At the Indian Store

I could not presume even to speak of it,
were we to meet, were we to be trapped
together in a storm, on a bus, say,
even sharing the least meal there.
Watching you from across the store,
I hardly dare let you catch me -
full-blooded Comanche, your skin the color
human, your face magnificent, intent,
a flint in a time and town as sodden
and rich as a pudding. Was ever so much
taken from so many? Was ever
so little learned? The city's thin
veneer of glass and concrete is streets
a generation deep, and everything
the color white, the color paper money.
And I am here putting my feet down
on what I do not know. And over my head,
I do not know. I am buying turquoise
and silver, beads, a record of what
a few remember and sing from the beds
of pickup trucks, from a time
when a people knew on what they stood
and under. I was a sportsman
on the shooting trains that slaughtered
herds of buffalo so great they spread,
before I came, to the plains horizon.
I was the hand of the government
that gave you, with the word for gift,
blankets of smallpox to cover you
the apocalyptic winters. I broke
the promises that were not made
of frivolous things, but of the great things.
Yet I am a woman and know the hunger
of homelessness, the abyss of the great lie,
the gifts of sickness and injury. My whiteness
is a man in me, and I am likewise his stranger.
From me as well goes handiwork, for pennies,
out to the streets of Tulsa this dusk
on the dead-white flesh of the fathers.

LINDA McCARRISTON, a featured poet on Bill Moyers' PBS series The Language of Life, teaches poetry in the MFA program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She is the author, most recently, of Eva-Mary.


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