A Journal of Contemporary Arts 





The Native Strain


“We never talk about the Native strain,”

My mother warned in secret, early on.

My father honored her. Our photos – drawn

From generations, grey with filmy grain –


Were never framed and flaunted, on display

Like other people’s. Faces by the dozens

Remained in albums – uncles, aunts, and cousins

Enclosed in boxes, shelved and stowed away.


Her father, although handsome, could not “pass.”

But this fact was as absent from discussion

As crass vernacular, or formal Russian,

Or choruses of “mountain man” bluegrass.


Our Native ties, however, were the sole

Connections we could talk about at all:

A tightly-bound clan, insular and small,

Whose lives we heard as through a locked keyhole.


To read my mother’s scrapbooks, one would think

The Indians were our one folk, for none

On our “white side” received us -- they would shun

Us totally, to be our “missing link,”


So they received her mention on no page.

This was Grandmother’s lifelong punishment,

Dishonoring her people – wild, hell-bent

On “savages,” at fifteen years of age.


No single nor escorted Anglo member

From my maternal granddam’s well-heeled kin

Would travel down by train, nor enter in

To my grandfather’s house, that I remember.


Occasionally, I might overhear

Some snippet of a whispered conversation

Long-distance -- when my wild imagination

Would rampage, and the mystery disappear.


The while Monk drew a breath, I never saw

Those Scots Virginians. Untamed Tennessee

Became an oft-seen, second home to me –

The birthplace of my “alien” papaw


They called “Damned Injun” to Grandmother’s face.

On Lover’s Leap -- the tragic promontory

Where Cherokees maintained the moving story

Of Sautee’s and Nacoochee’s deaths took place,


The ancient Romeo and Juliet

Of Native America— he loved to stand;

On Lookout Mountain, where he could command

A view of seven states, all in a set;


Where Chickamauga Cherokees defied

Colonial encroachment, and no cragging

Of cliffs is customary – there, where Dragging

Canoe once took the Cherokee to hide.


Those were the photos hung in every room,

Of precipice and mountain, peak and bluff:

High, low, as though there could not be enough,

With scenes of snow, by harvest, or abloom.


Cliff faces were the faces we would see,

The hill, the valley, and the still, blue lake:

The earth for whom our forebears would forsake

Their tribe, their culture, and their family.