Once when I was eight we came home in the dark
up our winding dirt road through a tunnel
of thick spring leaves, and our headlights
turned maple and salal into a green
glowing vein leading us sleepily to our beds.
Suddenly the headlights caught an owl,
wingspan as wide as the windshield,
every creamy feather etched in perfection,
round eyes huge and yellow
with pupils black enough
to swallow me up. His curved beak
opened in surprise
at being face to face
with this steel creature whose own eyes
shown unblinking and wild.
didn't cry out but I did,
lunging forward into the dash,
hands beating against what was invisible
between us. I shouted, No!
Don't--The owl spread every pinion,
drummed hard against the skin of air
between life and death,
and we drove on home, giddy with fear.
All summer I lay awake on cool sheets,
waiting for a low urgent call.
At thirteen, I played the drums, first chair,
ahead of boys who called me squaw.
I stopped wearing braids,
stood with my back to them,
my hair thick down my back
like a cloak no looks could pierce.
Their dirty jokes and snickering
made my strokes tighter, sharper,
hands curved around the wooden sticks
in an easy grip, as if they were tools
I had always used.
Then there was heat
against my back, a low warning breaking
through the rhythm,
stench of singed human hair.
When I whirled around, it was Damon,
the one who always called to me in the halls,
I'll give you a little papoose, squaw!
holding a butane lighter, flame high,
orange and blue. In his hand
he held a chunk of black hair,
burned off, smoking
in the still bandroom air.
I took bloody sticks home to my mother,
who said she expected nothing less
from a girl
From Indian Cartography, Greenfield Review Press, 1998.
© 1998 Deborah Miranda
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