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"Grandmother Rattler"

University of Arizona Press

who coils in my bones,
what were you thinking that summer night
when you found the warm road
on the edge of the canyon and stopped
just there exactly at the center
where the pickups and cars and evening walkers would see
your spiral upon spiral,
hear the singing voice of your tail,
see your black head rising?

When I stopped my car
and walked up to you,
arms spread and hands open,
why didn't you move?
Why didn't you slide down the stones
among the white oaks
and single tall stems of soaproot?

When those white people stopped,
leaned out of their truck,
whistled and hooted,
did you not recognize Owl among them
calling to me over and over
"Kill it! Kill it!" but still
you would not move
even to save your life
but sang all the louder,
your body quaking with rage.

Then that woman came out
of her house just there,
saw you, ran back, picked up
the heaviest shovel she could find,
pusher her way past
where I tried to shield you
and said she would kill you if I would not,
said she had horses down the hill
that might get bit, or she might die
if you were allowed
to live out the night.

O Grandmother.
What did I become?
The German mother who closed her ears
to the sound of neighbors
as they choked and burned?
Uniformed boy in a silver room,
his finger hovering over one small button
to kill thousands he will never see,
elders and infants he will only know
by the magic devil word "enemy"?
I know only this.
I took the shovel
wanting to spare you a death
at their hands, brought it down edgewise
on your soft red neck, cleanly sliced
the head from the body,
felt a shadow pass
over my womb.

Ever since
there is a dream
where opals outline
the shape of diamonds
on my back.
My mouth opens
and your high
whistling hum
bleeds out,
my tongue
licks the air.

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Wendy Rose is a Hopi/Miwok writer. She served as Coordinator of the American Indian Studies Program at Fresno City College in Fresno, California. In addition to her work as a teacher, anthropologist, researcher, consultant, editor, panelist, bibliographer, and advisor, Wendy Rose is also an accomplished visual artist.

Having grown up in an environment which placed little emphasis on her Native American background, much of her verse deals with her search for her personal identity as a Native American. She is the author of five volumes of poetry.

"Grandmother Rattler" was published in Rose's 2002 collection Itch Like Crazy.

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