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The Living Exhibit Under the Museum's Portal


Nora Naranjo-Morse

Arriving with high hopes on a breezy March day
to sell these forms I've made from clay.
My pocketbook empty, as I lay my blanket down.
We arrive from all directions:
The Navajo
and Pueblos.
Selling our blankets,
and beads.
We bargin back and forth with tourists,
and among ourselves . . .
we must love to bargin.
My friend from Zuni tells me business is slow,
as she keeps her hands busy, rearranging
necklaces in single file, on black polyester.
"Damn," she says, "to think, I could be sitting
in a warm office right this minute, drinking
hot chocolate and typing business letters
for some honky."
A tourist and potential customer blurts out:
"Excuse me, but do any of you Indians speak English?"
I answer too politely, hating myself for doing so,
thinking it must be my empty pocketbook
talking for me.
The Indian tribes represented, line quietly against the stark,
white museum wall, as each new day introduces
throngs of tourists, filing past our blankets
fixed in orderly fashion upon red bricks.
Visitors looking for mementos to take home,
that will remind them of the curiously
silent Indians, wrapped tightly in colorful
shawls, just like in the postcards.
Huddling together for warmth, we laugh, remembering
that sexy redhead last summer, who
bent down to pick up a necklace and
ripped her tight white pants
Casually interested, we watch as Delbert, a city Indian,
hiding behind mirrored sunglasses,
pulls up at noon, to lay his blanket down.
He's come to sell brass and silver
earcuffs he and his girlfriend made.
Delbert sets up, while in the truck
his girlfriend sleeps off last night's party.
My friend is right, business is slow as the late afternoon breeze
hurries customer's away from our blankets,
toward the Indian art galleries,
leaving us to feel the sting of cold
through layers of our woolen protection.
The sun fades into the Southwestern corner of the plaza
casting large, cold shadows that signal
the end of our day together.
Quietly we pack for home, bundling our wares
carefully in baskets and old grocery crates.
Back to:
The Navajo
and Pueblos.
Tomorrow we will arrive, again with high hopes,
empty pocketbooks
and our friendships right in place.

From Mud Woman, Poems from the Clay , University of Arizona Press
© 1992 Nora Naranjo-Morse
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