This is a reboot of the long poem. As I study the form my sense of the structure required has lead me to try a new story with a dash of magical realism. This is how the poem begins…
The boy is a blue lily.
The flower is a hardy perennial.
The boy also is hardy,
though too mutable to be perennial.
Over the course of time he may come to be an oak
in a kingdom of green or perhaps chicory,
conquering the world, crack by endless crack.
The other boy, a copper-tipped arrow hammered and burnished
by the fist of God, will be dead at 29.
Though he too is hardy, and perennial as the old man cactus,
his soil is loose, dry, roots are shallow, prone to rot.
He dreams his spirit harbors in the Joshua tree.
He has yet to discover the spirit in his uncle’s still.
Nine years old, the blue boy is already on the run.
His parents have driven all the way to Needles, CA trying
to escape the shame, rejection by the clan of this
strange and brilliant child in the backseat of their sky blue Chevy.
Culled from the herd in St. Richard’s playground, Philadelphia.
he will spend summer with cousins in the desert
where his survival isn’t necessarily guaranteed.
There is hope that sun, sand, exposure will
hammer a hard, sharp edge onto his Catholic guilt and
burnish his soft, off-center spirit into a holy weapon.
The boy wants nothing more than to meet a real Indian
The other boy is eleven. His hands are the perfect size
for picking cactus flowers or forming dough for fry bread.
He dreams of the morning air, before breath becomes
choked with dust, words lined with fear and anger and the
old ones’ laments – words lined with sorrow and truth.
His Apache name Ish-Kay-Nay means “A Boy,”
it comes from his Grandfather’s clan. Sometimes,
when his old Sichu tells stories he cannot find
the difference between the legends and the real.
When asked to explain, Grandmother’s eyes become
small and mysterious, “They are the same.”
Then she fills the room with her toothless smile and everyone laughs.
He wants nothing more than to understand the difference.
When the blue Chevy Impala crosses the Reservation boundary
no one else in the car seems to notice. The boy leans hard against
the door. The door opens, the hinges let go, no longer part
of the car now it belongs to the wind. The boy kneels against
the glass, head on a swivel, eyes wide, wild, he becomes the air.
The people will tell stories of the day the air became a blue spirit.
It sweeps across the Reservation, pierces the heart of everyone
it touches. The spirit flows through open windows, under
closed doors, passing over all the houses, trailers, shacks, villages,
towns. When the spirit has touched everything the Reservation
is swallowed by blue light…The car crunches to a halt in the gravel
Ish-Kay-Nay sees a blue car ease onto the gravel from the
highway blacktop. In the wavering heat of high noon’s shadowless
light the car trails a blue glow in its wake.
A fully formed yet small white boy leaps from the car.
With owl-like eyes fixed on Ish-Kay-Nay.
East meets West
“Are you a real Indian?”
“I am an Apache. Are you a real white man?”
“I’m from Philadelphia. Are you related to Geronimo?”
“He was Chiricahua. I am Mojave. So, are you related to
“You’re the first real Indian I’ve ever met. What is Mojave?
Do you speak Indian? Why are there so many trailers?
I thought Indians lived in teepees. Do you wear feathers in
your hair? Can I see your bow and arrows? I’d really love
to try to shoot an arrow. I made a bow and arrows out of
some sticks and string but it didn’t work very good. I shot my
brother in the stomach and he said it didn’t even hurt.
I always get to be the Indian when we play cowboys and
Indians. The other kids keep saying they shot me dead
but I tell them I have a medicine spirit that fixes my
wounds. I saw that in a movie once. The medicine man
said the spirits would fix Cochise’s wounds and they did.
He did a dance and burned some grass or something so the
smoke would float around Cochise’s bullet hole.
Oh man the other kids are never going to believe I met a real
Indian on my first day in the desert. Can I trade you something
so I have some proof? I have some candy but it’s probably
melted by now. It’s so hot. How about a yoyo? It glows in the
dark. Will you trade for that? In Dances With Wolves the
the one that is the warrior says “Good trade.” Can we make a
good trade like that? In the movie they traded a hat for a knife.
Will you trade your knife for a yoyo?”
“Goddamn kid you need to chill out. I’m not trading for a
fucking yoyo. Jesus what a geek. How old are you 6, 7?
Don’t go around trying to trade a fucking yoyo, there are
kids here who would kick your stupid white ass. Some
might do it anyway just because you’re white. We don’t like
white people around here. So just follow your fucking parents
into the gift shop and spend your money. Then get in your
fucking car and get the fuck out of here. Dances With Wolves,
that movie was bullshit. Real Indians would have cut Costner’s
dick off and stuck in his mouth before they scalped him and cut
his fucking throat. Now get out of here before I cut off your little dick
and feed it to my dog.”
Light in the Desert
“Spirits are strange creatures with strange ways, especially true
of white spirits. They have forgotten how to behave in the world,
how to behave with other spirits, with those that are different.
White people, arrogant, ignorant, have contaminated
the spirit world with their foul breath and habits.” *
As always, any thoughts about this poem or the long poem project or anything else on your mind are appreciated.