“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.” ~Flannery O’Conner
Dear United Way,
How perfect we seemed for each other
during those heady 1970s—
me, with a new degree in saving the world—
and you, who championed the inner city—
challenging old patterns of noblesse oblige.
Heading east to your corporate office,
I became your national consultant.
When Little Rock invited us to audit its operations,
I listened to edgy assertions—
volunteer leaders must mirror
Confidently I wrote this into my report.
Swiftly a corporate VP took it out.
I should have made more noise. Instead
I stayed with you, trusting
a foundation’s mega dollars
to make us more inclusive.
Remember when Roger Jourdain,
that powerful Red Lake chief,
came down to Bimidji, had breakfast with us?
Remember his simple case for change—
that Indian and White should work together?
Remember the area’s business folk declining
our venture grant funds, fearing control
by “Indian money?”
Why did I stay with you?
Maybe hope can’t help itself.
Wilma Mankiller and her tribal council
committed to build an agent of change—
Cherokee Way in northeast Oklahoma.
I’m not sure why it didn’t last
except we Indian folk—given our histories–don’t like
being told how to allocate money.
Near the end of my years with you—
in Green Bay and Mashantucket,
tribal customers were treated
like pesky children. Oneida
turned its back on us. The Pequots
cut by half its casino gratuities.
After a quarter century,
my Cadillac charity—
it’s time to leave, time to return
to that country I spent a lifetime
showing to you.
Plague of Horned Serpents
1st published in Cream City Review
At Rock Port, Missouri, where rampaging
spring floods gutted Interstate 29,
we are blockaded—forced
into a circuitous detour of corn-fenced roads.
We arrive hours late in Council Bluffs,
discover the river we dodged most of the day
roiled, raced and scraped against the back doors
of our hotel and its sister casino—
a wall of concrete and protruding pumps—
unsettling our sense of protection against a super flood.
In the morning, we head west into Nebraska
take state highway 75 north. Our car crawls
at thirty-five miles an hour in a seventy-mile zone
from Ft. Calhoun through Tekamah,
through the Omaha and Winnebago reservations,
never far from the grasp of raging waters
or rotting raccoon corpses flattened down or bloated.
Miraculously the Mormon Bridge to Sioux City
is intact, but not the western lanes of Interstate 29,
its mutilated concrete remains
protruding out of dump-truck trains
heading south to some colossal graveyard.
At Elk Point, South Dakota, we part company
with the thrashing river—only to catch it again
at dusk in Gettysburg, South Dakota.
Our hotel sits on bluffs overlooking
an artificially widened—and calmer
Missouri River—fishing boat lights
dotting the basin. Walleye must be biting.
Our relatives who live across the way
on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
say the river has risen five feet
and thousands of homes are gone—drowned
with little warning of the deluge—
destruction that brings to mind stories
of old Mi’kmaq monsters called Ji-bich’gam—
Horned Serpent Persons.
There is snowmelt yet to come,
a torrent that will seek
its ancient ox-bow channels,
watersheds and tributaries—
a torrent blocked
by concrete walls,
dams and levees—
caged inside of reservoirs—
harnessed or unleashed
by public servant people,
horned serpent persons.
Out of Africa
After years of solitary birthing,
never knowing what night would bring—
bomb explosions, break-in’s or random jailings;
after surviving torture,
13 months of solitary confinement
calculated to break a human spirit;
after an 8-year banishment
from her Soweto home and friends,
many who disappeared;
after 27 years of keeping the father’s name alive
with strident challenges that he be freed—
a broken, bloodied government let him go;
after apartheid was dealt a final blow
when a new South Africa was finally born—
something went terribly wrong with the mother.
Turning her back on non-violence,
she stood accused, implicated, acquitted
of savagery against her enemies.
Casting her away, the father and his counselors
tried in vain to keep the mother from any care of her new nation.
Why—after the Nuremberg Trials and Vietnam—
why, why couldn’t that husband, all his smart friends,
—why couldn’t anyone have guessed
demons of loneliness vied for the soul of Winnie Mandela?
Why couldn’t Madiba eschew his chieftain’s mantle
to care for his wife, mother of his nation?
Now, two decades after its bloody birth—
South Africa and its mother
remain in mourning for Madiba,
passed to another universe.
May the Knot of Mpatapo bind these patriots
in reconciliation to each other and our world,
hungry for stories of epic love,
ordinary forgiveness after war.
Alice Azure’s recent work has appeared in you are here: the journal of creative geography; Against the Current; Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time: Indigenous Thoughts Concerning the Universe; and Studies in American Indian Literatures. The author of three books, her most recent, Games of Transformation, released in 2011 by Albatross Press in Chicago, was selected as poetry book of the year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers.
A Mi’kmaq Métis, her roots are in the Kespu’kwitk District (Yarmouth) of Nova Scotia. The St. Louis Poetry Center has published her prize-winning poems in its annual chapbooks of 2007, 2008 and 2012. She maintains a website at www.aliceazure.com. Along with many other Mi’kmaw artists, humanists, educators, poets and writers, her work has been archived at the website Tepi’ketuek, http://mikmawarchives.ca/