Wednesday, June 15, 2016

If I Say the Words

I read the reports, the interviews with parents and children and lovers left behind.  I read the texts scrabbled out from hiding places, pleas for rescue, call 911.  My skin pricks and shivers as if someone is touching me, but I am alone.  I tear up at random times, can’t bear to go out in public, see the world going on as if nothing happened, as if - because it didn’t happen here – it is still safe in a bubble of denial.  My wife and I pause as we pass each other going from one room to the other, lean our bodies together.  We say we are sad.  Shorthand for burned to the ground.  But I haven’t cried.  When I try to write, I can’t.  I am full of the rough material that make up words – emotion, nightmare, fear, grief – but the words themselves refuse to be born:  If I say the words, say the names, I admit that it really happened.  They - Mercedez, Franky, Akyra, Eddie, Angel, all of them in their glorious brown queer radiant bodies - really died, and they died in terror and agony, chased like animals by a man wielding an assault rifle with the nickname “Black Mamba,” a weapon never meant to hunt anything but human beings, which means it is a hate machine, created to shoot hatred from one person into the soft body of another.  If I say the words, if I try to corral the facts and tame them with language, I’ve already muted their screams, their whispered prayers, their frantic texts to a beloved mami or daddy who cannot save their child, who feel each cell in their body implode at the injustice.  If I say the words that attempt to respond to an act for which there is no sane response, what would those words be?  I think of the mother who was there with her son; think, how lucky she was.   She was able to do what so many parents not there wish they had been able to do: step in front of her child, face the shooter with her mother’s eyes, and shield her heart of hearts with the same body that gave birth to that boy.  That’s it.  That’s what I see, over and over again, that is what I cannot speak, what terrifies me with a power beyond steel transformed into anger: how blessed she was, and is, how she was there, dancing, because she already knew that choosing love would save her son’s life; knew that love, with its dance of blood and shattered bones, love with its twin red shoes named pain and sacrifice, love is the only commandment that matters.  Love: by any means necessary.  

Deborah A. Miranda 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

No Words

No Words

but a luna moth
rests on a beetle-chewed stump
just off the path
like a precisely
placed flag,
a ripple of green,

You can’t exist.
There's no splendor
left in the world.
Oh but you do,
oh beauty
you do, 

stretched out soft-leafy sails,
luminous pearls perched 
on each wing.
Your feathery antennae
sift the wind,
twin tails ribboning,

You, with no mouth,
you cannot be bothered to eat
or drink, waste no time
on song or taste.

You must be part angel,

made to be beauty, create beauty
be beauty, create beauty
be beauty, create beauty
be beauty, create beauty

or else made for something
even more mysterious
than I
can imagine -
me, with my human sin:

I have
a mouth, luna,

but I have
no words.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

After a Drought

Today, I am taking up a difficult project after a long time away.

I feel a little prayer pushing up from my dry heart, like the tentative seep of an old spring coming back to life.

Sitting in this office built on the land between Big House and Little House Mountains in the place now called Virginia, I’m grateful to the Ancestors of the Indigenous peoples who sprang from this earth.  Thank you for letting me do my work here in the shade of these oaks, hickories, pines, tulip poplars, black walnuts; thank you for the moist red clay beneath this thick blanket of leaves.  Thank you for this space to take into my hands these books, articles, photographs, shards of a mosaic, aching to become newly shaped.  Thank you for allowing me to make a space for my Ancestors here in this small cabin.

Cholom, Yunisyunis, Estefana, Teodosia, Josefa, Isabel, I am diving back into a dark, dark pool, but it is a place that needs exploration and sensing and shaping into thought.  Far from our homeland, I carry that place in my teeth and bones, blood and memory, in your names and actions.

I’m asking for strength, Ancestors, for companionship on this dive, for your accumulated wisdom, questions and ideas to guide me.  

What do you need me to know?  What do you need me to discover, uncover, recover?  What can I do to help you rest more peacefully, what can I voice for you?  Lead me to those places and help me dig, brush away, put together, make into a story those pieces which honor your struggles and pain.  Guide me through those places and I will take on as much as I can, filter it into this language of necessity the best that I can. 

I have put down this work for a long time now, out of fear, out of exhaustion, but today I return.  Uncertain, unsure of my sense of direction.  I have a job to finish, though.  No way around it.  I’m taking some deep breaths.  I’m opening my mind to the task. We tell women laboring in childbirth, “Push towards the pain” even though that is the exact opposite of what we have learnt about pain.  

I am pushing towards the pain, Ancestors, because that is the only way through it.  You are my promise that there is light on the other side.  Nimasianexelpasaleki.  Here we go!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Re-naming Point Lobos - NOT Another Colonizer's Name

Holes made by Indigenous women pounding acorns, at Ichxenta Point, Los Lobos State Park

June 1, 2016

To Whom It May Concern: [emailed to  (mark "Attn: John Laird),

I am writing to suggest that the original Indigenous name of “Ixchenta” become the new name for the area currently called Point Lobos, rather than “A.M. Allen Ranch.”

While it is true that Alexander M. Allan purchased 640 acres of a former mining company’s property at Point Lobos with an eye to preserving the land’s scenery and unique habitat, I do not think that this is enough reason to change the name of the area to “A.M. Allan Ranch.”  Allan was a man concerned with retaining the true nature of the area, and I believe he would have been more than pleased to have the Indian word for that area preserved in the same way that he worked to preserve the land itself.

I am a Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, and enrolled member of the Esselen Nation.  I am currently working on a book of essays (under contract with U of Nebraska Press) in which I assert that Isabel Meadows, an Indian woman whose mother was born in the Carmel Mission, is far more than just “J.P. Harrington’s Indian informant.”  In fact, Isabel Meadows was tribal historian, intellectual critic of missionization and colonization, and cultural preservationist (languages, songs, religion, place names, traditional foods and gathering techniques, family stories from her time back to her grandmother’s as well as tribal creation myths and teaching materials).  She purposely placed her wealth of materials in Smithsonian J.P. Harrington’s hands to make sure that her knowledge, accumulated over a long lifespan and consisting of many lifetimes’ worth of information, would be available to her people long after she was gone. 

I tell you all this because it is Isabel who tells us that the land at Point Lobos is, very specifically, a Native village called "Ichxenta Iwano" (Ichxenta village).  At least one, and probably more, of my Ancestors were documented by the Spanish priests as coming from Ichxenta.  My ancestral roots go back to Ichxenta and forward to Los Angeles, where I was born, and continue on as I teach in the State of Virginia.  What this should tell you is that the story of Ichxenta isn’t over yet; it isn’t past.  It is an ongoing story that flows from time immemorial right into this very moment. 

California has a rich history of Indigenous culture and lifeways, and most of that is written on the land itself.  Today’s California Indian people are still creating art, song, and literature.  You have the opportunity to acknowledge and encourage this richness by giving space to an Indigenous place name and celebrating that originality.  The Eselen Institute knew this when they used one of our names for their  space, and it has worked well for them.  Alfred Kroeber made a special study of how California Indigenous place names had crossed over into Anglo usage, and his list is a beautiful litany of one way that Indigenous presence continues on California land:  Ojai, Simi, Cucamonga, Hetch Hetchy, Hueneme, Klamath, Lompoc, Malibu, Pacoima, Pala, Petaluma, Pala, Saticoy, Tamalpais, Tomales, Topanga, to name just a few of the more familiar (see Kroeber’s materials at 

People go to Point Lobos because of its unique, spectacular, unparalleled environment, and a place like that deserves a name that can speak to such beauty and reverence.  Please, do not use the name of yet another colonizer, or commemorate the theft of yet another piece of Indigenous homeland.  Naming is a powerful act.  Ichxenta is a beautiful name, and would help begin to heal many wounds in both land and Anglo/Native relationships.


Dr. Deborah A. Miranda

Washington and Lee University
John Lucian Smith, Jr. Endowed Chair
204 W. Washington St.
Lexington VA 24450

Responses from officials will be posted below as they come in.