Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

DNA


Several months ago I decided to participate in the Human Genome Project through National Geographic.   When I called to order the kit, the young man reminded me that as a woman, I would receive only one half of my ancestry, the female half.  Since women do not have a Y chromosome, a woman can only trace her female family line through her mitochondrial DNA.  He suggested I use my grandson’s DNA so I would receive complete results.  Of course, that meant that in the end, I would have to factor in what I knew about his father’s family and deduct that to determine my own.  After the Geno 2.0 kit arrived, we took his cheek swabs and mailed them off.  This week when we returned from an 11 day family road trip, the results arrived.  With the results came detailed explanations of human migratory history and even comparisons of populations with DNA most like his.  Although none were close, the top two groups were people in Bermuda and Mexican Americans.  Luckily, the information contained a detailed explanation of the people of Bermuda.  The Native American results I expected since his great grandfather was Navaho.  Other parts came as somewhat a surprise. Once again I am taking a poetry class and now working on publishing a book of my poetry so I decided to write a poem about this experience.

The results loom before me on

the computer, percentages:

Northern European, Mediterranean,

Native American, Neanderthal,

sub Sahara African, South African–

as in the Bushmen in the Kalahari,

Northeast Asian, Southwest Asian.

Suddenly, calculations move through

my brain.  I look again, add, subtract,

recalculate, stare, ponder. Is there

a family secret I missed?  How will

I know, from whom?

Everyone I could ask is dead.

SAM_1183

Star


The phone rings.

“Star’s dead.  There’s blood everywhere.

He’s hanging from the gate.

Blood is all over Rosie’s face.

It’s dreadful.”

A tear choked voice.

“You can’t bring D’mitri home.”

D’mitri’s nine.  Star belongs to him.

Shock, tears, disbelief.

Last night he ran, bucked, reared,

chased around, playing.

How?

The pen’s all pipe, no sharp edges,

nothing harmful, consistently inspected.

D’mitri goes home with me.  He says,

“Nana, I have to see him;

I have to know what happened.”

Slowly, in dread, we walk behind the barn.

Star’s hanging by one hoof in the three inch

space between the gate and fence,

ankle broken.

The blood covered fence, gate, and ground

stare at me.

It’s hot, his body’s stiff.

He must be moved.

The coyotes will come in the night,

drawn by the smell of blood, of death.

The neighbor brings his big, red tractor;

a wench pulls Star’s young body free,

and gently lays him on the cold, grey, barn floor.

His shining copper coat no longer shines.

D’mitri and I remember bottle feeding him

after Miracle died, teaching him to lead.

We stare at Star’s body in disbelief.

Kindly, the neighbor says,

“He died quick, femoral artery cut by bone,

bled out.”

For hours Rosie and Cool stand at the spot

where Star died.

They do not even leave to eat alfalfa.

It takes me hours to wash away the blood.

It took D’mitri ten months to go back to the barn,

to ride Rosie again.

Miracle and Star as a newborn

 

 

Note:  This is a photo of Star and Miracle in July 2010 shortly after Star’s birth.  Miracle died of colic three days later.  Star died last May.

Marriage


ONE

Afraid of revealing me       the Essence of Me

Mother told me                  Boys won’t like it

Too smart                     Too aggressive

Too full of              Myself

Too serious             Too intense

Too adventuresome

Too nasty a temper

Too in love with Possibility

Too             Too         Too        Too       Too       Too

I took her advice

Married  a Genius Scientist

Safe                    Timid                 Disadventurous

He liked me because I could Shoot a

Bird off a Wire

a hundred feet away.

In time We All Died

Him             Me            the Bird

TWO

Last night I dreamed of him

Black velvet, young, strong, sexy, arrogant.

I had to have him!

This morning

I almost told our daughter.

Then I Remembered

It took nearly 31 years for me

to Learn

She has a sister only 3 months younger.

She told me.

He has never said a word.

THREE

I remember the time he touched my face, melting me.

I married him;

My face slowly, inexorably froze.

FOUR

I was a very good investment.

He consistently insulted my daughter.

We are ALIVE and HAPPY.

He’s DEAD.

Grandmother


We sit on the wooden swing suspended by silver chains

hanging from the bungalow front porch ceiling.

She, elderly beyond her years, grey hair piled atop her head,

thin and wrinkled.

She stays with us sometimes when Aunt Julia goes off

on one of her adventures.

Cattle graze across the road in front of the house.

It is summer.

A bull mounts a cow.

Suddenly, out of the silence, Grandmother speaks,

“Men and bulls are just alike;

they are only interested in one thing.

A bunch of good for nothings!”

Her voice is vitriolic.

And I, a child, maybe twelve, innocent and ignorant,

sit there shocked,

amazed,

embarrassed,

astonished

to hear my grandmother talk that way.

Now, nearly fifty years later,

I wonder about her life,

what in it caused this secret bitterness

she spilled just once on that idyllic summer day.

I look at her wedding photo.

She has a steady, unsmiling, pretty face,

marrying a handsome man twenty two years her senior.

Were they happy, sad, or probably a bit of both?

I remember what my mother, her youngest daughter, told me

snippets here and there.

A hard life, endless guests

never a break from gardening, cooking, canning, cleaning.

I look at other photos of my grandmother

taken before I was born,

older, nearly as wide as she is tall, never smiling.

I remember her in an old lady’s flowery, lavender dress,

thin from years of undulate fever.

I remember her feeding me bread, butter, and sugar sandwiches,

Easter egg hunts at her house,

and later, at another house, walking with her to the corner store.

I never remember her smiling.

Pumas–III


This is the third in a series of poems entitled Pumas.  If you have not yet read the first two, I suggest you scroll down and read those first.

I want

to walk with you

in my dreams

scream your screams

feel your blood

rushing

your heart beat

mine

soft golden fur

wound in my hair

your amber eyes

glowing

through my brown

death defying

together walking

moonlit

wild

free

Pumas


I have previously mentioned that I am taking a poetry class with Lorraine Mejia-Green through the Story Circle Network.  To date we have read poetry by Mary Oliver, Lucille Clifton, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Joy Harjo.  Clifton has written a very interesting series of poems called Foxes.  Joy Harjo’s most famous poem is about horses.  My obsession seems to be pumas even though I do love horses.

Puma I

                                                   My neighbor walked out her door,

                                                    found a puma lying on the lawn.

                                                    She arose and ambled off.

                                                    At night when I open my gate

                                                     I wonder if puma lurks

                                                     behind the cedar tree.

                                                     My daughter dreams puma dreams:

                                                      A puma chases her up a tree

                                                     There are no trees here big enough to climb.

                                                     A Zuni puma fetish guards my sleep.

                                                     I run with puma

                                                     Night wild

                                                     Free.

                                                     I scream and howl

                                                     Moonstruck

                                                     Bloodborn.

                                                     I hike the canyon

                                                     Stroll around my house

                                                     Look for puma tracks.

                                                     I see none.

                                                     I would rather die by puma

                                                     than in a car wreck.

Puma II

                                        I watch for eyes, blue changing to amber and back.

                                        I put my palm, fingers stretched to measure, into the footprint.

                                        Too small, bobcat.

                                         No puma.

                                         My thin body squeezes between the rocks,

                                                           climbing quietly down the cliff.

                                         Watching, listening, searching.

                                          No puma.

                                           Pale amber rushes across my vision line.

                                           My heart quakes.

                                           I watch; I wait.

                                           It is Isabella, a golden whir chasing rabbits.

                                           No puma.

                                           At sunrise, I walk the rim.

                                                          watching.

                                          At sunset, I walk the rim,

                                                           waiting.

                                          At night, I walk the rim,

                                                           dreaming.

                                           No puma; not yet.