inevitable, but that was the way
Of the new world.
And my poor father knew it.
While he and that man
who wrestled with spirits spoke,
I must have had a change of soul.
I went down to the water and I wept.
I was on my knees and I was weeping
Because some part of me felt the future.
My body must have known it was a game
I didn't want, not this way,
But now I was part of it, without choice,
And then there was my heart
With its own wishes.
I was too young to know.
We were of such different worlds.
My father could make a circle on the earth
And stand inside it and sing
The clouds toward us.
He was a sorcerer, they said of him in the other world,
But powerless like all men against greater weapons.
He foresaw what would happen.
He called me to him and said,
I dreamed there was no stopping
The change of the world
Without the whole of us being killed.
It is inevitable.
We will all soon be killed, moved, or contained
For what they want.
I didn't believe him at first.
But he said for me there was a hope
That in this position I could do something for my people
And for a while I did.
He said, You, my daughter, are strong.
For a time you will help us all.
Then you must return.
You are a stolen one, too young to know,
But remember, never forget, you are going to a place
Where our people are already their slaves
And still speak our language.
They will need you to keep life right for them.
And one day you may need them as well.
We are helpless
Against their laws
That are not our laws, not natural laws,
Not the laws from within our country
Which is now no longer ours.
So a time came that I went away.
I want you to know this is not only my story.
It is never the story of just one woman.
It is the telling of many worlds, peoples, and lands.
As for me, I was never a woman.
I was a city. I was a country.
This ordinary woman you see before you.
I have more freedom in prison
Than when I was a country and still just a girl.
My hair. It's not well arranged.
My clothing not fit for a queen.
My hands are dry and not oiled with perfumes
And I am worn down with labor
But at least I am not a country.
I am no longer trade goods.
When he took me home
Some said, How could you take such a wife?
I was a beauty then, and his younger brothers
Would pull the chairs for me to sit,
And give me their arm to cross the land.
When he took me there I walked slow
As a wolf cautious in a house,
From room to room, looking
At the hair brush on the gilded table,
At blue crystal bottles and curtains on windows,
The clothing hanging.
What different worlds.
My father's cabin was chinked with mud
And crushed shells from the sea
While they had tall buildings with stones, with water
Brought inside through golden faucets.
And outside were fountains and roads of stones.
Then I saw the bed where we,
Husband and wife, would sleep,
Surrounded by cloth.
I had never touched anything like those velvets and silks.
I touched one and I asked him,
Where did these come from?
He said men traveled the world in search of worms
That live in small rooms and eat only mulberry leaves
In order to create this silken splendor
And that I should say, "From where do these come?"
Never then did I think
One day I would feel
So much like one of those worms, like a spider
Closed into a small room.
All I knew about spiders and their strands of silk
Was their shining threads
And how they let themselves down through the world.
All I knew was that we girls used the old cobwebs to rub
against our thighs to make fishing line
And catch a trout for dinner.
I never knew anyone to weave a robe such as those my
husband gave to me or how they make soft cloth
To sleep on at night.
I went to them.
Not yet a human being in our world
And helpless against their laws.
I, who thought bringing home a trout
The greatest joy and spiders most beautiful,
Was soon caught in the web of what I did not know.
Soon told to speak only their language,
To dress in their clothing, to step into their church
And try to believe.
But on my wedding day
I wore the white gown of those worms and leaves,
A gown of closed rooms, on my wedding day.
Some said, How beautiful she is in white silk.
Others said, How could he take such a wife?
Yet they were the ones
Who later came to me in the early hours of morning
To heal their wounds,
Asking for secrecy,
Or to give them the leaves to make them fertile
Or, bleeding, to fix their doctor's shoddy work.
At first they needed me,
Woman of plants and knowledge they no longer had,
And then as I said, I was the midwife for their women
I was called upon to sign papers.
In the beginning I was part of their society.
I could speak with others and help them
Make their way in our world, and I signed in favor
Of my own people more often than not.
I went between the worlds
To settle things.
I translated the words
And I interpreted all the wild things.
I was in between.
I was, I am, the continental divide.
I am the collision of continents
Contained in the silence of a body.
I had word from my father
That they cut our trees in spite of the legal papers.
Legally they now belonged to my husband.
We hadn't thought that word in marriage, "legal,"
Or what it meant, his ownership of all of mine.
My father, how he looked I will never forget.
It is so hard to say all this
And all because of a twelve-year old heart.
I would never have dreamed
There would be no more room in our world
For birds and owls, for wolves or the elk with antlers.
They were game animals.
They were like me, the wilderness
That could be done away with.
That's what they call the hunted animals.
I used to think about that word
And all it meant. Game.
It's like the word,
Which means to kill.
And there was falconry,
Where the bird, blind with covered eyes,
Like me with no choice but to trust
My husband's arm,
The hungry bird would be unhooded
To see the world, crying out
To fly for its master.
At the same time I was spokeperson
For the slaves, my own people who labored for them.
Some of their games I learned.
Chess. With the king, queen, pawn.
They are about the life of the rich and powerful.
They are about the theft of the people
As acts of civilization. Chess. The new one: Monopoly.
All tiresome. All take.
My stomach grew in all this time (Continues...)
While he spent many hours pondering
The possibilities of the Queen.
I already had learned these possibilities in case
One day I would have to make my own moves
And take the king.
But they would never need the likes of me
to harm them.
They cleared their own trees for cattle
and now the land began to dry up and burn
In the drought they created.
They poisoned the grasses
And now the water became full of poison
Before it started to disappear.
Even the heat increased.
Then they cut the cedar trees nature sent
To cool their land, to darken it for shade.
They cursed themselves.
They didn't need a woman like me to harm them.
Later they feared some one of us, darker,
Would rule their ruined land where
They mined the tops of mountains.
They had no need to fear me
With my small knowledge and songs.
But oh my heart. I was killed by what they'd done
To this world I love,
The land, and all the small animals.
Oh, You small people
Of this large world.
* * *
I was only a part of their game, an animal, a pawn.
When I learned what their game was,
I was a young leader's wife, queen of dark hearts,
The aftershock of their history.
I had to remain silent
Though I grieved they cut the trees on the mountains.
I cried when the beautiful land became a world for cattle
And floating dead trees. Cattle. Chattel.
That's what they had become.
And all the living animals became units or pounds.
It was a world no longer alive.
Now men pay money to kill the fenced buffalo
as if there is pleasure in it.
They call it hunting.
History is a short thing.
My grandmother was one of those who found the women
With babies wrapped against them.
They called those times The Indian Wars.
We call them The American Wars.
At the end I said, I know what your people have done.
Now I sit imprisoned on the very land
That once belonged to my grandfather,
The world a bruise on my heart.
Black Hawk once said,
If a prophet had told us this was to happen,
None of us would ever have believed it.
Clare, I forgot the time.
I hear the keys
And you probably only want to know if I killed my own
Children, then I tell you the long story of the games,
Of how I moved from queen to pawn.
Your ears become sensitive in here.
You probably don't even hear the keys
Walking toward us.
Here, the sound of keys is everything.
Keys have meaning.
They open and close a day or night, a hope, a life.
Excerpted from Indios by Linda Hogan. Copyright © 2012 Linda Hogan. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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