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.

 

 

Unconditional Love


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All the beautiful flowers I see today, Mother’s Day 2017, make me think of my mother.  She loved flowers, especially roses, horses, music, beauty.  When I think of her, I also think of unconditional love.  Even when young and I sometimes thought she expected too much of me, I still knew she loved me no matter what the circumstances and always would.  For this I feel unending gratitude.  As a teacher, it has become very clear to me that many children do not experience the kind of love my mother gave me.  She died suddenly many years ago.  Her love will never leave me.  Thank you, Mom, wherever you are!!

Barbie Doll


This poem praises my mother.  It is page 17 of my memoir in poems, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  It seems appropriate to republish it here for Mother’s Day.

 

Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed, and blond, my mother,

one fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said,

“Barbara was afraid of absolutely no one and nothing.”  They married

late:  34 and 38.  He adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life

with horses, music, love, cornfields, hay rides, books, ambition.  Whatever

she felt she had missed, I was going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a

college education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years, she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her

in a wagon.  With less than 100 pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, free.

My Happy Mother’s Day


 

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Mother’s Day filled my heart.  First, when I awakened in the morning, I made coffee and opened this computer.  When I logged into Facebook, I found this pronouncement from my daughter:

“I’m so thankful to have an amazing, talented, smart, ambitious, honest woman as my mommy.  You made me the person I am today and as I continue to grow, I see things you taught me passing down to my son.  I’m the mom I am today because of the mom you were to me.  I may not always show it or tell you but I love you so much.”  I nearly cried; I am not a crier.

The flowers arrived Saturday from my son who lives twenty hours away if you drive.  Look at these flowers!!  Fantastic.

Then my grandson gave me a handmade card about 5 by 8 inches with this long note some of which follows:

“Happy Mother’s Day.  I know your not my mom but your my mom’s mom so your a mother so happy mother’s day.  Thank you for giving birth to my mom because if you wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t be alive right now so thanks….Thank you for all the things you do for me.  You always watch me.  Your always nice even when I’m mean and you spoil me.  I love you and happy mother’s day. ”  He is ten.

Then today I received a totally unexpected thank you card with a note from a young man who stayed with me a while last spring just before he graduated from college with an A average.  He was experiencing an extremely painful time then.  His hand written note:  “Happy Mother’s Day!  It has been one year since I graduated from college.  I would never have made it without you!  Thank you for the great help in my most difficult time.  You are the small ray of sunshine that really brings me hope!  Thank you!”  I felt overwhelmed.

The bottle in front of the flowers above is Versace perfume–Mother’s Day present from my daughter.

 

 

Mother, Barbara Lewis Duke


Mom was tiny, tough, and pretty.  She acquired the name Lewis because my grandparents had hoped for a boy and, for reasons I do not know, wanted a child named Lewis.  My grandparents named her younger brother Louis.  The following poem about my mother is one of the prose poems in my new book of poetry, On the Rim of Wonder, published last month by Uno Mundo Press.  Currently you can purchase it from Amazon or if you are in Amarillo, at Hastings on Georgia.  Shortly, it will be available on Kindle and signed copies can be ordered from me.

 

Barbie Doll

 

Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one

fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was

afraid of absolutely no one and nothing”.  They married late:  34 and 38.  He

adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love,

cornfields, hayrides, books, ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed,

my sister and I were going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a college education.

Her father, who died long before I was born, loved fancy, fast horses.  So did she.

During my preschool, croupy years, she quieted my hysterical night coughing

with stories of run away horses pulling her in a wagon.  With less than one hundred

pounds and lots of determination, she stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying

across the Missouri River Bottom, strong, willful, free.

 

 

 

 

The Story Circle Network Conference and My Commitment: This Is What I Know


ad_scnconfWhen I first started blogging more than two years ago, I committed to blogging once a week.  That I managed for a year or so and then since that time, it became more sporadic.  Full time job, writing poems for my book, visitors, mini vacations, all sorts of stuff got in the way.  Really, I let it lapse, but refused to give up.  Last Thursday, I drove to Austin with my daughter and grandson for the biannual Story Circle Network Conference.  The plan:  while I conferred, they played.  The Story Circle Network is an organization for women which encourages women to write, to tell their stories, to share these stories, and when possible and desired, publish those stories in various forms from memoir to poetry.  This was my second time to attend and my first time to attend as a new board member.  A former mentor/teacher of mine, Len Leatherwood, facilitated  a workshop entitled “Transforming Your Writing Life in Just 20 Minutes a Day”, the last workshop I attended.  She blogs everyday.  I follow her blog.  No matter what, she sits down and writes 20 minutes minimum a day separate from the writing she does with her students–she teaches writing privately in southern CA.  One of her recent blogs has been accepted for publication–a piece of flash fiction.  She nearly begged us to commit to this kind of writing practice.  Previously, I had refused, flat out refused, partly thinking that if I tried it, more than half the resulting writing would be crap.  Nevertheless, she and her workshop convinced me that at least for one month I must try this.  Now all of you following my blog will be inundated with daily blog posts.  I am filled with curiosity as to how people will respond.  Maybe it will be like my Facebook posts–yes, I am an almost addict–the posts I consider most meaningful for the universe at large are the ones people ignore and the ones I consider personal trivia receive the most response.  Maybe I will track what appeals to my readers.  Some I won’t know because with blogging I share to Facebook and to a couple of professional networks, I have no clue who read what.  Once I received an email regarding a poem I posted. Although it never showed up as a like, the lady actually told me she read my poem in church!  Who would have guessed. I forgot to time myself so have no idea how long I have been here writing.

Here I am writing about why I am writing.  On the stove I smell Jasmine rice cooking.  I love Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I am a very picky rice eater and prefer to mix equally white Jasmine rice with black and red.  For one thing, it looks lovely when done–a sort of dark reddish purple.  Since I sautéd chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the rice and sautéd for about 15 more seconds, then added water and some broth just before I started writing this, the smell of Jasmine rice fills the house.  I piled a bunch of paper towels on the top before I put on the lid or you can use some cloth towel–a habit I picked up from my Iranian ex-husband.  Iranians really know how to cook rice.  I am also drinking a glass of Cupcake Shiraz which I bought on the way home from work.  And yes, Shiraz is also the name of a city in Iran where they actually grow grapes or at least used to. But of course, drinking wine is no longer acceptable in Iran or at least not publicly.  Good Muslims do not drink at all.

I did write something worthwhile while in this workshop and will share–doing this last because it won’t count as my daily writing since I wrote it yesterday.

 

This Is What I Know

 

My parents loved me, really loved me.

My mom was proud of my accomplishments.

Dad gave me a love of books, intellectual curiosity, and a

sense of wonder.

Mom gave me a love of music, beauty, and cooking.

Happiness is a choice.

I do not believe in luck.  You make your own luck.

Life is an exciting adventure.

Horses give me joy.

Singing gives me joy.

Dancing gives me joy even if I rarely have the opportunity.

Family relationships can be distressingly complicated.

I am proud of my children and their accomplishments.

Religion matters much less to me than 99 per cent of the people I know.

Ethnic and religious prejudice distress me and I do not

understand those kinds of attitudes.

I am a good writer.

I want to make a real difference in the world.

I am happy 99 percent of the time.

Blessings flood my life.

My close friends and children and grandson are more

important to me than they know.

Writing has enriched my life.

I have few regrets:

One I have rectified;

the other I cannot–

my dad is dead.

Mom’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe


Today, Thanksgiving Day, I will make Barbara Duke Lightle’s (my mother)  pumpkin pie, using a recipe and blender she gave me decades ago.  The recipe includes a small hand written note about her preferred way of combining the ingredients.  My grandson loves this pie and the idea that what he is eating is a recipe from his great grandmother, a woman he will never know.  He tries other pumpkin pies but likes only this one.  Dad loved this pie, too.  After Mom died and he discovered he was gluten intolerant, he taught himself to cook.  He made this for himself sans the crust–pumpkin pudding.

1 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin

1 1/2 cups milk or milk combined with cream or evaporated milk

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown or white sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

(or use 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp ginger for a more spicy flavor)

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Place your hand over the blender cover before starting the motor.  Blend just  a few seconds, until smooth, and pour into pastry lined pie shell.  Bake at 450 for ten minutes, then bake at 350 for 30 minutes longer or until firm in the center.  A piece of outer peel of orange can be blender grated into the pie mixture–if you do this, place in blender with 1/2 cup milk and blend fine before adding other ingredients.

You may use squash instead of pumpkin.

The hand written note says, “Juliana, if you use half evaporated milk it gives wonderful flavor and I like white sugar best”.

I use evaporated milk totally and white sugar like Mom recommended.  I have never used orange peel.  The cinnamon I am using today comes from a tree at my friend’s mother’s house in Ethiopia.

This seems a great day to also thank my mother for all she taught me:  cooking, singing and playing the piano, a love of beauty–flowers, wildlife, good food, the list is endless.  She taught me think positively, to believe in myself, to make the most of what life brings, to never give up.  Thank you, Mom!!!

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Barbie Doll


Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one

fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was

afraid of absolutely no one and nothing!”  They married late:  34 & 38.  He

adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love,

cornfields, hay rides, books, and ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed,

my sister and I were going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a college

education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved, fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her in a

wagon.  With less than one hundred pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, and free.

Going Home Again


Last weekend I returned to the county where I grew up and the family farms in Andrew and Holt County, Missouri.  It had been at least six years since I had returned to the place my great grandfather homesteaded over a hundred years ago.  Strangers live in the house where I grew up and my father lived 80 of his 90 years.  On the site where he was born, only the old carriage house still stands, a sentinel to a lifestyle long gone.  Repeatedly, I tried to write a poem about all this, but have not been able to do so–perhaps the experience is still too close.  Additionally, for the first time, I attended my high school reunion and chatted with individuals I had not seen since I was 18.  Decades truly change people; I would have recognized only a couple without the name tags.  Northwest Missouri this year presents an intense emerald landscape.  Having travelled there from the semi-arid land where I now live, I suffered “green” shock.  And tree shock.  The Panhandle of Texas grows few large trees outside of towns and cities.  Even with my very ordinary camera, these photographs capture the beauty I witnessed and family memories I want to remember and share with my children and friends.

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This is the house where I grew up and Dad lived 80 years.  The building in the foreground was built during the depression.  Before it was put to its final farm use–for hogs and chickens at various times in my childhood–Dad held dances here.  Because of prohibition, the sheriff always sent someone to make sure no illegal alcohol consumption occurred.

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The old carriage house, just south of the site where a large house stood during my childhood, still stands.  The stained glass transom window hanging in my own house now and an etched glass hunting scene are all that remain of the house where Dad lived as a small child.  Emptiness and raccoons finally destroyed it.   When he gave me the windows over thirty years ago, Dad said it was impossible to keep an empty house in good shape forever.

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At the age of 18, my great grandfather, Gottlieb Werth, came to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Swiss army which hired out soldiers as mercenaries.  My father told me what his mother told him:  my father’s mother stood on the roof of her house in Switzerland and waved until she could no longer see her son; she never saw him again.  This photograph shows his grave in the Fillmore, Missouri, cemetery.

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Nearby, perhaps fifty feet away, lay the graves of Mom and Dad and my grandparents.  I never knew this grandmother; she died long before I was born.  My grandfather died when I small and sadly I do not remember him.  The family stories tell that he taught me to talk at a very early age, nine months, because he held me on his lap and told me about everything occurring outside the windows.  My first word was “tractor”.

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Another family story tells that this grandfather walked to Andrew County, Missouri, from Illinois.  Andrew County’s rolls are full of Lightles.  It remains the only place I have ever lived where I am not the only person with my last name in the phone book.  Dad claimed there would be even more Lightles except for the fact that several brothers died when they tried to walk across the Nodaway River on winter ice and it broke.  They all drowned.

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Dad built the large pond in this photo and stocked it with fish.  Until a few years ago when someone bought the land and destroyed all the trees, a small forest of ancient oaks, black walnuts, and chestnuts grew between the house and pond.  Dad kept it mowed and groomed–a park.  Sadness filled me when I saw the trees all gone.

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All my childhood we attended Antioch Christian Church.  Although I could not see it from my house, if I walked across the road to where the carriage house still stands, it looms across the distance.  Potlucks were a very popular activity here.  Mom made such fabulous pies that everyone would get her pie first to make sure they got a piece.

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The sign in front of the Andrew County Courthouse.  This county remains filled with people of Swiss descent to the point they have celebrations commemorating their heritage. The following include photos of the courthouse and some of the restored buildings on the courthouse square.

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Several reasons exist for my returning “home” at this time, including attending my high school reunion for the first time.  The following photos show several people I had not seen since I was 18, including Melanie Eisiminger, who was the valedictorian when I was salutatorian so many years ago, and Jim Ahillen and his lovely wife.  Melanie is in the middle.

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My mother grew up in Holt County, Missouri,  in the town of Fortesque and her family farm next to the Missouri River still remains mostly in the family.  In my childhood, Fortesque was still relatively prosperous.  Now fewer than fifty people live there.  The farm lays right next to the Missouri River.  I walked down the levee and took photos of this mighty river, the Rulo, Nebraska bridge, and the farm.  If I turned one direction, I faced the bluffs where White Cloud, Kansas, resides and the other direction is Nebraska.

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Between the Missouri River and the bluffs lays one of the largest wildlife refuges in the United States, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  It is especially important for migratory birds, bald eagles, wading birds, and various mammals.  One can drive the new road ten miles through it to observe birds in particular but also other species.  The huge cottonwoods and oaks fascinated me.  It appears I had totally forgotten just how grand these trees can grow if given adequate water.  In one area I drove for at least four miles through a tree tunnel, then several raptors screamed at me while I tried to photograph them, and finally I managed to photograph a red winged black bird and geese.  After several days of semi constant rain, it felt fabulous to experience a perfect sunny day for my tiny trip to the wild.

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After I left Squaw Creek, I drove to Mound City to find the graves of the Duke side of my family.  The last time I had been there was when we buried my aunt, mother’s sister.  I also remember going with her there more than twenty years ago.  I recalled the general location but had to hike around a bit to find them.  Because Grandfather Duke was much older than Grandmother, I never knew him.  Aunt Julia came to visit me at least once a year until she neared ninety and could no longer travel easily.    She never married and remained admirably independent until she became too feeble to get around on her own.

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The E stands for Evelyn.  She was named after a woman Grandmother worked for on the White Cloud Reservation, Evelyn Le Clair.  On my previous visit to Missouri, I went to the White Cloud Reservation and inquired about the Le Clairs but had been told they had moved away a long time ago.  Grandmother had to work because her father went blind and could no longer work.  His name was Kaiser and he, too, came from Switzerland.  The following is the gravestone of my great grandmother.  Mother frequently recited sayings from her, e.g. you can’t tell by the looks of a frog how far he can leap.

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In  my childhood, we cut across the country side to go from the Andrew County farm where we lived to Grandmother’s Holt County farm.  I remained unsure whether I could recall exactly how to do this but tried and met with success, feeling very happy with myself, remembering something I had not accomplished in decades.  Because it had rained six inches the previous week, unlike last year during the drought, knee high grass grew along the backroads, corn was coming up, ponds were full.  I drove by the houses of people I remember from childhood, not knowing who lived there any more except a few.  People change, life proceeds, but the country still holds endless promise and beauty.  Finally, with a few hours left before flying back to Texas, I stopped by a new area north of Kansas City, Briarwood, strolled around, visited an excellent natural food market, ate a rather exotic lunch, and took a few photographs of huge new houses and the Kansas City skyline.

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Everyone asked me to bring some rain back to the Panhandle of Texas.  It has rained three times since I returned home.  A coincidence, of course, but very welcome.

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

I started this blog 11 months ago.  I want to thank all my followers, commenters, and friends who follow me via WordPress, Facebook, etc.  for making this a success.  Thank you and Happy New Year.  May this new year bring joy and prosperity to all of you.