Monday, April 28, 2014

Linda Rodriguez


They wanted the last of our land
so they made us leave our mountains with cloud shawls of blue, purple, green.
They penned us like hogs before the slaughter.
They drove us before them like a herd, and we died as cattle all along the road.

When we came to the place they were giving us, it was nothing,
hot, bare, with its buckboard hills. This land was strange to us,
and we were strange to it.
My grandfather shrugged and said, "It's a stopping place."
We were stunted and pale from that ordeal like trees that grow in shadows.

Our leaders said, "We will start again."
We all worked hard as we could, even though we were worn and thin
from nunahidunatlohilui, that Trail Where They Cried.

Some could not forget and forgive. A handful of men betrayed the Nation.
Clan leaders of those who died—and thousands died in each of the seven clans—
had a responsibility under the Blood Law.
There was ambush and death.

But we turned our energies to building, to weave the world to harmony around us.
White men used to say only the women among the Cherokee worked,
that our men were lazy because they allowed women a major say.
But lazy could never have rebuilt as we did with homes and newspaper and schools.

It seemed we would be left alone finally.
Of course, that could not happen. Yonega decided they wanted the Indian Territory, too.
It all began again, except this time they told us it was to make us like them.
We would each have our own land.
Everyone knows you can’t own the earth—it’s like owning part of the sky—
but the white man thinks he can. Someday yonega will try to put a fence around the sun.

Weary of false words, we knew these men wanted our land and intended to take it.
My father said, "I know when I hear the whistle of money,
and when I do, someone is always betrayed—and he usually looks like me."

Their promises were rooted in sand.
They gave some of us small parcels of the reservation. They gave some of us nothing.
They gave much of our land to rich yonega ranchers.
They said we were no longer Cherokee. They said there was no more tribe, no Nation.
They moved many of us far from here where we had brought forth once more
the grandmother spirits of our people.

It was hard after that. Maybe harder than the Trail, even.
Little by little, many were lost. Whiskey took a lot of good men
and some women down, the world sick, winter forever.
For most of my life, we had no tribe, according to the United States government.
But it was just one less hope. We had strong people who fought for years
to resurrect the Cherokee out of the ash of a dead fire. In the end,
they brought us to the circle of return. We were a nation once more.

You must never forget. The reason your great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother
fought and worked so hard when dying was easier, to keep from giving up or giving in,
was you and the children you will have one day and their children and grandchildren.
Never forget the debt you owe to the grandmother spirits.

[And I have learned to say, "Wado. Thank you."]

Linda reads "Trickster Time":

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Linda confesses: "In 'Trickster Time,' I was trying to recreate a series of conversations with my late grandmother in which she told me about the history of our people as her grandmother had told her. These conversations happened over a space of time and took place when I was quite young since Elisi (Tsalagi for grandmother) died just before I turned thirteen. I wanted to write a poem about learning that history from her, so I tried to put down on paper all I remembered of all of those conversations. Then I eliminated repetition of some elements over many conversations as I put the whole story together into one continuous tale for the sake of the poem. I had to be careful to stay with what I remembered from Elisi and not have it conflated with what I've learned as an adult in studying in more depth the history of the Cherokee. And of course, I can't promise that I was completely successful there because I was going back so far in time for those conversations. But I am confident that this poem is true to my grandmother's story of our ancestors' experience as she received it and as she told it to me."

LINDA RODRIGUEZ's third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear, will be published May 6 and is available for pre-order now. Her second Skeet mystery, Every Broken Trust, was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club and is currently a finalist for both the International Latino Book Award and the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. Her short story, "The Good Neighbor", has been optioned for film. For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press), Rodriguez received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Midwest Voices and Visions Award, Thorpe Menn Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and Macondo and Ragdale Fellowships. She is immediate past president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. Find her on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda, on Facebook at, and on blogs with The Stiletto Gang, Writers Who Kill, and her own blog.


Sarah said...

This is a stunning poem. I plan to read it out loud, in order to fully experience the cadences that you've invoked here, so evocative of the stories that are transmitted through an oral tradition. Thanks for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, thank you! You're right about reading aloud as a way to get inside pieces drawn from oral tradition.

--Linda Rodriguez