Mary Dezember, Assistant Professor of English at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, teaches writing, literature, and art history. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature, with an emphasis in Comparative Arts and with minors in Art History and in Performance Studies, from Indiana University in 2000. Her poems have appeared in several literary journals and in two anthologies.
Heritage: Quest to Identity
By a Cherokee Granddaughter
This may have belonged to one of my ancestors—
This flint arrowhead—
Though I am blonde and pale-eyed…
Once I met a woman in a writing class
Who was dark, yes, natively so,
With rough fire-dyed hair,
And a nose that spoke its place,
And eyes that never paled.
She wrote a story
Of how much abuse she had to absorb
At stores and restaurants
West of these parts, for being whole.
And I wanted to weave a basket,
Fill it full of stones
That I'd smashed into bevels and points
And of clovers and bark and tiny yellow flowers
I stole from the wild,
And carry it all to her,
Dropping my body to her feet,
Then pouring my basket out
There at her feet.
Then I wanted to beg her
To close her eyes and to place her hands
On my hair
And to tell me it was thick, rough and black.
But before I even said hello to her,
I quit the class
Simply because her story was so much better than mine.
I have no stories to tell at all
About my part-self
Or about my great-grandmother who was full-blooded,
Or about any of my womenfolk who were whole.
I can't even make a sentence,
Because I don't have a word.
But I do have this
That I bought for only seven dollars
At a relic shop
Near my home—
An authentic arrowhead
Plowed up from a cornfield
In these very parts.
I am going to swallow it now,
Gulp it down whole
Without a drink of water.
A grown woman can do that.
It releases the remedy
To cure that something inside of me
That I can't seem to lance any other way—
This mysterious organ
Sheltered by my heart,
Disguised so well, therefore,
That not even God knows it exists.
It throbs like an abscess.
Streaks of inky poison mercuries from it.
I can taste it grabbing in my throat.
I think this must be true,
But I really don't know…
That these frightening times
When my full-blooded ancestress,
Or any full-blooded woman from
Any time or any place, felt
Her elusiveness throb,
I bet she danced with rhythmic stomping
And chanting and singing—
Everything vital, forgotten and right.
And every time the mystery in her heart
She must have knelt by her fire,
And, surely, bolted into the woods,
Stalking the scent of moss making love to a stone
In the way it moves up and all over its host,
Wanting it for its very own.
Then clawing the moss off the stone,
She rubbed it, I bet, all over her,
Mashing into her pores
Its musky magic of fearlessly taking for itself
Whatever it wants.