Bathing with Tender Care
And not this time the body of my child,
but my own skin, loving the wrinkled knees
and the scars dealt the child I was,
loving the skin between toes,
how soft, verily soft,
like the tenderness
behind the knees.
How could I have so disliked this body
in my life, the one water so laves
in the small tub of my own storm’s tides.
Just like the other women I know,
the girls, so interrupted by our own proportions
to the world of ought.
I look at the picture of my grandmother;
never was there a lapse of my love
for the fit of her flesh
upon her sweetness, about her kindness.
And great-grandmother, no teeth but a smile,
she sits on the stump of a once large tree,
or we think that enthrones her wide hips,
tobacco-chewing, pipe-smoking, tobacco-sniffing women,
all these, and my great-great-grandmother,
the picture from a newspaper all I have of her
except something inside me that is what she is.
She looks so stern, and maybe it is the photo,
or maybe, god forbid, that is also a part of me,
but I like her dark, darkness, the bone earrings,
hair pulled straight and black.
Did they feel about themselves
as women today or did they merely think
I have grown
or I have grown old?
Never will I not love again
this skin which is each of those women.
Never will I not bathe slowly, washing
my elbows, that dent beneath my arm,
the cleft between legs,
the belly still so gently soft,
all the skin so once tight
as if there is more, even more,
so much more life,
more love, to live inside
this beauty I have become
warmer now than water.
Let me take it through my heart again,
that unchanging moment,
you wading through the river,
me wading toward you, laughing,
the illumination of that moment,
the shine of our skin
and clouds coming toward us.
They are the sky beings who live above
with tears ready to fall
like the origins of rain; no one knows
what they have seen in their previous fluid form.
For now, I merely go through that one day again,
remembering, traveling toward the river
past the place where snakes shed their skin
and move on
new, shining like a constant,
ceaseless stream of water
as it crawls across earth, changes and passes
blood memory, saltwater memory,
toward our laughter and joy
that moves once again through this heart.
What I Keep
Once we had mountains
and you took them down.
It was enchanted before,
with the song of golden winds
of pollens from flowers
you also removed, as if it were the gold
you searched for. We gave you our labor.
We gave you our food, our sleeping mats.
You slept a year before we sent you away
with burning arrows and your fat ran across earth.
You took the plants on ships
away from our beautiful woods
from the forest,
you took them back to strange lands
Then you needed our lands,
and more of you
until you took our homes
while we still lived inside them.
You took the birds, the rookeries of beautiful waters,
feathers for hats
made from animals of this land
and all the time you lost,
so much even
a young woman had to lead the way
for your fame.
You need us now,
so I give to you
my knowledge, my mind, my stone soup.
But to myself, for myself
I keep my soul.
Our gods, your people
will never take.
The Red Part
When I was a girl
the old women told me if I were always generous
I could paint a part in the middle of my hair with red.
Red ochre. Red paint. Red lipstick.
But it seemed not right
to reveal to the world
that I am generous, as if the announcement takes it back.
So unlike other girls,
I appeared selfish and ungiving.
Even if I gave much away,
but who would ever know.
I think of the many red parts,
the parting of the sea
by Moses who was leading his people
in a never-ending story, the parting in the red stem
of the plant for healing bad lungs,
the parting of the heart
when one side works with and against the other
and the veins in their miles
flow back again and again.
But the red part I recall the most
had to do with generosity, and then
our giving up the taken land again and again
to those who so wanted it. We parted with our
clothing, our children, and on our way
we left the red part
of a blood trail
across the land.
It looked like writing that became
the book coming after us.