Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 1



Deidra Suwanee Dees


Shadows

I loathe
             the lure of the
             white world

but I run
             from shadows
             on the reservation

I’m compelled
             to crossover to the
             ancestors’ land

though I violently fight
             for a place
             among the living

I’m frightened
             to look down
             the barrel of the gun

but my finger
             is not afraid
             to pull the trigger




Eagle Feather

when I was a child
I used to hide my Muscogee feathers
because I thought they represented my shame,

when I became a woman
I began to wear the wounded feather
to honor my nation’s devastating pain,

now that I’m a mother,
I boldly wear the eagle feather
to show my ride into the enemies’ eyes
making them take their blame




Stay Away from Blacks

teacher said “you must stay away from Blacks,
they’re all communists,”
high school principal insisted “we’re not
letting them in our school

Indians, Jews, Latinos, Chinese, whites—
all races who could pay tuition were welcome
at my school… unless you were Black;

daddy took me to the whiteman’s church
that said jesus died for all races—all races?

when I questioned the absence
of Blacks, no one could give me a good clear
answer; so I grew with a self-contained desire to
find out what was wrong
with these excluded brown-skinned people;

secretly, while teacher was steeped
in bigotry, I became friends with Blacks in
Junior Achievement,

quietly, while the whiteman’s church
pretended jesus died for all races, I found that
my Black friends were already saved;

now I am grown and I listen to my own
voice; no longer secretly, I openly embrace
brown-skinned people of all races,

and never quietly, I defend the rights of
the marginalized Black
race that I was brought up to hate




Magnolia Leaf

thin strand

             loose end waving

from the magnolia leaf,

clear water droplets
             in beaded
             succession

line up on the spider’s strand
as dew

retreats from first light;

Muscogee pearls

unrivaled by

             COVID-nineteen




Your Grandmothers

your grandmothers

             were owned by white people
—my people were not,


they did not buy and sell us,
they did not force us to cook for them,

             clean toilets,
             pick cotton,


they did not
             force us to lay down for them,

but now we do it for free




Turn My Lights Back On

foraging for nickels and quarters
             through bubblegum
             wrappers and sticky stuff between
             the couch cushions
to turn my lights back on


to warm my baby’s bottle of milk,
to cook my children’s supper
to wash my kids’ school clothes
to run them a hot bath


to show my kids cartoons,
breaking through the Sunday countdown,
             radio says a rocket took pictures
             of Saturn’s moons
             searching for signs of life,
             costing taxpayers millions of dollars,


swallowing earth air, asking myself
how can they spend this money
to search for life on Saturn’s moons
while life on earth is still undone?




My Grandmother

you killed my grandmother
to stop future brownskin babies
             from being born


who would remind you
the land you live on
             is stolen,
the faces you paint on
             you currency
             are liars,


the people you descended from
             are murderers,


you drink in a cup of jesus
on sunday—
             it is my blood you drink!
to fill your belly
with nourishment
             of manifest destiny,


how fat you have grown
             on juices of jesus,
             manifest destiny,
             and brownskin babies




Trapped

my body has not been

             cleaned for

many days

—smell of my own body grease

trapped inside

             cotton clothing,

decomposing dishes

                          overflowing my

sink,

nightmare of

                          COVID-nineteen

invades me




Alcohol Woman

painful childhood of neglect,
abandonment, stealing
the last remnant of my Indianness

alcohol woman breezed back to the rez
twenty-two winters later

without warning, dropping by my trailer
gifting me with expensive
leather photo album, encircled
baby picture
glowering on cover,

alone, body draped with liquor-laden
time, newly swallowed by COVID-19,
miserable attempt to play
the mother role she sold for libation,
nothing from me,
awkwardly shuffling out the door,

agony runs through my consciousness,
like untamed horses
stamping out my existence,

collecting my senses, reminding
myself time had gnawed off the edge,

figured out how to live without
a mother or a father,
desperately needed a mother back then,

irrelevant,
COVID reckoning, misery was
paid—alcohol woman is not needed now,

accomplishments…
amassing strength from childhood
of adversity and peril,
remembering how far I’ve come
on my own… garbage can gulps down
cheap leather photo album




Dance

I watched the golden moon
drip, drip, drip
until she fell into dog river;

moss-laden oaks
watched the shiny moon
smile
as she hid among the ripples,

an old Muscogee wind blew
a tiny note of
rhythm
to her playful mischief,

I watched the gods of nature
dance
before the stars

just like they danced before
our grandmothers
ten thousand years before



Deidra Suwanee Dees: “I follow the Muscogee stompdance traditions and serve as the Director/Tribal Archivist at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. I teach Native American Studies at the University of South Alabama, initiated by the Tribe. Despite the difficult financial struggle, I earned my doctorate at Harvard writing my dissertation on the Muscogee Education Movement, documenting the fight for Creek’s equal access to public education. As an animal advocate, I adopted shelter pets who are members of our family. Heleswv heres, mvto.”




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