Melissa Bennett: Native American Poet

FOR THE NEW YEAR, 2015:   Holidays and Family are completed now, and we want to comment on those holidays, and on family, the HUMAN FAMILY, via a current issue, seen through the eyes and words of Melissa Bennett,  a Native American poet.  May this year be one of healing from racism and ethnic stupidity, everywhere in this lovely world.

As sent to Native News Online on January 1 prior to the Florida State Seminoles versus the Oregon Ducks appearance in the 2015 Rose Bowl.   Melissa Bennett (Umatilla/Nez Perce/Sac & Fox Nations) is the Portland State University Program Coordinator for the Native American Student & Community Center. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Marylhurst University along with graduate certificates in Pastoral Care & Counseling and Theological Studies. Melissa is a writer and emerging storyteller and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize after her poem “Church of Frida” appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Yellow Medicine Review. She is interested in story as medicine, especially its ability to heal historical trauma among indigenous communities. Melissa is a member of the 2014-15 Native American Youth and Family Center LEAD Cohort, the Northwest Indian Storytellers Association, and WordCraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

images“FSU Goes to the Rose Bowl”                                    By Melissa Bennett

 Unwrapping my new stainless steel French press when you  On the couch three nephews away from me

Unwrap your 1996 flannel shirt and show us all   With a big smile on your face that points nowhere near me  

Your new Florida State Seminoles t-shirt

And that pasty white face                                                                                                       With the two red war paint stripes

With the low hanging feather                                                                                                 And the mouth open in a battle cry or mourning wail                                                   Is the only thing I see in that room.

The Christmas tree with its white lights and red ornaments                                       has disappeared

 The presents left underneath fade away

 The smell of holiday ham and Grandma’s pineapple sauce evaporates

 The laughter of your boys as they open gift after gift has never existed

 Mom and Dad are gone Your wife an illusory mirage at the edge of my vision.

 It is you                                                                                                                                      And it is me                                                                                                                                      And it is that shirt

Almost 38 years I have been a daughter in this room 36 of those years I have been your sister In the time it took you to unwrap your flannel And reveal your allegiance To racism and oppression and colonization You made me the Indian sister to the white brother

The adopted one                                                                                                                           The outside one                                                                                                                             The alone one                                                                                                                                 The one no one listens to                                                                                                           Or cares about                                                                                                                             And it all comes back

When I was four and overheard Mom defending her choice to adopt an Indian baby

 When I was six and our Great Aunt told her friend standing next to me,  “You know she has that red blood in her”

 When I was twelve and everyone began asking, “What are you?”

 When I was sixteen and became a “Half Breed” certain to get one of those “Indian scholarships”

 When I was twenty and my abusive boyfriend reminded me I was a “Lazy Indian”

 When I was thirty-two and a man in my grad school class said, “I bet you could sneak up barefoot on a white man and slit his throat”

And on Monday when I heard that an Indian man was killed because the police officer mistook his sweetgrass braid for a knife and shot him

And how my friend was the dead man’s cousin

All of it comes back

Every cut

Every mirco-aggression

Every feeling associated with

Every word

Every look

Every act of violence

All of it

The adoptions

The sterilizations

The relocations

The reservations

The suicides

The homicides

The blood quantum

The boarding schools

The 522 years of genocide

All of it hides in that pasty white face on your shirt that is supposed to be me

An Indian

Your sister