Monday, October 9, 2017


Before the crack of dawn tomorrow, I'll take off on a mini-tour, doing readings, talks and even a writing workshop, on Muwekma Ohlone, Wiyot, Chumash and Haudenosaunee land, circling back to Monacan land. Hope to see some familiar faces, but also looking forward to new ones. Quick list:

Thursday, October 12, U San Francisco. 5:30-7:00 p.m.. Legacies of Incarceration & Resistance: Colonization, Immigration, and California History. University Center 4th floor lounge. Commemorate Indigenous People's Day by joining Deborah Miranda and Barbara Voss in conversation regarding the historical role of the military and presidios in the colonization of California and the impact of the mission system on the lives of indigenous women. Open to the public.

Saturday, October 14, Audubon Center at Debs Park, Los Angeles. Indigenous Women Rising Honoring Event. Elder Barbara Drake (Tongva), Elder Kat High (Hupa), Deborah Miranda (Ohlone~Costanoan Esselen Nation), Lydia Ponce (Mayo/Quechua), Kumu Mikilani Young (Hawaiian) and Unci, Elder Rachelle Figueroa (Arapaho/Tarascan)[in memorial]. MC is Carry Kim, with Hummingbird Drum, followed by a poetry reading from Deborah Miranda. Potluck meal.More info.

October 18-19: Classroom visit & reading/talk at Humbolt State U in Eureka, CA. Environmental Studies welcomes author Deborah Miranda, author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, to HSU on Oct. 18th (class visits) and will give a talk on the 19th titled “My Body is the Archive: Personal and Tribal California Indian Identities,” 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Native American Forum (BSS 162). More info.

October 21-22: San Jose Poetry Festival. History Park San José, 1650 Senter Road. San José, CA 95112. Reading: 2-2:50, 10/21. Workshop: 2-5:00 p.m., Firehouse. Workshop title: “Composting Your Demons: Poetry in the midst of the Zombie Apocalypse.” More info.

October 24-25: Cornell University Creative Writing Program. Outside the Border(s): Art and the Political Imagination brings together Chicano poet Eduardo C. Corral and Native American poet and writer Deborah A. Miranda, as well as graduate and undergraduate students in order to trouble the boundaries between art and activism in contemporary America. Place and time to be announced.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


I met Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Ḵeixwnéi, for the first time back in the late 90s, when we both read on a panel of West Coast poets for MLA in San Francisco. I was still a grad student, and MLA was still one of the few conferences I could go to where Indian scholars could be found, so it was a little like heaven for me. Reading with other Indians, going out to dinner with them afterwards, was a rapture. The tension-filled, status-oriented onslaught of almost 20,000 academics in one place – not so much. I gravitated to Nora; her warm, welcoming persona was like a calm shelter.

One afternoon, neither one of us had any particular place we had to be; Nora told me she'd been saving her "fish money" and wanted to go look for a beautiful dress for herself - to wear to readings and important ceremonies. Would I like to go dress-hunting with her?

Nora meant business when it came to shopping: she headed straight to Saks. I'd never set foot in Saks, much less actually seen the store. I'd heard of it, but it seemed more like Brigadoon than a real place. Walking into the massive ornate building was kind of like finding out an imaginary land actually exists. I trailed after Nora in a state of shock as she searched through racks of dresses that cost hundreds of dollars, if not thousands. It was San Francisco; we were Indians, not dressed especially well, or carrying any of the markers of social status – no diamonds, no gold, no name brand purses or coats. We were treated badly by the staff, which Nora took as a matter of course; she didn't let it stop her, although after one particularly rude encounter, she left the floor saying, "She's not getting a commission off of ME!"

Nora had a particular dream dress in mind: it needed to be floor-length, have at least ¾ length sleeves, a not-too-deep neckline, and be in keeping with the respectful nature of events she planned to attend. Eventually Nora settled on a gorgeous, flowing black gown that had a price tag of $800. Trying to keep my jaw off the floor, I agreed that it was pretty spectacular. "But it has this crease in the back..." Nora worried. "I hope I can get it out. I know some tricks." She made sure the saleswoman saw the crease, and told her she'd bring the dress back if she couldn't steam it out. Then she took out her "Indian purse" (a ziplock baggie) and peeled off $100 bills, laying them on the counter like she was dealing a poker hand.

Back at the hotel, Nora used all her wisdom, but the crease remained ("someone bought this dress, wore it all night, and then returned it!" she sighed), and we had to return it the next day. Nora was not paying good money for someone else’s used dress. This caused some difficulty for the clerk, who remembered us well, but for whom issuing a refund of $800 in cash was not a usual occurrence.  Apparently, Saks didn’t keep that kind of cash on hand in the till.  Nora stood quietly at the cash register, a little like a barnacle on a rock.  “I paid cash,” she said, “And I live in Alaska – I can’t use a store credit up there. Why don’t you go ask your manager what you can do about this.”  The clerk hustled off, and although it took some time, Nora did indeed get her cash refund.  She tucked it back into her Ziploc bag firmly.

As we left the store, Nora reached out and fingered a few other dresses, but she’d already seen them all; nothing was quite right.  "Oh well," she smiled, "there's plenty more fish in the sea. I did want to spend my fish money while I was down here, though."

Later, Nora was passing through Seattle and came to visit the Native Lit class I was teaching at the UW as a grad student. We reminisced about the "black dress incident" and how a couple of Indian women ransacked Saks (I asked if she'd ever found "the dress," and she said she had - but I don't remember where). She was a mischievous, loving, brilliant soul. She taught me how to walk through a store like Saks and act like I owned it, instead of the other way around.

Dignity. It's a lesson I haven't forgotten. Micha eni hikpalala, Nora. I'll see you.

                           Read Nora's obituary here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Long Distance

I saw the first firefly
of the season tonight;
wanted to tell you.

I wrote about fear tonight;
wanted to read my words to you. 
The sky is an oceanic

shade of indigo, Jupiter
pierces the canopy
like a jewel; I wanted

to show it to you. Human
comes from humus;
Adam means earth.

Six elements make up
almost 99 percent
of the human body’s

mass: oxygen, carbon,
hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium
and phosphorus. All

of these elements –
dear to creation
 – make up the earth’s

body as well.  This means
we are dirt, my friend.
This means if I put my palm

flat against this soil,
you will feel my touch
thousands of miles away.

Thin webs of love stretch
across a continent: no
such thing as absence.

Wherever you are, let
your fingers stroke red clay,
black mud, gray dust.

Meet me there.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Language of Truth

In 1769, the arrival of two Spanish ships in Alta California coincided with a total eclipse of the sun, in conjunction with the shock of a powerful earthquake. "So it seemed," wrote Junipero Serra in his diary, "that the insensible things of earth and heaven had in this way manifested themselves in the new conquests as heralds and advents to the benighted gentiles, to incline their hearts to receive the truths of the gospel, proclaimed by the ministers of the living God."

The giant snakes stirred inside earth, struck
a few hours after dawn.  Thrown down
on our faces, we cried out – rocks thrust
upward, a fearsome roar rattled our ears –
how our Mother writhes! Then Sun, source
of life, disappeared mid-day, covered
by Moon’s broad face; star-beings shown
like abalone shell in sudden night.
Our star-mapmaker offered fervent prayer
to each sovereign direction, brought light
creeping back, though it felt a lifetime
till we breathed balance again.

We were wary, therefore, when a ship –
bigger than a whale – came over the horizon,
and men, more corpses than living bodies,
crawled from floating grave to shore.  Pale
skins, hairy faces, blue-eyed, green-eyed,
brown-eyed, they died and died. The sands
where their white tents stood stank of death.
Did they not know how to catch fish?
Did they not know to seek out berries,
heavy on the bush?  Did they offend
their gods, or travel beyond the reach
of their gods?

Another ship arrived, pale but abler men
who buried and buried; then men on foot,
strange gray deer bearing burdens of food
and hard heavy tools smooth as stone, sharp
as our best obsidian. When the beasts lay down,
too exhausted to carry any more, the pale men
beat them. It did not make the animals rise. 
In the morning, some men raised up barren
prayer trees; others in long skirts chanted
ugly foreign words, hands waving bowls
of smoke, meaningless gestures in the air. 

Was it the end of the world?  Now,
I wonder we did not hear these warnings
more clearly. Some of us broke traditions
of welcome; the law of sharing food, shelter,
story. Where once we would have brought
baskets of meat and sweet dried cherries,
now we drove off the pale men, their strange
stupid animals not-deer, not-elk.  Vacas.
We drove them all to the north. Some of us
said that was not far enough. Now,
I do not think any distance could spare us
the evil that followed. Earth spoke to us!
Sun and moon warned us!  We did not heed.
Now, we die of disease in their missions,
our blistered bodies weeping pus; women
and children mere vessels of rape and rage.
Perhaps the pale men killed their all wives;
none came with them.  Perhaps their women
revolted, exiled the pale men here,
and somewhere, on an island across the sea,
those wise women live peaceful, free.

We cannot see the sun of our next
generation. We cannot feel the earth
of our Ancestors beneath our bloody bodies.
We did not listen well enough. At night,
or behind trees in daytime, in fields
of strange crops, beneath blows from leather
cat o’ nine tails, we pray: let enough of us
live to tell this story. We will memorize it
in our hearts, trembling in awe. Let us live;
we will teach it to our children forever.
If we live, we will heed our Mother's
thunderous voice: Her dark language never lies.

- Deborah A. Miranda

Monday, August 14, 2017

After Charlottesville


After Charlottesville

- with thanks to Rosalind Bell

Icebergs calve like this:
a glacier expands, expands,
crevasse deepens, geometry
meets water pressure –
silent, unseen, ignored. 
Thickness, impurity, stress,
mix and protest,
fist against its own body.
A crack like a sonic boom –
time hovers,
holds its breath – invisible knife
cuts the cord.  Ice slams into water,
wave rises like a wall.
In all ways this is a birth,
a creature entering the fiery world
from an indigo blue womb,
separation and creation
in one swift gasp.
Remember: beginnings
emerge out of endings.
We are the grownups now.
This is our inheritance.

Deborah A. Miranda

I've been full of pain, and a sense of wordlessness at the events in Charlottesville, an hour from our home in Lexington, Virginia.  Once again, it seemed as if words had been blown away by violence; as if nothing could be said but words of mourning and grief.

Two things happened to help jolt me out of that state: first, I thought of what my heart felt like - like it was breaking into huge pieces, calving like a glacier.  The word "calving" seemed both destructive, and creative. I had to pause and examine that image.  And then, my friend Rosalind Bell, herself a beautiful writer, said to me in an email: "We are the grownups now. This is our inheritance."  And I thought: it's horrific violence that she is referring to.  But it's also a kind of birth.  An awakening for many.  A surge of life and protest against violence and passivity."

I hope that comes through.  I will be honest: this poem surprised me.  I did not expect anything remotely hopeful to come out of my heart.  I'm reminded that birth, while amazing and holy, is also traumatic and violent for the being involved. There is no way to go from the peaceful floating in tranquility, your every need met, to the outside world where temperature, light, touch, and sound are no longer centered around your comfort.  There is no way to avoid the pain of life.  But it's life.  It's life.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wise Self Says

Wise Self Says

you are neither god
nor goddess,
but a scrap
of flesh and blood
wrapped around
the embryo of a soul.
Some roads are maps;
some maps are mazes.
In each case,
is a kind of compass.

There will be angels.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Step Into the Blur

Step Into the Blur

Stand firm
in your body: it will not melt
if darkness falls.

your soul, swaddle it, strap it
to your chest.

Your heart
learns faith like a song,
each step a chorus.

Realize: you stand
at the edge of all maps.
Fear is your scout.

You carry
your own light like a flint.
Strike that stone

within you;
sparks fly out, seek tinder,
catch fire.

In the blur
you do not fear dragons.
Out on the edge,

you are
the dragon.
Test your wings.

Deborah A. Miranda

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Looking For a River

We pass the long blue and white
tent, chairs set in sedate rows,
men and women silent shadows

in the heat; preparing for a revival,
they pay us no mind as our car
tires whine past on soft asphalt.

A bay horse grazes in a field; black
Angus stand belly-deep in a farm pond,
tails switching flies, heads down like

somnolent statues cut out of starless
skies.  On and on we drive, a little lost,
following the thread of a shaky map.

We’re looking for a river.  We’re looking
for a fresh green current, swirls of mica,
trout circling the kettle like holy ghosts.

We’re looking for the long white banner
of a waterfall, the hidden path behind  
a plume of mist and ragged lace.

When we get there, we’ll slide across
slick dark gray rocks, push aside moss
cascading out of deep cracks like prophets.

We’ll crawl into that cool dark space
behind the veil, listen to the river preach:
granite gospel from the mouth of a mountain.

Deborah A. Miranda

Thursday, June 8, 2017


            for the house, and the spirits, at 203 S. Randolph St.

I’m thinking of you tonight, Diego Evans.
Twilight eases over my shoulders like
an indigo cloak; I walk past the two-over-
two brick house you built with your wife,
Jane, in the late 1840s – complete with basement

kitchen.  Did the two of you sit on that porch
of a June evening, watch fireflies
play hide and seek over the graves
of the adjacent cemetery? It wasn’t famous
then – Stonewall Jackson’s headstone

was still granite inside a mountain, uncut;
Jackson himself touring New York,
visiting Niagara Falls, reporting for court
martial duty at Fort Ontario. You, Diego –
Black and free, successful merchant,

studying law: Lexington wasn’t big enough
for you, your children, your dreams.
Did you see it coming, Jane – Civil War?
Freedom’s fickle, no guarantees.
Colonization was the answer: to segregation,

discrimination, life confined on the Black
side of a small Southern town. You sold
your beautiful house on South Randolph
Street. Emigrated. You needed a whole country,
one with a name you could ring like a bell. 

You would settle for nothing less.

List of Emigrants by the Liberia Packet, Capt. Howe, from Norfolk, Va.,  January 26, 1850, for Monrovia and Bassa, Liberia:

No. 107 Diego Evans.  39.  Trader.  Reads.  Free.
No.108 Jane, his wife. 30.  Reads.  Free.
No. 109 James H. F.  8.  Reads. Free.
No. 110 Richard P.  7.  Reads. Free.
No. 111 Lavinia Ann. 5.  Free.
No. 112 John. 4.  Free.

Some interesting services were held at Lexington, Va.,
on the occasion of the departure of the emigrants

from that county, mentioned in another column,
which we have not been able heretofore to notice. 

Our correspondent says, “We had a farewell meeting
on their account on Wednesday the 19th in the Presbyterian

Church, which called a large audience.  Col. Smith
of the Military Institute, and Rev. Dr. Junkin, President

of Washington College, addressed the congregation
in effective speeches on colonization, and Maj. Preston

addressed the emigrants in very appropriate terms. 
They were seated together on the right of the pulpit.

The Pastor of the Church, the Rev. W.S. White,
also addressed the meeting, and led in prayer.

The following original hymns, composed
for the occasion were sung; the first by the people

led by the choir, and the last by the emigrants themselves. 
The whole services were impressive, and, I believe,

of good effect for the cause.  signed, Miss Margaret Junkin.

…Not poor and empty-handed,
            as first to us they came,
With superstition branded,
            And want and woe and shame, --
Are we the race returning
            Back to their native sod,
But with our laws – our learning –
            Our freedom – and our God!

Mary J. Henry, daughter of John V. Henry, wrote
to friends in Lexington, “We rented a house on Broad

Street and Diego rented a house on the water side,
which all the old settlers told him not, but

he thought he could live there – being a good place
to sell his goods.  But all his family took the fever.

We took the children home and they all got better,
but Diego and his wife departed this life.”

Ours may be a lot of trials,
            Bravely we will meet them all,
For the sake of our dear children,
            We will bear what may befall.

Dear Virginia! Dear Virginia!
Loved, Oh loved, whe’er we roam,
Dear Virginia, loved Virginia!
Farewell – farewell, dear old home.

Liberia was like a fever, Diego.
Colonization is contagious –
spread by fear of free Black
bodies walking unchained
through a white world,

multiplied by The Fugitive
Slave Act’s long arm shadowing
behind those bought or born free.
Frederick Douglass railed
against this “return” to Mother Africa,

fearing mass deportations –
Jane, did you watch your son
and daughters sleep at night
in this house, await that loud
knock at the door? I wonder,

Diego, what was the difference
between Liberia,
and a reservation? “Let us buy you
a country,” they said, “ –sorry, sorry
for all that slavery mess  –”

what they really meant: slavery
for you is safety for us;
your freedom is our worst
nightmare. They set this fever
on you, squeezed so hard

you had no place else to go.
Colonization is contagious.
Liberia was like
a fever. Catch it,
or be caught.

Deborah A. Miranda

Note:  I only know this house because, for a brief time, my therapist had an office here. I'm grateful that this house was a site of some serious healing in my life. I walk past it frequently - it's only about 2 blocks from where I live. It has been a family home, a rental house, apartments, Baptist Student Center, Food Pantry. The stories it carries haunt me. dm