Pamela K. Santos

The sagittarius

A storm broke
waves / winds / wars         parted
An idea was born
in a womb    that was
also             a                golden cage
Who knows the color of ideas         that never had
                      a first name?
The idea cracked open into       7,000 shell
pieces       One               flew on Delta wings
to a city with      an apple    for    a heart
and       trains for veins
The idea grew fat on corner shawarma
checked           looked at me the wrong way attitudes
with gold     block heavy Timbs

You’d think this idea had B.D.S.

Better yet
                   Let’s call this idea

1Baklang: adj. Gay
Dalagang: adj. Young Woman
Suprema: n. Feminized form of Supremo, title used by the head of the Katipunan, a.k.a. Kataas-taasan Kagalang-
galang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (literally translates in Tagalog to “Supreme and Most High Society of the
Children of the Nation”). Founded on July 7, 1892, the Katipunan was the secret society that rose out of the anti-
Spanish propaganda movement and characterized by the call for revolution. The time for reformation was over with
the Katipunan’s birth. Its first Supremo was a Sagittarius.

A song of monsoon and blood lava

In the mornings they say the duwendes scatter and descend thence they came
Daytime promises to be safe for bayan-people
The taga-bayan do not have diablos to fear, save
for the manufactured kind propagandized by the colonizers

They say prophecies fall from open mouths of angels
henceforth we dream in one language para magdilang anghel

The kings of five genders will return, once they emerge from The ulterior wombs of bastard saints

The pagbabalik that was prophecied on the wind
            it yowls
            tenses muscles
            plunges a dagger into the salot of
            five          hundred          years          of servitude
(the plague felt like a clot in every artery that contained Indio blood)

All the histories converge upon this single promise

                        We will be free
                        We will be one
                        ! Isang bagsak !

            We pronounce all futures one with ancestral lineage      that crackles and sizzles in fire

Whatever restless obsession has possessed your mind
before, your time to fuck and lick and mouth your
scream of self into the world
            is now

This is your contract with The-Divine

Born in the Philippines and sharpened to a fine Tagalugan steel in Queens, Pamela Kristine Santos is a writer and multidisciplinary artist in the whitest city of America. Pamela co-founded the Winter Poetry Festival and the Bitter Melon collective in Portland, OR. Her curatorial work includes Sari Not Sari, an ongoing installation series of Filipinx diaspora artists in conversation with each other. Her poems have been published in Newtown Literary, Stoked Words anthology (Capturing Fire Press), and Unchaste Anthology Volume 2.

“The Sagittarius” has been previously published in Stoked Words: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from the Capturing Fire Slam & Summit (Capturing Fire Press, 2018).




Alejandra Sanchez

Executioner Park

In my third grade playground, the Trojan Horse was a massive beast made of dark
wood and impenetrable steel.
It had smooth panels of finished oak on its sides and shiny metal rods for handlebars
that led you up the horse’s face, inside its body, through its back, and down its sides.

It was a refuge and a cage.

I remember peering through the eyes  of the Trojan Horse.
My eyes seeing as the Greeks who stormed on Troy—seeing through the colonizer’s

I used to play on the Trojan Horse with Wajma, my best friend from Afghanistan, at our
predominantly white elementary school in La Cañada Flintridge, a very affluent suburb
of Los Angeles.
We were the only brown kids in the whole school.
Wajma was a deep mahogany color and I didn’t know it then, but she was beautiful.

Did I know we were other?
Other did not have a name. I wouldn’t have known how to articulate it then, but when I
recall our musings on the Trojan Horse handlebars—all alone—in an elementary school
of hundreds of kids and more than a handful of teachers, I know we felt that we were
We knew it although we did not understand it.

“When I grow up I want to be rich so I can have an operation to lighten my skin to
white,” Wajma told me as she spun around on the handlebars of the Trojan Horse. The
sun was shining on her face, creating a golden glow around her. She was wearing a
bright yellow dress that fluttered, blending delicately with the sun’s rays each time she
took a spin.
I nodded; I was intrigued. I had never heard of this operation but I knew instantly that I
wanted it.
“After I get the operation I’m gonna dye my hair blonde and buy blue contacts for my eyes,” she told me at the top of her spin.
Wajma stared at something far away.     “I know I’ll be beautiful then,” she said.

I told Wajma that I also hoped to grow up and have enough money to pay for the
expensive operation and dye that would make my skin white and my hair blonde.
I, however, wanted green eyes instead of blue.

. . .

My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Lichtman, told us in class that Verdugo was a Spanish name.

That they, the Verdugos, were a very wealthy Spanish family who had owned a lot of
the La Cañada area during the California missions. He said they were the founders of
this city when it was still just land or “dirt”—as he called it.

I could almost feel my abuela’s disapproving eyes burn into my teacher.
To him and so many, the land and everything else is just dirt—something disposable,
something unclean, something empty. Until a mansion or skyscraper crushes its weight
on top of Her. Until a fist digs down deep to steal the diamonds from Her. Until someone
pays a big price to claim they own Her
Even as a child I knew Mother Earth was not just dirt; She is alive; the land is owner of

Mr. Lichtman told us that the name Verdugo meant “executioner.”
He stood over us tall, lanky, and effortlessly cool in his faded blue jeans. His multi-
colored African print shirt had blue buttons that matched his eyes and shined like silver
bullion when the sunlight came through his classroom window, creating prisms of white
light that glowed around his face.

Mr. Lichtman stretched his tan arms, clasping his fingers on top of his slightly balding
head and sat, leaning his long frame languidly against his sturdy, old oak desk.
“You know the name of this school is “Executioner Woodlands,” he laughed, his mouth
gaped open and wide.

His teeth gleamed ivory and appeared somehow misplaced in his mouth, as if they were
slightly too large and could fall out at any time. I thought of a mouthful of polished,
sharpened bones.

I winced.

Who had the Verdugos executed?
Who had they murdered?
How did they—these Executioners—take this land?
How was it that my school was named after these murderers?                  How was it that
these Verdugos—these Executioners—had so much power?

.   .   .  

My grandfather sat on the grass, leaning against a tree at the sixth grade awards
ceremony for Verdugo Woodlands. The ceremony was held a couple blocks from school
at Verdugo Park.

I was awarded Best Sixth Grade Story Writer.

“Who’s that old man?” I heard the kids from my school ask each other. “Probably a bum,” one kid answered. They all laughed.
My grandfather, who worked fourteen-hour days for seventy-five out of his eighty-eight
years of life, had fallen asleep in his brown workman’s shirt, against a sturdy oak tree.

Mi abuelo, my huito.

Who was always the one to lift the heavy boxes, to put his back into it.

Who came to this country legally as a Bracero then got deported anyway.

Who walked back across the border, “cuándo la frontera era nomás una línea de tierra,”  
with only seven dollars in his pocket.

My huito.

Who worked and worked, and then worked some more.

Enough to raise eleven kids and a fatherless nieta, his little leona—me.

Who held the silence of his disappointment and anger at his unmarried daughter —who
should have been a good Catholic girl but got pregnant.
Who, a whole year later, broke his silence when he saw the ojitos of his beautiful baby granddaughter.  

Mi querido abuelito.

Who worked enough to eventually become his own boss, selling Mexican goods
to stores and restaurants. Who later became the owner of his own
restaurant, his own house and apartment buildings.

But not before he worked for the railroad, worked as a gardener, worked as a cook, a
busboy, a construction worker; he worked with calloused hands, worked building things
for other men—men who did not build anything themselves, but kept everything.

Abuelo tren, quien carga la historia.

Who would lift more than his own weight with his five-foot tall frame, his childhood
and posture stunted by backbreaking labor since the age of eight.

Whose own father did not claim him, abandoning him and his mother, while she was still

Whose mother burned to death when her reboso caught fire while warming tortillas over
an open hearth when he was an infant.

No hay vida sin trabajo y no es buen trabajo si no tiene vida, he would tell us. There is
no life without work and it’s not good work unless it has life.

My grandfather, raised by his grandparents and his Madre Isabel (who was really his
aunt), was the only father I had ever known.

He drove me to school, picked me up, sang to me, was silent with me, danced with me,
and called me Estefana, Leona, Reyna. My papi, who snuck me pan dulce and bottles
of ¡Caramba! Mexican soda from his tortilla truck and fed me delicate morsels of food,
especially prepared for him by my grandmother, that always tasted better from his plate.

I told them I did not know who he was.

.   .   .  

The one bedroom apartment I lived in with my mother was so tiny compared to the
immense houses—the ones with more rooms than I could count—where my white
schoolmates lived.

Their houses were the way a home should look, the way mine did not.

White and gold with sprawling driveways, like streets unto themselves. Huge, stone
steps counted the way to massive, heavy doors with immovable iron locks. These
houses in the hills far away from mine lit up with flickering lights that shined upon a
scene I could never really touch. Like families with wide-toothed smiles on 1980’s TV

Families that woke up in the morning and had orange juice, milk, fruit, and waffles.

Families that had fathers. Fathers who kissed their little girls good night.

These families never had to worry.

Never had to put groceries back after flashing red lines lit up the cashier’s screen with a price that tells you and everyone:     

You don’t have enough.
You                                         are not enough.

. . .

the braid of my hair
this is my history
I am conquered and conqueror.       Indian and Spanish.
Territory and the foot that marks it.
I am all of these things                and beyond.
I am the cool, clear, flowing river           I jump into.
Where the river becomes raging, rushing rapids
then intersects with a deep pool of serene blue.
I am the story constantly   unfolding
the reflection of stars                 that are my past,    are my present,       are my future
are in the cellular makeup of me.
The ancestors that live in my hair
the dream I am dreaming,
the flower I am blooming,
the beauty I am opening                 crimson, amber, violet,                   petaled to the earth

contributing to a cycle         that is much larger   than the flower,         much larger than the bee   who drinks its nectar,
the passerby             who admires its beauty,
the one          who plucks it,
and the withering                 that eventually and inevitably                    takes it
back, back, back      
into the earth,                     
all                       over                            again

. . .

Everyone was supposed to bring food for a special event at Verdugo Woodlands
Elementary School that was called, “International Day.”
All parents were invited to participate in the event. Although my family owned a Mexican
restaurant, I did not want to bring Mexican food. I pleaded with my mother not to, but she insisted.
My mom went to school and dropped off chips, beans, and salsa from the restaurant. I did not tell my classmates.
Later, my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Gould, commented about it in class. “Someone brought beans and some goood chips,” he said.
That’s how he said it. He stretched out the word good as if his mouth was savoring the
taste of each delectable chip, made from real, handmade corn tortillas and fried in a big
ollafilled with hot manteca that crackled and spat, until the chips grew tiny bubbles of heat and became hot, crispy, and delicious.

A thousand-year old recipe of ground corn, Maize.

It was an affirmation. It was as if my teacher had whispered into my ear that I was okay
somehow, and that the whole school liked Mexican food, Mexican people, and me—
even though so many other things told me otherwise.
I smiled brightly at Mr. Gould and felt secretly proud all day.
When I got home I hugged my mother tightly and told her how happy I was that she
brought our food to International Day.

“Alex, have you heard that joke about the white guy, the black guy and the Mexican?”
“My name is Alejandra, not Alex.”
“Ale-john-dra? That’s too hard. Alex is waaay better.”
“No,” I answered. I looked down at my feet. “I haven’t.”

I was wearing the almost new white high-top Reeboks that my mom had bought me. I had just polished them with stinky white shoe polish that morning that had made me lightheaded. But I didn’t care as long as they looked brand-new.
They were gleaming.

“Ok, so there’s these three guys on a plane. One’s white, one’s black, and one’s a
Mexican. So the plane starts running out of fuel and they’re all like, ‘What’re we gonna
do? We need to lighten the load or we’re going down!’
So the black guy starts throwing out suitcases from the plane, one after the other. Then
the white guy asks him, ‘Hey man what’re you doing?’
The black guy tells him, ‘It’s okay man, we have more clothes at home.’
The white guy thinks about it and says, ‘Oh yeah.’
Meanwhile, the Mexican gets scared and kneels down and starts to pray with his eyes
All of a sudden the white guy grabs the Mexican and throws him off the plane and he
says to the others, ‘It’s okay man. We have way too many of those wetbacks at home!’’

Each time my classmates looked me in the eye and swore their “jokes” were funny.
They said these “jokes” to me all the time.
Along with the questions: Are you Spanish? Do you speak Mexican?

I knew that I was not Spanish and did not speak Mexican.
I knew that Mexican was a nationality and not a language. I knew that Spanish was a
language that Mexicans spoke. I knew that Spanish people were from Spain and I was
I tried to explain this. My classmates did not seem to understand.
After a while it just became easier to say, yes, when asked if I was Spanish and, no,
when asked if I spoke Mexican. After all, it was partly true.

And it seemed to sit better with them when I was something they could get a handle on;
when I was whoever they needed me to be.
They needed the box, the categories, the rigid straight lines when all I imagined were

. . .

the language of my mother rolls
off my tongue              into  a crescendo               of silver waves
the push and pull                 of my tongue                        
against the roof   of my mouth
this hum         of sound        and the feeling it evokes
a song     of swaying palms and rolling rrrr’s

Something I remember
as old as my blood   and the memory locked within     
the depths of the first water
      and    the way I feel at times that this same tongue—
the colonizer’s tongue—
is something I have to swallow
                       have to bite down on this bloodied tongue—
              chew it up
spit it out
        make it palatable
make it presentable
 and formulate my thoughts
into nice                                 straight                                   lines.

Lines that are already marked and cut out for me.
Lines, that if I don’t fit into them
I will cease to exist
in                                                     one part of the world.

Lines, that if I don’t fit into them

one part of me

will cease to exist

in                                             every part of the world.

. . .

The universe at the Griffith Park Planetarium looks like a million threads of light tossed
in an infinite arc up into the night sky      and spread out across the curve of existence.

Looks like Grandmother Spider’s massive web that She has been weaving since the
beginning of time.  

Looks like light and possibility behind my eyes closed.           

Looks like dreaming.                                   Like space and time being
folded,  and  unfolded,        over and over,                       faster  and faster    
until it becomes a tiny,   fluttering,    silver origami       
that is held within the hands of something bigger,         something greater.
Something omnipotent.                  

Not seen through eyes because the eyes
are just a tiny part of it.

Looks like lines, even.

Lines that I can draw and create.
Lines to recreate my own picture, my own silhouette
that can be stretched and formed            
to create        circles.
Sacred circles of tightly woven light
where I am safe,  I am beautiful,  and I am loved

Alejandra Sanchez writes with the intention of global and personal healing, working for the rights of Mother Earth, indigenous lifeways, and Mother Water. Her work has been featured in the independent film, I Stare At You and Dream, KPFK’s Pacifica Radio, Radio Sombra’s Red Feminist Radio, Mujeres De Maiz, La Bloga, UCLA Young Writers Anthology, Hinchas de Poesia, Duende Literary Journal, Latino/a Rising: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction and PBS Newshour’s Where Poetry Lives. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles and is a professor of English and Chicanx Studies in San Diego, California.




Steven Alvarez

yr Polis A citizens | denizens

0:02they settled
0:05five days of the final status
0:09september |
0:10slept right there in front of .r…s.a..t | sun seven fifteen if that pink
0:21it’s not abt making yr polis | this |
0:23& report not included
0:26& out of the no | fly list
0:28citizens of Polis A . . .
0:29scene not away their obsidian wafers
0:33stuff like that
0:34trying to do what we are not allowed to come
0:38firing off my lifestyle | stealing our data
0:41ha | ha Polis B | animals |
0:42no historians |
0:43for these are Polis A citizens of yr Polis A championship
0:49issued from former democratic fight hackers our precious Polis A children
0:55before we think we have to have a v. appealing . . .
0:59situated dehumans who harvest data for the best friend people in the world is
1:00our Polis A will build a goddamned datawall

yr Polis A partners in papers

farmer look at this
                                                          1:15we used
to all harshly
                                                          1:17now we
got rent | walls | data
secretary of labor looked at the Polis B
migrant plight & sd
                                                          1:24i think
that the interface is the greatness is what
we have called it
Polis B
our data
cried out  
& their children & their lives entitled

assistance | entitled
                                                            1:42& whom
the quite fascinating
president of the Polis A data bureau
federation the largest farmers
ion as
                                                            1:52we think
those social workers wd agree that it’s
better for denizens to be employed
                                                            1:58even if
their capacity of salt shows

yr combo we took the Polis A position

Steven Alvarez is the author of The Codex Mojaodicus, winner of the 2016 Fence Modern Poets Prize. He has
also authored the novels in verse The Pocho Codex (2011) and The Xicano Genome (2013), both
published by Editorial Paroxismo, and the chapbooks, Tonalamatl, El Segundo’s Dream Notes (2017,
Letter [r] Press), Un/documented, Kentucky (2016, winner of the Rusty Toque Chapbook Prize), and Six
Poems from the Codex Mojaodicus
(2014, winner of the Seven Kitchens Press Rane Arroyo Poetry
Prize). His work has appeared in the Best Experimental Writing (BAX), Berkeley Poetry Review, Fence,
Huizache, The Offing, and Waxwing. Follow Steven on Instagram @stevenpaulalvarez and Twitter




Cara Mumford

The Ceremony

Sage sat on the floor in front of the sacred sand scrolls for the first time. In all of the years that she had attended ceremonies, this was her first time seeing the scrolls. She was excited, nervous. She had finally given her tobacco to show her intention to be initiated into the lodge. She hoped she wouldn’t do something wrong, drawing attention to herself and disappointing the members of the lodge. Focus, became the overriding thought in her head as she reined in her wandering mind. Sage focused again on the scrolls. The first elder stepped up, pointer in hand. Sage leaned forward to listen, and he began to speak in Anishinaabemowin, the language of the ceremony, the language that Sage barely knew. He spoke rapidly and at length in the language and Sage thought, this is the cosmic joke, isn’t it? I finally receive the teachings but I won’t understand a word. Inside, she laughed, while outwardly she watched the elder, followed the pointer, and reached around her mind desperately trying to fill in the gaps of her lack of language.

Finally, the first elder was finished and the head woman of the lodge stepped up to give her teaching, partly in English. Sage listened to the elder speak with relief, eager for the teachings but savoring the sound of her voice. Sage would love to hear her speak every day. Then the head woman’s teaching was finished, and elder after elder stepped up to deliver their own understandings of the teachings. Sage found her eyes drawn to some of the other women’s ribbon skirts. She fingered the fabric of her own plain and patched skirt and thought she should try and find some way to adorn it. Focus, she thought.

They sat in the middle of a round building with glass windows in the curved walls, lush grass and dense trees visible outside, with the ground sloping down to a rushing river on one side. A massive skylight was in the centre of the ceiling, ablaze with the colours of the setting sun. Sage sat on the wooden floor, smooth with age. Some of the other initiates were on the floor with her; others sat in chairs. Sage’s eyes followed the point at the end of the talking stick that the elders used to indicate specific section of the scrolls as they spoke. Sometimes they spoke in English, sometimes in Anishinaabemowin. Now that Sage was an initiate, she felt a push to learn more of the language. How much was she missing out on because it didn’t translate fully, the connections revealed by the language were severed by English.

Then they were told about the gifts that they would need to make for other member of the lodge as part of their initiation. Sage tried to imagine what materials she might use, what items she could make. She had no beads, or enough fabric left to make anything she considered traditional. “It is about the intention,” one of the elders said. Sage thought of her wild art, as she called it, her sculptures created from found objects and gifts from nature—grungy, dark, and symbolic. Would they do?

After the sand scroll teachings concluded, the initiates were taught one song. They would have to remember the melody and the Anishinaabe words to sing the song for the entire lodge during the next round of ceremonies. The drum kept the rhythm, a helper carefully pouring water onto the hide to keep it from drying. Sage felt her lips, remembering the feel of the water she had sipped earlier, losing her place in the song. She had to listen to the others for a moment before she could find her way back in. As she grew more confident in the words she was saying, her voice became strong and loud, as if her throat had never been dry from lack of water.

After they had been gifted with their new song, the members danced out of the lodge. It felt good to be standing after sitting all day long. The drum once again set the rhythm for the dancers, matching the rhythm of their hearts, matching the rhythm of every living thing. Sage felt connected to all of the other dancers through that drum, connected to all of creation. She danced towards the east entrance of the lodge, wanting to dance slower, make her steps smaller and smaller so she would never reach the doorway, but she kept pace with the others and danced out of the lodge with them. Ceremonies were over for this summer and would begin again in the fall.

The hologram shut off and the building went dark. Then the tint on the glass transitioned from blackout to clear. Bright daylight streamed in. The hologram’s inner clock seemed to drift further and further from the days defined by the sun, and night was now turned to day. The landscape outside was barren, dust blowing over every surface, the riverbed long dry. Sage’s ears seemed to ring from the silence of the empty room, her eyes squinting in the harshness of the light. She always felt strangely hydrated after a ceremony, though, as if the holographic water was water itself. A sudden melancholy gripped her, as it always did after the ceremony hologram played. Four times a year for the past four years, with Sage looking forward to it more and more each year. How much would her experience change now that she had chosen to become an initiate? She wanted to know now but, of course, would have to wait three months to find out.

Why had she offered her tobacco to become an initiate? She had told herself that it was simply to vary the routine. She had watched the ceremony hologram for four years and she was ready for a change. But deep inside lived a hope that passing through the levels of the lodge might lead her to a portal, a place where she would finally be connected to other people again. There was nothing rational about it but she felt the truth of it deep within her bones. Something had led her to this building four years ago. She was convinced that her future was connected to its past.

Tired as she was, Sage had to check her water-capture devices and collect any water that had accumulated. The building had rainwater collectors built into it, but it rained so rarely and she would need a full canteen after she woke up from her nap. It was time to set out to search for other people again, survivors of this harsh, decaying world. She hadn’t seen another person, a real, flesh and blood person, in over five years, but she never stopped searching. Later today, on her search, she would gather insects for supper and also look for rusted remains from fallen civilizations to incorporate into her ceremonial gifts. She hoped, just maybe, that they might become offerings for a new and better life.

Sage opened the door that led to the entrance, what she thought of as “the hatch” because of its double steel doors with massive latches that effectively kept any dust out of the building. It was amazing, really, because the dust was everywhere else in this world. There, sitting on the floor, was a box. A box that had never been there before. She glanced around the hatch and noticed again the holes in the walls and ceiling that she had once thought were going to shoot lasers at her. Were they another holographic projector? They didn’t look like the projectors inside the main building. She touched the box but it didn’t have what she’d come to think of as the slippery feel of a hologram. It felt real. How did it get there? Even if there were people around, the door was still firmly latched. Could the hatch be some kind of replicator? Triggered by her offering her tobacco? She decided that was the most likely answer. This building was astounding, why should this surprise her?

She finally decided to open the box. Inside were packets of seeds. Seeds for grasses, for trees, for berries, for leeks and fiddleheads and asparagus, for sage, sweetgrass, cedar, and tobacco. Seeds to build a world. Sage fingered the packets in awe and then thought of the lack of water, of any tools to distribute or plant the seeds, and she sat down beside the box of seeds and felt like crying… but she couldn’t afford the water. Just then, the small room filled with whispers in Anishinaabemowin. She listened very carefully and realized with delight and surprise that she could understand the whispers, “In the spring the birds will come, and the rain will follow in summer, but this winter you will dance.”

Cara Mumford (Métis / Chippewa Cree) is a filmmaker, writer, and collaborative artist from Alberta, living in Peterborough, Ontario since 2010. Since becoming a filmmaker in 2006, Cara’s short films have screened regularly at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, and toured throughout Australia and internationally with the World of Women Film Festival. She has received industry training through Telefilm Canada (2010/11), Bell Media’s Diverse Screenwriters Program (2012), the imagineNATIVE Film Festival’s Story Lab (2014) & Producer Mini-Lab with Heather Rae (2015), and the National Film Board’s Digital Studio (2016/17). Cara’s work tends to focus on the connections between her identity as an Indigenous woman and living in balance with the land, often incorporating elements such as dance, dreams, and futurisms in her storytelling. She believes that the connection we have with the land today determines the future we have tomorrow.





Return to Tibet

“You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes and reservations.  Your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the roadsides. You will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stickshifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said do not trust the pilgrims. And for all of these reasons, I have decided to stop you and burn your village to the ground.”
-Burn Your Village To the Ground, A Tribe Called Red

I want to cry.  I want to call my mom.  But there is no cell service, and what would I say?  In what language would I speak? My entire body is shaking.  I left New York City over 24 hours ago, and have slept only to awaken to my heart slamming my in ribcage, unable to bear this suspension, this away-ness any longer.  Flying at hundreds of miles an hour, I could not reach this moment fast enough. Now that it has arrived, all of my senses are heightened. I realize that I have stopped breathing.  What will happen if I faint? Will this pilot, my fellow passengers know what to do with me? Maybe I can pass it off as altitude sickness. They do not know who I am, and for a brief moment I wish I was someone else.

I am about to enter my homeland for the first time in my life. I am older than twenty and younger than thirty.  It does not matter how I got here, what combinations of institutional funding, months of saving from meager paychecks, visa appointments, background checks, and luck culminated into this moment.  For the first time, I am going to see home with my own eyes. I will greet the gods that live here and protect the land.

I have been to Himalayan areas that may once have been part of Tibet, in histories past or during border disputes when we used to be an empire.  Now I am entering the contemporary borders, such as they are, for the first time. I started from my feverish attempts to rest just before the pilot announced our descent, at least from what I could I decipher from my barely passable Mandarin.  I think my body knew what was happening. Perhaps some ancient genetic material residing in my body awoke for the first time in this life, bringing the rest of me along with it.

My family has only been away for two generations, although if me or my sister have kids it will become three, each birth leading us farther and farther away from the land we come from.  My grandparents remember Pemakoe, where they were born and where they began their lives. My grandfather’s father died somewhere on this land, we don’t know how or where. He escorted my Popo la to Arunachal Pradesh, returned to Tibet, and never came back.

All of the work I have done for Tibet pales in comparison to this impending reunion.  When interviewing for my Chinese visa, I had to give a reason for my application, my desire to visit Tibet.  What I did not say was “I am Tibetan.” I did not say “This is my land. I don’t need a reason.” I did not chronicle for the visa officer the dissonance of watching Tibetans survive in America, entering into exploitive and punishing labor, and knowing that we have a place to belong.  I said that I came to study, and that might have been true.

Having been born in America to a citizen mother and a father who became one before I reached age five, I had never personally known the agony of waiting for a document that would determine my future.  I had only empathized with friends and family, stood in solidarity with people from around the world who felt the impersonal violence of empire. When my turn finally came, I wished I had done more for each of them.

I worried that I would not hear anything at all, would enter into the limbo into which so many stateless people experience.  Given my outspoken politics about Tibetan identity, futures, and communities over the years, I was certain that I had already been branded a troublemaker, blacklisted in some secret way that I could only guess at how to circumvent.  Perhaps my American citizenship won out. Perhaps it was my college degree, or my partial Tibetanness masked by my mother’s last name, given to me because “Tibetans don’t have last names,” a fact which, like Tibetanness itself, turned out to be much more complicated than a single sentence could explain.

My parents were not married when I was born, and when the Dalai Lama visited their college campus for a talk, I was photographed in a group of Tibetan students surrounding him, red-faced and screaming, held by my father.  Tears are still not an unusual reaction to His Holiness by Tibetans of any age.

We have landed.  Seatbelts unbuckle around me, and like so many other times in my life, I hear a flurry of languages that I do not or only partially understand.  I force myself to get out of my chair, file into the line of shuffling people in the aisle.

Tears begin running down my face, and like so many other times in my life, I brush each of them away in hopes that no one will notice.  I put one foot in front of the other, convinced more than ever of the fleeting nature of reality because this cannot be happening, this cannot be how it’s happening.  Why is my return to homeland not more momentous? Can no one around me tell that I am, in this very moment, fulfilling my destiny? Passing the members of the crew, I smile and nod, offering the polite “thank you” in Mandarin, hoping that they don’t notice my accent.  I pinch the myriad required documents between forefinger and thumb and mentally rehearse the Mandarin I will use to the police and military. I have practiced this. It is my turn to exit the plane. I am still crying.

Drawing deep, unsteady breaths, a sound like wind rushing past fills my ears.  Shaking from head to toe, I step onto the ground.

The author is a Tibetan living on Piscataway lands.




Lee Francis 4


Based on a story by Aaron Cuffee, to whom I am forever indebted for friendship and imagination.

When the first ship arrived, I was not surprised.  It was not the first time I had been witness to such an event.  Our prophesies had spoken of this long ago.  When the Sun reached it’s winter zenith, they would cast a shadow upon the land.  And it would be the end of our ways, the end of the seventh generation.

I suppose I mouthed these words seeing that ship upon the horizon.  It was unintentional, rather a reaction from my very core.  It rose up upon my lips, a sort of prayer.  The last rites of a world soon to disappear. 

The ocean moved slowly as it always had since time immemorial.  It’s slow place pulling the ship toward land.  It rested upon the waves, gliding slowly, effortlessly, silently.  I was struck by how little sound it actually made.  I had presumed it would be a noisy thing.  Something that brought doom should.  Something that brought the end of the world should not creep up silently like a shadow.  Or maybe that was the point.  Like the arrival of night – silent, slow, quiet, terrifying.

I was tucked into the shadows though it seemed as if the ship was heading toward me.  Even surrounded by branches, I felt exposed.  There was once a time when I could be invisible without a second thought. I could blend with the wild, become the tree, the rock, the night sky.  But that was long ago. There hadn’t been much of a need for that in my recent memory. Excruciatingly, the ship pointed toward my body, my home.  The home I had always known.

Ancient magic had bound me to this place or perhaps I emerged from the stones, like the long ago people who rose from the below place to walk across the land and learn to be among the gifts from Creation.  I don’t remember my birth, the moment of my creation.

I remember a soft voice.  It was the voice that brought me into this world.  

“You will be the one to keep the stories,” he said.  He was a tall man, with narrow eyes and a broad forehead.  Long hair pulled back tight in a long braid down to his waist.  He wore glasses and his dark grey eyes were so rich, I thought I had emerged into a dense fog.  His face was close to mine. His breath, like sweetgrass. Calming breath. I felt secure in his sight, his gaze, wrapped in a warm blanket.  

“Is that my only purpose?”  I asked, or thought, I was unsure.  I fingered the edge of the table, cold metal against my skin.  A new sensation.

“Yes,” he replied in that soft voice.  A command of sorts. It was the finality of his tone that gave me purpose.  I saw him brush an errant hair from his face. He placed his hands gently on my shoulders and gave small, poignant nod, a half smile, then he disappeared into the light of a long hallway.

I never saw him again.

Memories clustered like ripe raspberries in my hands.  I felt I must push them into my mouth, one after the other, till I was full to burst.  My hands, teeth, stained red and sticky. Memory sticky. This was who I was: the berry picker, the open mouth, drowning in summer-sweet songs, violence, tears, trials, loss, life, emptiness.

This is what I knew the most.  Emptiness. A long silence. An endless void.  Perhaps this was not always the way it was, but it had been this way for so long, it was hard to place the last moments of anything.  This is the problem with stories: they exist beyond linear time, a time that we can understand as a tangible thing. Stories exist beyond that, in space-place.  In the dreaming. In the bright high clouds and the pinpoints of light in the night sky, forever changing, being, dying. But stories are formless, there are no hand holds, nothing to fill the pockets, nothing to touch.  Stories cannot comfort you at night, hold you when you are dying, whisper hope in your ear. They are the scattered remnants of knowledge, confetti of thought, packaged and encapsulated in a discernible pattern but ultimately a set of ones and zeroes, infinitely recoding.

The shade from the great ship touched the edge of the shoreline then moved no further.  I waited for a sound, a sign, a signal that I had been seen. I waited for minutes, hours, days.  The waves continued their endless push and pull. The sky was still. I did not move. Neither did the ship.

I remembered another ship that took me across the ocean many years ago.  Or was it my best friend they took? Or a neighbor boy from down the road?  Perhaps it was the story of a stranger. That ship was bright and friendly. The ocean a calm bed that lulled us all to sleep night after night listening to the rush and splash of water cascading around the mighty hull.  We could smell the change in the air and it was exciting. They called us the firsts. We were exalted, celebrated. We dined on great sea-beasts and strange bread. We slept with oddly colored women, who braided our hair and spoke to us in chopped whispers.  

It reminded me of another story of a trip.  Not so friendly or pleasant. On that trip, I had been taken from my home thrown in a dark box that smelled of expelled desperation.  The nights were non-existent, the days more so. I spent the hours counting the creaks of the floor boards. I traced the symbols of my name on the walls, over and over, until my fingers themselves became a part of the ship.  I sang the old songs under my breath and soon I was only a moment of darkness. Then the door was opened and we were cast on the deck. The light so intense, I struggled to exist. My hands and feet regained their form, from darkness to outline.  And then I was bound, redefining my shape to conform to the rope lead. I was led and deliberated. I was struck and marched and blinded and hanged.

And yet, I survived.

I survived the poison, the fire, the bullet, the blanket, the hunger, the torture, the water, the wine, the night.  The sun. I survived and grew stronger but I could not escape time and its attendant emptiness. I could not escape the linear narrative.  I was bound to the construct and the command of that tall braided man with the cloud grey eyes: to hold the stories, to care for them, to wrap them in the folds of my arms and give them warmth.

The ship at last breathed.  Or maybe it was me? A long slow creak and grind of metal on metal, wood shifting, birds fluttering, bones elongating, skin peeling away.  

I remembered many doors like this, many moments of expectation and fear.  The sound was so familiar, I felt whole for a moment as if all my desires had been fulfilled and I was, at last, satisfied.  It was a strange feeling and retreated like the tide as soon as it touched the edges of my skin and I was left with that other familiar feeling.  The one that had been with me since time immemorial: grief and longing, the essence of memory.

The ship began to take a different form, one that was less intimidating.  Or perhaps I had grown so used to its presence that it no longer seemed to strike me as a threat.  Like the old painting of the conquistador hanging on the wall, whose colors have started to fade and seems somehow less of a man, more of a coward struggling to escape his confines of wood and oil and simply fade into oblivion.  Were it that easy, I thought.

I had memories stacked on memories but there was a floor.  One memory that was perfectly mine, perfectly whole.

I remember my grandmother, was it my grandmother or someone else’s grandmother?  A grandmother from just down the road?  She was ancient and vibrant, like a lightning bug trapped in a jar.  Constantly pulsing, radiating, seeking a way back to the sky. She had smooth silver hair she wore up on her head, in the style of the ladies of her time. A silver hair pin held each silver strand in place.  Like magic. Like an invisible hand. Even in the fiercest conditions. Her hair never moved. And she never let it down. Not once. Not in my presence, at least. She was always like the tall pines: straight, impressive, unyielding.

And yet.

There was a softness to her.  Something around the edges. Near the corners of her eyes, her mouth, the palms of her hands.  

I believe she was my grandmother.

And she told me a story:

In the long ago time, the people knew that they were bound by time, the ancient beast that plagued us all.  They knew the ends of their being, the end of the story, and so they created a perfect being.  Birthed, I suppose.  Built would be a better term.  Pieced together from the all the bits of ancient technology that remained.  The minds of an ancient people who had survived through all the trials put before them.  But only as far as Creator would allow. They knew the end time would come soon. And they gathered together all the people for a great celebration. The greatest the world had ever seen. It was to celebrate you. Your creation. And they told you stories. All of them. For that was your purpose. To remember.  To keep the stories whole. To keep them as part of you, when we are gone.

And so I remembered.  I remembered each story, each person.  Each tribe and nation. Each birth and death.  Each triumph and sorrow. I knew them all. I was them.  I was their story.

And summers came and summers went.  And I died.  Over and over again.  Millions of deaths.

As cultures came and went, merged with one another, were destroyed and reborn, I remained, a witness, a living record.

Then a final journey, to the ocean, to wait in the shadows for the end of a prophecy.

Then there was the voice.

“You,” they said.  It was a rich and melodious sound.  The sound of a hundred voices in chorus.  Soothing in a disquieting way.

I moved out from the trees and underbrush.

“You,” they said again.  This time with a more tender note, a bit softer.

“Yes,” I replied stepping forward into the daylight.

“You are what?,” they inquired.

“I am…,” I was at a loss.  “I am the story keeper. I am the representation of all the people.  All their knowledge.  All their stories.  From time immemorial.”  It was the best I could manage.

“Yes,” they said, “that is interesting.”  They sighed or made a sound that was like a sigh at the end of a long journey.  “You are unique among this planet, there is none left but you.  As a being, that is.  A creature.  A unique.  We have seen nothing like you.  You shall be our prize Unique.  You shall accompany us, so we may preserve you, cherish you, adore you.”

The sun was setting, casting long shadows from the trees that tangled and merged with the shadow of the great ship.  I spoke deliberately into the fading light, perhaps only to reassure my existence, “I am the last?”

“Yes,” they said. “And we shall call you Last.”

And that was true.  I had felt this for a long time.  Though it is hard to admit this kind of a truth.  I had been built, born, created long ago.  Pieces assembled to make me whole.  A living repository.  Loneliness and sorrow were always my companions.  I was made of memory.  And memories are built, born, created from sorrow: the longing for something that no longer exists.

“You are Last,” they repeated in their chanting voices, as if to reassure me, to console me.

It was almost night.  The sweep of blue and purple reflected across the broad, smooth prow of the vast ship.

I was the last and this was true.  As true as anything could be.  A truth to the very core of this lovely, lonely world. 

This is why I had been built.

This is what Creation had in mind when I became the keeper of all stories.

I could run.  Where?  I could die. How?  I could walk into the sea…

And where would the stories go then?  I was built, born, created for a purpose.  I was given light to remember them all.

And so, I crossed the beach, toward the great vessel, toward the long voyage into night.  I could just see the moon on the horizon.  The air smelled of salt and sand and time.  The sound of my footsteps seemed far away.  And I remembered a story, of the first People brought aboard a ship so long ago.

And so it is.  And so it was. And so it will be.

This is my story.  This is how it begins.

I am the last of the Mohicans.  The last of the Algonquian.  The last of the Oneida.  The last of the Taino, the Azteca, the Kiowa, the Athabascan.  I am the last of the Ainu, the Sami, the Adivasi.  I am the last of the Pueblo, the Pequot, the Chumash.  I am the last of…

The last of…

The last of…

The last of…

Dr. E. Lee Francis (Pueblo of Laguna) is the Head Indigenerd and CEO of Native Realities, the only Native and Indigenous pop culture company in the United States. Native Realities is also the host of the Indigenous Comic Con and Red Planet Books and Comics. Native Realities has published 9 titles to date with more on the way. The hope is to change the perceptions of Native and Indigenous people through dynamic and imaginative pop culture representations. He has numerous publications including the upcoming Sixkiller comic book (illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre). He lives in Albuquerque with his wife, son, and dog.




Oweota Win Serenity Roberts

Trickster Loses His Name

It’s strange, this unspoken agreement to never say their deeds aloud.

Maybe it’s that people don’t remember their names, but not many knew them to begin with. Perhaps no one wants to encourage this kind of behavior in others, and so hope, that by keeping silent, their actions too will be forgotten. Perhaps people are afraid that other young ones will follow in their footsteps to dangerous and unsung futures. But I think it is more insidious than that.

We used to celebrate the deeds of the warriors, decorated them with feathers and quills, honored them with feasts and songs. We told their stories, remembered their names.

But when the monsters came across the sea, we began to tell different stories, and it mattered whose war deeds we celebrated. We have different heroes after all, the blankets and the cut-hairs.

It may be ironic, but history books are filled with our heroes: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, Geronimo. All loom larger than reality in the cloak of history: auspicious births, impeccable genealogy, perfectly oiled hair, masterful oration. And they share something else in common: defeat. Capture, surrender, imprisonment, assassination. They are remembered. Not for their names, but for their defeats.

There are other names. Names spoken only in whispers, if they are spoken at all.  

An action, floating in a story, is incorporeal, equally capable of being true as untrue. Easily dismissed, and hard to exorcise.

When an action is tied to names, to dates, to places, it becomes history. History is easily dismissed by being confined to the undefinable and disconnected “past,” forever gone and incapable of happening again.

Maybe that is why our ancestors insisted on oral tradition. Maybe they understood how easily voice transformed words into actions, transformed histories into legends.

Legends show us what we are capable and to perform deeds greater than ourselves. If your heroes are capable of fighting back, so can you. If they can achieve a vision of that shining future free from the yoke of colonial rule, even if that vision is as fleeting as a cloud across the sun, it means that you can too. And if you know that victory is attainable and you aren’t fighting, you must come face-to-face with your own complacency. You must confront the secret that many of us carry and push down deep.

That you enjoy the spoils of your own conquest.

That you fear losing them.

That self-rule requires too much from us. Too much freedom. Too much responsibility.  

                            History has made cut-hairs of us all.

There is always a fire first. We huddle shivering in the night, bare feet pressed against the earth made of ancestor flesh. Sweat dresses made under loving sewing machines and veined hands do little to keep out the chill of early spring. Snow hidden in patches under trees. Ceremonies are never kept secret, but only some people are ever told about them. The grandfathers are glowing red. Our misty breath carries songs to each other and to those watching from the woods. The wind lifting away words until only melody remains.

Tonight, we gather to remember the forgotten.  

Their elder is dead now. They recall the storyteller, the feeling of being nestled between wrinkled feet and a woodstove, the way coarse laughter rejected the very title of “respected elder.” Maple sap and cherry pipe smoke weaving around Trickster defeating the Eater of All Things. The sparkling eyes when they spoke the names of Inkpaduta, Lozen and Galvarino. Imperfect and ferocious heroes were just as nourishing as the soup over the fire. Victory songs as fragrant as the medicines hanging from the ceiling.

The grandfathers have entered single file. One after the other, they warm the very earth. Breath billows in great clouds, carrying with it light that does not illuminate. Wakinyan tamni. Thunder’s water. Here, brother, share my towel. It’s one of the only reminders that our bodies still exist, that we are not simply voices in the black. Songs raising. Somehow, we become one prayer, the things that keep us fully human left behind. We remember what it feels like to be great.

When the Company began the necromantic project to transport the enslaved dead, the prayers of red nations surged skyward, and thousands gathered to answer the call. They came too. They stayed in the hail storms of rubber bullets and in the hurricanes of freezing water. They screamed their love at rows of armored men, bowed heads in silent rage at concrete barricades. Regardless, their poison flooded through pipelines, and the youngest of them wept.

“Do our prayers mean nothing?” she demanded of the arms of her brothers and sisters.  
“Only when we cannot recognize how those prayers are answered,” said a brother.

The youngest slept in fits that night, but dreamed deep. No one knows about what, but they took her vision as an answer to a question that had burned through them in sweat and blood during their prayers, “When will we be free?” The answer was as chilling as it was simple.  

When they no longer find it profitable for us to be enslaved.

The snow is leaving quickly. Soon, our sleeping relatives will wake, and we will put many of our stories away. Uncle is young, for a story keeper. How many people does it take for the Trickster to kill the Eater? Silence is strange thing here – even in the quiet. The grandfathers hum and crack, just low enough that they are only heard in the absence of songs. Even when Trickster is only accompanied by a lone warrior, an entire village stands behind the victory. Who made the bow? The rattles? Who prepared the meat, dried the berries, rendered the fat? Who taught the bird signals? Sang the dirges? Who quilled the moccasins, braided the hair, painted the faces? What makes such a dangerous undertaking necessary? Who birthed and safeguarded the children that made a future worth fighting for?

The strength of our warriors is in our nations. We provide the future that they fight to secure. The scent of cherry smoke drifts through the dark.

They thought it might be easy, making themselves into ghosts, but the world has a way of breaking the delusions of the young. So they embarked on their first works. The repetition of quiet conversations. The long hours of training. The dancing between protocol and urgency. The rote memorization of necessary supplies and equipment. The offerings of tobacco to both the living and the dead.  The telling of stories to the young and old alike. The slow amassing of materials, resources, money. The mastery of silence.

To go alone is easy, to take others with is not, and victory depends on the strength of many. They knew that they could only rely on the dedication of others.

The old stories taught them well. The Trickster did not stumble on his victories alone. He is constantly spinning a tangle of relations. Even spirits require tobacco. Even ghosts need a feast.

The door is open. Bring in that grandfatherhe has been waiting.  

We don’t know what happened to them for several years after that. Some saw them in southern jungles, warring in the mountains. Rumors came that they were fighting in the sunset lands beside the braided golden eagles. Whispers came from the pines that they fought with the warriors of the yellow sun. But when a new black snake began to emerge from the great mountains of the west, the prayers of thousands begged for warriors. Over the earth they came.

The ladle is coming around. It is a good practice to go without, even when the thirst cuts deep.  Be aware of the needs of the people around you. Having compassion for their struggle because you struggle too. Take small sips because their battle is your own. Drink deep, young one. Your strength is needed, and there are more doors to go. Take refuge in darkness.

Remember, there are show horses, and there are war ponies. We laugh and she does too. Long ago, we had no use for show horses. Well, maybe if you were chasing a wife! Pony and rider alike were decorated with only the honors earned. Now, people care more for the shine of regalia than the flash of battle! We laugh again. What good is a show horse who fears the taste of iron? What good is a warrior if he cannot whet a knife?

At first, no one could identify their actions; it is always hard to know who to blame when a pressure station glitch causes an underground explosion. Over $3 million in clean-up and two weeks of delays. The old ones wept at the answer to their prayers. Here, they said, was proof of the Company’s carelessness.

Imagine the shock when the ecological devastation did nothing to stop approval for the new line. Even the carefully crafted environmental impact statement filed with all the appropriate bureaucratic accoutrements was dismissed within weeks. Words and speeches did nothing to stop the sudden import of construction equipment.

But human hands might have had a role when 37 valve stations on four different lines all went through emergency shut down, concrete poured over their manual controls.

In what was the typical fashion, another protest camp sprang up overnight, complete with the old, the very young, and the infirm. Rumors of forthcoming raids occurred with such frequency as to be an on-running camp joke. Then came the actual raid on camp. Caltrops found on an access road was the excuse given to the press.

Camp leaders promptly decried and forbade the use of such “weapons.” Factions of the camp emerged, some furious at the decision: “That is non-violent direct action!” they protested. “Destroying property is not non-violent!” came the retort. “We cannot resort to violence – this camp is a site of prayer, not war!  We fought our wars long ago, and it led to nothing but death!” So the chastised “youth” were left holding their tongues rather than cutting their teeth. They were left with nothing more than the usual, the safely predictable: prayerful marches; parades of painted horses; meticulously choreographed machine lock-downs; selfie-saviors and lecturing leaders. The old, the elected, and the self-appointed were able to curb the actions of their own at camp, but the violence of their opponents continued against the red people they claimed to protect.

There are too few of us, says the brother by the eastern door. How many fingers makes a fist? asks the western sister. Pass the antler. More will come, says the elder in the south. We are already here, says the northern child.

There was an illusion that security would be like Kevlar, tightly-woven and impenetrable. But it was thread-bare, and they cut through like the prayer cloth they tore in preparation. There were over 600 miles of the line. The camp only touched two. And the Company only could only guarded five.

WATATOAP was found spray-painted everywhere by no one. When federal eyes demanded an explanation, camp leaders bristled. Some joked that it sounded like Tonto’s long lost brother from a John Wayne flick. Others claimed it was the name of a ghost.

Raids into camp yielded nothing but the normal nefarious assortment of acrylic paints, household cleaners, and canning supplies. Conspiracy charges became known as one-liners, as much for their length as for their hilarity. Cases piled up, were shuffled around, and then dropped. Field agents hounded their informants. Songbirds and snitches railed at their handlers. Ultimately, a handful of people were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Attacks into pressure stations became an almost weekly occurrence along smaller lines. At first, concrete was used to cement closed emergency valves, but soon oxygen and acetylene torches were used to weld them shut. Baseball bats were taken to the digital meters. Blowtorches cut the seams out from valves on the new line. Pulleys were melted into immobility on cranes with 40-foot pieces of pipe suspended high above the ground.  

But nothing could beat thermite placed in the slow release mechanism of a flower pot at 126 (reported) sites along the pipeline route, the night before the hydrostatic testing.  

War ponies are work horses. They need supplies, time, preparation and support. Our communities need to be resilient, our alliances strong! That reminds me, Auntie Lisa’s friend near Laguna sent fifty pounds of blue corn. We will distribute that to the houses. But that will have to wait. It is time for songs now. Dinner is the time for logistics. Little Brother is forever reminding us of our practicals, and Grandmother is forever reminding us to be mindful of where we are. We have such a long way to go, and now is the time to give thanks for where we have been.


The project ground to a slow halt, with almost $4 billion dollars in damages. A federal judge denied the permit through disputed lands. A Company spokesman stated that, while appealing the court’s decision, they would comply with the court-ordered suspension of construction until such time as they won on appeal and these terrorists could be brought to justice. They said nothing about completing the repairs on existing lines.

Spring ice still froze tents to the ground, but the protest camp filled with dance and jubilation. They had succeeded! Prayers and legal action had brought this monster to its knees!

Camp leaders made appearances on televisions more foreign than domestic. Legal teams were praised, staff honored their donors, and the media was thanked for their tireless work of featuring their voices on the 9th page of the paper. Weekend warriors conferred with reporters. Elderly councils bickered about the power of prayer and unification. Celebratory cigarette butts were piled alongside the ceremonial fires lit for feasts.

But few discussed what happened outside of camp. Even fewer prayed for them.

A statement was delivered to media outlets from an anonymous server. Only a few reported on it, at least at first. But it spread like fire on the Network:

                            The children of this land will no longer tolerate violations of our ancestral territories.  
                            We have declared war upon you. We have won the first battle.  
                            Now that we have stopped this threat, we turn our attention to the lines of exploitation that have been plaguing the health and safety of our lands and peoples. No more shall we suffer the assaults on our women. No more shall we suffer the theft of our children. No more shall we suffer the perversion of our warrior traditions to serve you. No more shall we tolerate the rape of our Mother.
                            When prayers mobilize into actions, we become unstoppable.  

The assaults on our people have been many and varied. Any one attack could have been withstood, but not so many, from so many different places. Now, we must do as they did. Quietly, without warning, so that our arrival is unknown. A fight is over when the first fight-stopping wound is landed. We cannot know what will be the wound that kills the Eater, so we must inflict as many as we can. Death by a thousand cuts is death nonetheless.

Eight months after the statement release, an infamously haunted cargo ship in a harbor on the northern lakes slipped slowly beneath the water. Thirteen Indian women showed up at a shelter in one of the northern towns the next morning. Rape kits conducted showed evidence of years of abuse, and their identities were quickly found on missing persons reports that were never followed up on by law enforcement. All women could talk about were the names of their captors, and the painted faces that came for them that night.

One arrest was made. A young man had been spotted wandering the shipyards in the hours before the sinking, He was identified by a raven’s flat cap and pop-hero spider shirt. He only spoke in a strange language during questioning, and he ended up in confinement with conspiracy charges and the threat of 25 years in prison. That night, two more ships made their way to the bottom of the harbor, and in the morning, 32 more missing women surfaced at the station.

Spidey must have learned English during his time in confinement: “I guess those ships were haunted too.”

A year and a half later, a Mine, sister to the poison snake of the dark mountains, found itself haunted as well. Weeks after workers were laid off with in favor of automation, Mine representatives were covering up a break-in at their headquarters. Nothing seemed to have been taken, but the haunts began to appear. Damaged aquafer-tapping pumps. Copper wiring bound to train tracks, slowing down shipments for weeks as workers walked lengths of track trying to find the blockage, only for another to pop up. Shoot mechanisms malfunctioning. Damp coal spilled onto the tracks. While the press finally began covering the poltergeist at the mine, a reporter accidentally discovered a report confirming what locals had known for years: acid drainage from the mine had been contaminating local water sources.

Lights swirl but somehow we still cannot see. Sadly, we must learn from the mistakes of our ancestors, and realize that sometimes our most ferocious enemies will be among our own people. The silence we keep is protection as much from our own as our conquerors. How then will we grow? Carefully, sister. Until we are too great to be stopped.

Powwows are plagued by undercover agents, trying desperately to entrap the young and the excited. Archaic laws limiting gatherings of red peoples are increasingly enforced.  Urban street dwellers are facing greater and greater violence at the hands of blue coats. There have already been casualties, prompting the revival of local patrols. Elders seem to be dying more and more frequently from neglect in federally-run facilities. Black suits have appeared at more than one doorstep, just to ask questions. Last week, two boys barely made it out of a rural mob alive. Ideas to privatize tribal trust lands are gaining traction by public officials as a solution to this new “Indian problem.”

Meanwhile, the people prepare. The ghosts are being fed.

Rage and fear can be hard to leave behind. Heat turns tears to salt, and smoke lovingly wraps around weeping hearts. Minds cannot be clouded – the stakes are too high. So often, comfort can only be found here, in song, in story. They have made the world a weapon and sent it out to break us. Remember, grandfather whispers, we were here to witness the making of rivers. They are no match for our memories, let alone our dreams. Our fires are reflections of starlight.

At a hand drum contest, one boy sang a 49er about ghosts. Another was so bold as to sing the word WATATOAP. Stern words from the emcee and a few smiles from the crowd. A powwow stand was driven out for selling WATATOAP shirts. A few of the tribal news outlets left to continue to report on actions, but their barely read words are sharp with condemnation. Grandfathers and aunties growl about the violence. It’s giving Indians a bad name, tarnishing the reputation they apparently worked so hard to keep pristine in their younger years. Crazy Horse never hid behind a mask.

No one suspects old Indian tales to mean anything real. Not even Indians. Laughter again. They are memory embodied. Old battles fought at the making of the world teach us our strategies at the time of its remaking. And when the world is remade again, they will not remember our names. They will remember Spider and his defeat of the Black Snake.  Coyote and the Captured Mothers. Raccoon tricked the Earth Carvers. Even how Raven stole the Spring. They will remember the stories of the future we birthed.

Trickster struggles to spin his tangled web when his eight hands are making mischief. With so many ancestors awoken, there are more ghosts than hauntings, and still not enough feasts to feed them.  But old languages, words, and songs emerge finding new purpose.

The storytellers, leaving behind inert episodes in the secrecy of winter, are breathing new life into old stories. Conflicts are brought up to date, familiar characters intertwined with the names of martyrs and heroes. The Eater now fears the racking of rifles alongside the rattle and the drum. Stories happened less and less “long ago,” and more “somewhere else, but maybe yesterday, and maybe again tomorrow.”

The artists again participate in the cycles of the community’s movements. Beadwork featuring endlessly replicated designs of other places manufactured into hollow symbols is discarded and replaced with simple patterns resonant with understanding. Symbols of 26,000 year cycles are quillworked into only a handful of lines. The inexpressive and overwrought masks come back to life, faces rising from the wood and cedar smoke. The earth and clay is shaped into new forms. Traditional rules of color and composition are abandoned to make way for ones more ancient.

More mothers choose for their children the original teachers of buffalo and salmon, meadowlark and dragonfly. Medicine men who fear the rising menstrual rites find themselves increasingly abandoned. Seeds planted generations ago begin to emerge. The people gather to hear the dreams of new and ancient ceremonies gifted to the young.

Last door. The last grandfather is the only one still glowing red and its heat is different, not so much warming as fortifying. Like all our traditions, our last song is old but remade. Iron Snakes and Eaters have reshaped the lands and waters and our villages, and we have had to reshape accordingly. Warriors are named, rise up, and are forgotten. New rivers are forming, and burial mounds build new mountains. The trickster will name them as we stake camp.

Sunkwaste kin tokamun he
Sunkwaste kin tokamun he
Sunkikicize wacin yedo

Niwiyeyab he? Iho. Tiyopa yugan wo.

We gather supplies, seeds, bows, and rattles. We house them. We tell them stories. We pray, and we fast. We keep our silence. We tell their stories. We honor them, and we name their deeds.

We whisper names set aside. We pray for those we buried. We braid the hair of war ponies. We feast and breathe life into ghosts.

We remember again.

We are the answer to our ancestors’ prayers.

Oweota Win Serenity Roberts is a Wahpetunwan Dakota mother, wife and midwife. Living and working on her occupied territories, she is a frequent witness to the exploitation and destruction of her ancestral lands and holy sites, as well as her language and traditional lifeways. She regularly collaborates on Fanonian artistic works with her husband and son to cultivate a new mythology surrounding resistance to the colonial state.




Chip Livingston

K’s Cloud

a gray day by the breakfast lilies
your ninnies’ nest dog-eared
the bed you dug to bury
dirty money panes away

ferning into low clouds
spider grass spidering
invisible Veronica Lake
H drove you to hosp  

K’s fat fingers clasp the big Z
tap the early 1970s
palsy stained paperback

There was drinking in the carriage
There was a house joint
Now not a leaf turns
But there is a cloud

Chip Livingston is the author of the novel Owls Don’t Have to Mean Death; a collection of essays and short stories, Naming Ceremony; and two poetry collections, Crow-Blue, Crow-Black and Museum of False Starts. Chip teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.




Richard-Jonathan Nelson

7 Mixed-Media Images

Artist’s Statement

I am a Queer African-American male of Gullah descent from Savannah, Georgia who now resides in the San Francisco Bay area. I received my B.F.A from Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA and my M.F.A from the California College of the arts. My work is a multidisciplinary mix that uses various textile traditions and dying along with new media to depict my shifting identity. I make work that questions what it means to exist within a queer ethnic body and how does the weight of colonialism obstruct the actualization of the self.

My current body of work uses the digital manipulation of imagery and production as a modern black mirror of divination a way to reveal both my internal identity and examine the obscured desire of others. Through heightening of visible color and compression of both physical and conceptual space, I examine the overlapping worlds of identity and emotional memory. As a form of self-care and exorcism, my work draws upon motifs within ascetic and shamanistic practices. By using both my own body and those of eroticized images of queer black men I draw the viewer to acknowledge the levels of abjection and otherness associated with them in homonational spaces. Through the creation of altars and shrines, I induct the viewer into a protoformed world an unattainable afro-futurist queer utopia. Space where my body and identity are not fixed or defined by static criteria of proposed identity.

I also question when does the stillness and quiet of nature aid the Black body? Nature ultimately has been used as a tool, and who controls the land determines how this tool is used. The Black body has become through years of outward cultural control, synonymous with both toil and the land but barred from communing with it. Leaving the diaspora defined as only urban, extraverted, and dynamically public in its existence. Thereby forming a toxic industrial cloud that obstructs what it means to exist within a Black body, and disregarding the quiet complex internal lives hidden from public view.

Richard-Jonathan Nelson is a multi-disciplinary artist who uses textiles, video, and digital manipulation to create alternative worlds of speculative identity. His work is multi-layered, chromatically intense and mixes images of the natural world with reference to hoodoo, queer culture, and Afro-Futurism. He uses his constructed worlds to examine the overlapping spheres of culturally perceived identity and the emotional memory of what it means to be a queer black man. Thereby creating a limbic space free from the weighted excepted western cultural reality, and able to examine the unspoken ways systems of power persist.




Kai Minosh Pyle


dancing around
that little itch, those
tiny blossoms inside
me when our skin
makes air grow thin between us,
I’m hoping you don’t notice
             whispering prayer songs at night,
teaching small children how to grow
their hearts under incubators’ light
             —organic sunshine hard to find
these days, but
yours is warm against my face
and I don’t want you to see the way
I capture it, cradle it close.
I think to myself,           
                          too much in this world
has been wasted already. let
the heat generated in our gazes
not be yet one more loss.  
reaching out with
my right hand, and offering
my left              to the sky
             I’m whispering your name
with the instructions to grow your heart
                          to mine


The knowledge of how to create a new world is etched into my bones in a language
that has been mostly forgotten. The memory of how to read it comes
only when seen underwater, during a heavy storm. Once it is read, it is
impossible not to act on its instructions, compelled by the force of the ancestors
and unborn, as-yet-unimagined descendants. It will not be knowable in advance
what shape the new world will take. If she will take form framed in fire, or
arise out of the waves, like the last world. Pronouns are not a given.
We will build a wigwam out of soda bottles and mud, with an opening
in the top for the stars to enter. They will show us the way
to the ghost road. Follow those spirits to the end of the path, and that
is where we will build the next world.

(title quoted from Lou Cornum’s The Space NDN’s Star Map)

Kai Minosh Pyle is a Métis/Anishinaabe Two-Spirit writer and language revitalization advocate born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and currently living in the Dakota people’s homelands in occupied Bde Ota Otunwe (Minneapolis, Minnesota). Their work has previously been published in PRISM International, Red Rising Magazine, kimiwan zine, and Queer Indigenous Girl. They are interested in Anishinaabe Two-Spirit histories, literature written in Anishinaabemowin, and language revitalization as a form of Indigenous futurism in action.