1. I say nothing I am thinking.
For twelve years I have wanted
to do exactly this, but suddenly
pronouncing my own name calls up
the question of who it belongs to
in the same breath Like
Solomon I was born a singer
but in the wrong key and my
chords will not carry me, will not
summon the wolves to me only
packs of hungry dogs
stupid with domestication
but nearly feral And like
a hungry ghost I have learned
not to speak against those
who will give me food
2. A sketch of myself.
He says I must have been born
in the wrong culture, he says. I got a taste of
the crackling heat here, heat to drive you crazy,
and suddenly I open my wide arms for
New Orleans, find myself needing the wind from
the Great Plains. Like a buffalo I have the spirit
of the Sun and I carry it with me. I am a plant
of burnt umber,
brown, ready and waiting like
sage bushes, like the hill you go to that is best
for collecting juniper sprigs and telling stories. I
fill myself like a teakettle, dress myself in the
handmade poncho from Guatemala that my
mother hates but
that I can read with my fingers,
a kind of multicolored Braille, gathered into
sunset, stories that say I don’t really know what
I want to do with my life. I told my friend so,
one night when we’d had too much to drink
of a beer named for a line of mountains like
Satan’s spine and I said I can’t remember
what it’s all for,
can’t find my way back and said
there’s a side of me living for future generations
and one side living for the ancestors that fill my soul.
3. I speak as a shaman because the spirits let me.
Beer’s heavy on th’ brain,
I can’t remember when
I stopped wantin’ whateveritwas
in th’ firsplace.
An’…I’m old, aluvasudden.
It’s like I’ve hit that crisis
halfway to death.
All I wanna do is tell stories.
But it’s like there’s someone tellin’ me
I can’t do it that way.
4. I say nothing I am thinking.
It’s just that sometimes I think
it’s psychosomatic, something
I do to myself like yawning or a
headache or the feeling of spider legs
against my skin after I’ve walked
through its web And I am Loki
or Iktomi or Anansi, always
bringing it upon myself Like Saynday
I want to be able to dictate
that my stories must only be told
in winter after dark But I am always
fleeing before the forest fires, watching
wolves take my nice fat goose feast
away at dusk And I can feel my age
starting to show like Thomas Eliot did
once Can feel the pressure
of childrearing over my head
like a cold front in the
summer mountains Can feel it like
little peaches in my hands,
fuzzy little peaches
5. I speak as a medicine man because the sun gives me my words.
They will all come to me at some point,
I think. I’ve always had an aura for gathering little chicks
about me, and though I talk some days like coyote I’m
really Momma Bear.
I picture my future in many colors. One
in bright blue, pastel like the sky, and in it I keep my days
crisply pressed like Oxford shirts, a drawerful of color-
coordinated cotton. I shudder at the thought of a wood-
bounded existence, and though I love the smell of pine I
long to see its
glittering blossoms in the winter.
Another future is gold and red, the color of earth and
heaven as I sit among the saguaros, learning to sing
again. Jagged and alone, I am, silver and flickering
arrow, carrying spirit messages between sky and ground.
But the last future has the colors of the earth, browns
and reds and greens, in which I choose neither path
and both paths and stride beaded and gasping across the Plains.
6. Things I always seem to say.
I analyze myself like Faulkner.
I am a rage and a thunderclap
and like his novels the most
terrifying parts of myself
are the chapters I least understand.
But still there is something
horrifying about the chapters
that are written in crisp English.
At twenty-five I will marry.
At thirty I will give birth
to my first child, and at thirty-
three I will give birth to my second.
I will have tenure like a magic charm
by the age of forty.
I will live forever in North Carolina,
Travel in a foreign country for
two weeks every summer,
Keep my camera in a fanny pack,
Fill my house with the photographs
of my trips, because I lack the will
to describe them otherwise.
7. At last, myself, as a performance.
How my morning dreams always look like giants up
on the mountains and how I’ve felt the trial starting
as they said I would and the call like a white wolf’s howl
rising cold and reverberating against the snow
to cast the pine dust into my lungs and how I’ve
never told you of all the faces behind my eyes
in the evenings and the ones that rise to greet me
in the mornings just like so many lovers.
8. I say at last what I am thinking, with trepidation.
Since I moved here, I’ve come to feel this Southern-ness,
not like crossed stripes that can be boasted by a flag
but like a psalm. Like that feeling as you drive the final
thirty miles up the mountain sides and your ears pop
as you crest the last rise to see the thunderstorm that’s
been there all afternoon, waiting for you, waiting to
fill your lungs with heat, and scour them of their dust and
collected pollen clouds.
God is here. He is here and he draws
me and my sense of the South westward, and I can see
it fan out like a map in my head. I think of all the money
it would take to get me to Phoenix, get me to the
Grand Canyon again, and its beautiful red dust that
runs in my blood and calls to me across the distance,
get me there alone.
And out of the horizon in my mind
comes the memory of how I began this poem thinking of
my fear of childbirth, of the nightmare I had when I was
sixteen about telling some future-husband I wanted a divorce.
And how I wish I had been re-born instead as the Thunderbird,
spending my life carrying updrafts of hot air against the
ocean breezes, a spirit of all colors, calling out with booming
I watch from the earth, with electricity
trembling in my fingertips, and a heartbeat that rocks my
whole body, rising to meet the lightning on my wings of rain.