WHEREAS: An Excerpt

Thursday, March 31, 2016 - 5:30 am

WHEREAS: An Excerpt

WHEREAS I heard a noise I thought was a sneeze. At the breakfast table pushing eggs around my plate I wondered if he liked my cooking, thought about what to talk about. He pinched his fingers to the bridge of his nose, squeezed his eyes. He wiped. I often say he was a terrible drinker when I was a child I’m not afraid to say it because he’s different now: sober, attentive, showered, eating. But in my childhood when things were different I rolled onto my side, my hands together as if to pray, locked between knees. When things were different I lay there for long hours, my face to the wall, blank. My eyes left me, my soldiers, my two scouts to the unseen. And because language is the immaterial I never could speak about the missing so perhaps I cried for the invisible, what I could not see, doubly. What is it to wish for the absence of nothing? There at the breakfast table as an adult, wondering what to talk about if he liked my cooking, pushing the invisible to the plate’s edge I looked up to see he hadn’t sneezed, he was crying. I’d never heard him cry, didn’t recognize the symptoms. I turned to him when I heard him say I’m sorry I wasn’t there sorry for many things / like that / curative voicing / an opened bundle / or medicine / or birthday wishing / my hand to his shoulder / it’s okay I said it’s over now I meant it / because of our faces blankly / because of a lifelong stare down / because of centuries in sorry;

An excerpt from “WHEREAS Statements” from WHEREAS, page 65. Copyright © 2017 by Layli Long Soldier. Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

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is the recipient of the 2015 Lannan Fellowship for Poetry, a 2015 National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and a 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award for her first book of poetry, WHEREAS. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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  • Stephanie Cassidy

    Far to the Reservation, Far

    I’m sorry I wasn’t there sorry for many things …
    it’s okay I said it’s over now I meant it
    because of our faces blankly
    because of a lifelong stare down
    because of centuries in sorry;

    Layli Long Soldier

    by water you were a mile a way
    by feather a crow–

    by car I never have seen you
    not once or maybe

    in a locker room after a January
    basketball game

    a jersey number stuck out, a tank
    top borrowed

    from a charity box. maybe
    you were the best

    player in the paint that night your knee
    always bent

    the way the nun after mass
    taught you to pass

    and catch pass and catch
    and take aim

    planted squarely in that key.
    but no name

    and hers escapes me too though
    once in the fifth

    grade she came to show me (the sister)
    how to pray

    how to ask god for anything. she
    a missionary

    nun on loan from some Canadian
    monastery though I

    may have imagined that. but not her black
    habit down

    her back like at night undone hair
    like yours

    after the game, black I remember all that
    black and your eye

    and walking by you tipped your chin at me
    good game

    and I heard the driver on your bus (you were
    the only one)

    to get your indian ass on if you wanted a ride
    and I wanted

    to take you home with me have you wave
    your arms

    bend your knee touch me foul me and not
    get caught.

    by water you were a mile away
    by sky
    by cloud
    by night
    by word

    it takes no time to meet. I never met you. I touched
    your sweat

    and that’s all after all this. it’s enough, right?
    apparently not

    because I still look for you: in the sweet grass
    at low tide

    in the birch or ash baskets behind the glass
    in thrift stores

    and occasionally, the good ones, in museums.
    I wonder

    if you still play ball, if you remember the nun
    if you became

    but what?

    but what?