Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In the Food Lion Parking Lot

Your dog is smiling at me! Look,
she’s giving me the biggest grin.
Is it okay if I pet her? Hey, you’ve
got another one back there, too –
aren’t they just the sweetest
things. Oh, I don’t care about
that – yes, you’ve got ice cream
on your chin, baby – the vet,
huh? She likes that, right behind
the ears, don’t she. And you,
mister, you’re just a love pig.
Oh, I miss my dog! I had the gentlest
pit bull. Sam. He was just
the color of sand. We lived
on the beach then, a dear
little place in Florida. I think
I loved that dog more than
I loved my boyfriend. Ex-
boyfriend. One time I found
that dog curled up, sleeping
with my son on the floor …
my son was all cuddled up
with Sam, had his arm
wrapped around that dog.
Oh I miss my dog! One day
he just disappeared. Pretty
sure my boyfriend sold him;
he was jealous. Men. Pit bulls
are usually good dogs, you know;
it’s people who’re bad. People
just ruin ‘em. I have PTSD,
so I could get a companion dog,
if I wanted one. But I live over
in the Vista Apartments, rules
say small dogs only. I like big dogs,
don’t you, like these cutie pies?
And sometimes my pain is so bad,
I couldn’t take a dog outside
when it needed to go, so … I don’t
have a license anymore, I can’t even
get over to the shelter and help out
with baths and walking like I used to.
My friend picks me up and we go do
our shopping together, like today.
Well, thanks for letting me love
on your dogs. You’re blessed
to have ‘em. Look at that smile!

I’ve seen this woman so many times
before, in so many small towns,
wearing so many skin colors;
some with nicotine-stained teeth,
some with full sets of white dentures,
some, like today, with just a few stragglers
left behind, unsteady survivors of a terrible disaster.
I’ve seen these women in grocery store aprons,
in sweats, scrubs, old t-shirts and flannel jackets,
jeans and hoodies. They’re working two
or three jobs, or struggling to get by
on disability. They’re walking home
from the Dollar Store, arms heavy
with yellow plastic bags full of cans
and day-old bread. Their mouths set
in straight lines, heads down, hair streaked
with silver, or dry from a lifetime
of home-perms; hands scarred, rough,
calloused, mapped like back roads
most folks never see. And their eyes? Oh,
their eyes. Squinting, side-eye,
blank, always looking somewhere
else. Blue, brown, green, hazel,
black, doesn’t matter: an animal looking
for shelter. Eyes that only ignite
like jewels, open wide with pleasure,
when they see dogs smiling at them
across a parking lot in late spring,
or early fall, or in the heat of July.
I think it’s that – unlike boyfriends
or sons who grow up or bosses who yell
or DSHS case managers or any number
of life’s unfathomable bullies – dogs,
dogs offer love for love’s sake,
accept touch for the sake of touch;
dogs have never hurt them.

           - Deborah A. Miranda

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Searching for Sanctuary

Old Coyote said
this is what’s on my mind:
set the world on fire,
start a bloody feud.
It wouldn’t be illegal.

After the buffalo there is no history,
he said.
I’ve lost all the fucks I have to give.
Taking down a statue does not erase the past.
Just listen:
that alone is reason to get up and try again tomorrow.

Your responsibility as a storyteller?
This is what it looks like:
marks of silence and displacement crossing generations,
purple sages for bees and magenta Buddleia to attract butterflies,
birds spilling across the clouds.

I stole that, he said,
from the inside out –
just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

Found an outdoor altar, Old Coyote said.
A good thing.
I held it in my hands.
So fucking beautiful,
I had to avert my eyes.

Humans invent the divine,
he said: Can’t take it out of them
when it is that deep.
If you thought I was fierce,
they are still in the fight;
a threshold people,
so damn mad.

No excuses:
there is no more history
until we meet again.
Catch me;
sing a song to a child you love.
Perhaps tomorrow will be a good day.
I’ll be there.
What’s on your mind?

I'm still writing a poem a day - since April 1st.  Not so long in the grand scheme of things. But sometimes at the end of the day, I run out of steam, and haven't written anything. Today was one of those days.

So I trolled my Facebook page and started typing up lines that struck me as interesting; I chose randomly, going back several days, until I had about 40 lines.  I triple-spaced the typed lines, printed, cut them into strips, and laid them all out on a table.  From there, it was a matter of moving the lines around for about 30 minutes.  Margo put together a couple of lines for me (it was hard to keep her away!). In the end, I massaged a few places where a line needed some help to actually fit, but the final result is mostly as I took the lines from FB.  

Maybe you'll recognize your line here!  If so, thank you. I needed a little inspiration. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

When My Body is the Archive

When my body is the archive, researchers leave their tracks all over my language, my religion, my inheritance.

When my body is the archive, my stories belong to someone else.

When my body is the archive, gatekeepers don’t like to share their passwords.

When my body is the archive, someone else always gets the by-line.

When my body is the archive, my grandmothers are data proving our inevitable demise.

When my body is the archive, I am an uncomfortable anomaly, a ghost who has gone from exotic creature to pain in the ass.

When my body is the archive, you still insist your way is the right way to read me.

When my body is the archive, nothing is sacred.

When my body is the archive, secret doors respond only to my fingerprints.

When my body is the archive, I hear the sound of a million untold stories clamoring for release.

When my body is the archive, I carry my research with me everywhere I go.

When my body is the archive, the archives are no longer paper, ink, pixels, specimens, statistics, tenure-fodder, or conference abstracts.

When my body is the archive, the archive sits down beside you on the plane to that Indigenous Symposium in Frankfurt.

When my body is the archive, the archive raises its hand to ask about historical trauma, interrupts your presentation on pre-contact gender roles, rips the headdress off your child at Halloween.

When my body is the archive, the archive goes home with me at night, takes up ¾ of the bed, forgets to take its Metformin, asks if I want the rest of that chocolate donut.

When my body is the archive, the archives become flesh and blood with a salty genealogy, a hunger for truth, a weariness of the bones –

and you understand at last:

the archive was never inanimate

the archive was never dead

the archive
was never

Deborah A. Miranda

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Filling Up

Took the long way home from Floyd yesterday after a visit to Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary ... stayed on the Blue Ridge Parkway the whole way. Soaked myself in solitude, green, wildflowers, and the company of Bonnie Raitt and Santana ("Road Tested" still one of my all-time favorite live albums).

There is nothing in the world like that Parkway in early spring: the unexpected swaths of wild violets massing in purple, huge carpets of trilliums right next to the road, and dogwood gone brilliantly mad; the bald eagle flashing above me, the flocks of wild canaries in the trees, the orange bursts of wild azalea, and that first glimpse of mountain laurel in bloom!

At a couple of places the views of the rolling Blue Ridge mountains were so devastatingly gorgeous that I couldn't believe I was expected to drive under their influence. It was like being confronted by a past love in the middle of your regular routine and not being able to throw yourself at her feet. Somehow, I kept driving, and not off the road, either.

Hours of this. I arrived home late, happy, saturated in beauty. I had to apologize to my wife for missing the delicious dinner she had cooked. Eventually, I was forgiven (the giant macaroon drizzled with dark chocolate from the Floyd Country Store might have helped). But oh, it was worth any inconvenience to make that drive, windows down, air rushing in. Worth the tangled hair and the time. In fact, I think it might have added years to my life.

“ . . . the truth is that you're empty...fill yourself back up with observations, flavors, ideas, visions, memories...everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you've seen and thought and absorbed." - Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  

I’ve been wanting to take that drive for a long time. It’s a medicinal experience.  Especially now, with all the ugliness, our own fear and anger, injustice in the world, I need to refill my body, my soul, with beauty -- so that I can continue to recover from previous wounds, and so that I have something to offer in current and future struggles.

But this drive (and the visit to Spikenard Farm’s intensely loving work with honeybees) came at a good time for other reasons, as well. This week something terrible happened at my university.  A small group of white male students posted horrific hate-memes online – and were found to have been doing so for some time. Words and images of homophobia, racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, able-ism, of the worst kind; brutal images posted by young men whose only concern seemed to be topping the outrageous posts of one another.

As an Indigenous, queer woman, I felt these memes and the actions of these young men personally, and deeply; as a faculty member, I was devastated to think that I interacted with these young men in the hallways and gatherings of my university, that quite possibly, one or more of them might turn up in my classroom; that, perhaps, I already have or have had students thinking and acting on such things my classroom.  Perhaps, they were thinking these kinds of things about me.

This kind of thinking is paralyzing.  It is soul-killing.  It goes to the heart of the vulnerability I experience as a person of color, as a queer person, as a woman, every time I step onto my predominantly white, affluent campus – and most other places I might go.

Alerted to these memes by someone outside the community, the university sent out an email telling our community that “The matter has been referred to the appropriate University officials and student conduct bodies” and planned a gathering on campus to “express solidarity for our community values.”  Neither one of these actions provided me much comfort.  I didn’t go to the gathering, fearing that it would follow the usual pattern: POC and queer speakers baring their souls in front of a sympathetic, mostly white group.  If I had gone, I would have asked to speak first, and I would have said, “Not one person of color, not one queer, not one woman should speak tonight.  White men need to be up here, speaking against the culture of privilege and violence that allowed this, and figuring out how to educate and guide their white brothers who do such things.”

But as I said, I didn’t go. I could not drag myself to one more gathering to show my support for my right to be myself. I stayed home as much of the non-teaching day as possible, went into my office to do some class prep, and went right back home.  Some colleagues reached out to offer comfort, but others didn’t even realize what was happening (the university’s oblique email left many of us scrambling for information that was not easily discoverable). My community, my larger social network (which exists primarily online, as I am the only Indigenous faculty member, and one of a handful of faculty of color), reacted with sadness and anger, and consolation, and support, but I couldn’t really feel it – the poison of hatred was working on me.

I tried meditation, and I worked on a poem about a memory I’ve carried for many years – which just happened to be a memory about the old land in Washington State I grew up on, the riot of salmonberries in the spring, my hours of wandering in the woods, feeding myself from what I found there.  Looking back, I see that even as a child, I was feeding myself beauty so I could survive another day in a small, dark trailer filled with smoke, violence and depression, a place where the only thing I was taught was how unimportant I was, how little my body mattered, and my soul, even less.

That land saved me.  I know this.  I was incredibly lucky to have had those three acres, and the surrounding land where I also wandered. I know that, too. Not everyone has those opportunities; not every lost child is found by the mothering of a piece of earth.

Not every faculty member of color has access to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of April, or the time to drive it. I’m lucky, and I know it.

I need that medicine now, in the middle of a battle that has lasted my whole life, and will last long after I’m gone. My social community, my colleagues, do make a difference, but perhaps I could not let my guard down for them in this moment of fear and hurt. 

I can throw myself down on my knees before the beauty of this planet. And I will.  Over and over and over again.

Homing In

fat orange suns,
solar systems
explode on your tongue.
You love these untamed berries;
the way they are only yours,
illuminated with welcome,
soft white core left behind
on the vine like a note of farewell.

You learn from your mouth down.

These lush green woods
give refuge.  You flee
the small dark trailer,
cases of empty Rainier and Oly bottles,
leather belts and absence. 
one by one
or a handful all at once: 
you suck out juice, pulp,
swallow tiny seeds.  Bright little
spitbugs, bitter-spicy, sometimes;
you try to be watchful,
but you know so much hunger.

You swat mosquitoes,
side-step stinging nettles,
swab creek mud
where the tall fanged
leaves swipe an arm or leg. 
This is a world you understand:

Red ants with black heads bite
without hesitation;
honeybees ignore you;
Blackjacks bang around
like bumpercars but don’t sting.
Wasps careen through warm air,
wobbly legs trailing terror.
Trilliums, rich white
or purple petals on thick
jade stems: secret wealth.
You count and count until you lose
track, giddy at such inheritance.

Leggy spiders whose names
you can never find in books
spin among the thorns
and scratchy wide leaves;
beetles, caterpillars, millipedes,
centipedes swirl like jewels
on the crumbling red bodies
of ancient felled cedars. 
And the earth, black
with life – willing
to grow this wilderness,
willing to let you roam –
the earth beneath your footsteps
oozes into mud
made of pine cones,
cedar needles, maple leaves,
made of death and decay
and resurrection
and transformation.

You learn from your feet up.

You are small.
This world is busy,
hard-working, alive.
The longer you stay,
the further your body takes in
this place that takes you in,
the more you understand:

you are no exile.
glow like lanterns.
light the way home.

Deborah A. Miranda

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


A tulip poplar blossom spins
sixty feet down from the canopy,
lands right at my feet like
a sun falling from another world.

Heavy in my open palm,
it is a cool cup of creamy
April radiance, edged inside
with a ragged ring of flame.

There, buttery stamens bristle  
and wave around the tender
center like long arms, hungry
for any lover or savior.

The bees obey the call.
They come in their golden
bodies, lick and taste and suck,
fill their saddlebags with

tulip poplar lust, take it
all home to the hive,
to waxy white combs.
In the winter, they’ll eat

this flower’s spicy memory
by the mouthful – robust,
sable and smoky, taste
of a tree transformed

into light.  This is how
I want to go: a flowery
comet shooting slowly
across the dawn sky,

drenched in hungry kisses,
cherished for all that I can give;
drifting into an open hand,
placed gently on the earth –

one more offering
upon this blessed altar –
while my words, sticky
amber and thick, feed 

those I've left behind
through the darkest season.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In the Heart of Providence

In the Heart of Providence
                                              (for Fredi)

she is a small house of memory
fine as glazed porcelain;

feathered bone’s delicate arches
curling like a galaxy center to edge –

hold inside this vessel –
singing with what those walls

remember; a hollowed-out heart,
today like a cathedral of the eye:

she bends time toward yesterday tomorrow
in starry design

where evening glimmers a covenant
carved out of the soul’s own stone

carved out of the soul's own stone
where evening glimmers a covenant

in starry design
she bends time toward yesterday tomorrow

today like a cathedral of the eye:
remember, a hollowed-out heart,

singing with what those walls
hold inside this vessel --

curling like a galaxy center to edge --
feathered bone's delicate arches

fine as glazed porcelain;
she is a small house of memory

in the Heart of Providence.   

Deborah A. Miranda