Wednesday, August 8, 2018

American Arithmetic

     Last Monday -- with visiting friends (Janet and Terry) from Pennsylvania -- I again visited the National Museum of the American Indian and this visit, rather than focusing on the contributions of a particular native culture, seemed to draw me to exhibits focused on numbers -- most notably on the figures related to Cherokee relocation via the Trail of Tears.  This visit to the museum also allowed me to discover that a variety of books are for sale in the museum's second-floor gift shop and I found this collection of poetry which I have begun to read and love:
Edited by Heid E Erdrich (Graywolf Press, 2018)
Within the collection, the poem "American Arithmetic" by Mojave poet Natalie Diaz quickly caught my eye -- and she has given me permission to offer it here:

       American Arithmetic     by Natalie Diaz
       Native Americans make up less than
       one percent of the population of America.
       0.8 percent of 100 percent.

       O, mine efficient country.     

       I do not remember the days
       before America — I do not remember the days
       when we were all here.

       Police kill Native Americans more
       than any other race. Race is a funny word.
       Race implies someone will win,
       implies I have as good a chance of winning as

       Who wins the race which isn't a race?

       Native Americans make up 1.9 percent
       of all police killings, higher than any race,
       and we exist as .8 percent of all Americans.

       Sometimes race means run.

       We are not good at math.
       Can you blame us?
       We've had an American education.

       We are Americans and we are less than 1 percent
       of Americans. We do a better job of dying
       by police than we do existing.

       When we are dying, who should we call?
       The police? Or our senator?
       Please, someone, call my mother.

       In Arithmetic and in America,
       divisibility has rules —
       divide without remainder.

       At the National Museum of the American Indian,
       68 percent of the collection is from the U.S.
       I am doing my best to not become a museum
       of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out.

       I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.

       But in this American city with all its people,
       I am Native American — less than one, less than
       whole — I am less than myself. Only a fraction
       of a body, let's say, I am only a hand

       and when I slip it beneath the shirt of my lover
       I disappear completely.

Thank you, Natalie Diaz, for this poem.

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