Teaching Poetry: Invisible Indian

It seems only fitting that I would teach poetry more intensely to my students during National Poetry Month. We read and discussed this poem today. Ninety per cent of my students are Native American. They understood the poem, but were surprised that somebody thought the woman was Hispanic. They live among their people on the reservation where I teach. Indians know Indians. The last verse was the one that struck all of us. We wondered what "the turquoise in my heart" meant.

Invisible Indian

A few weeks ago
the cashier at the grocery store,
seeing my dark hair
and dark eyes,
counted my change
back to me in Spanish

Three days later
the waitress at the pizza place
made the same mistake.
Happens all the time
since I moved to Miami.
As though without buckskin, braids and beads
I don’t exist.

At a pow-wow last Sunday
I spoke to a Cherokee
wearing faded black jeans and a tee shirt
standing beside a display of stone sculptures
I told him I admired his work.

He didn’t mistake me for Hispanic
But saw that I was Indian
and even guessed my tribe.
Other Indians always recognize me.

Maybe they hear the echoes of the drums
In the rhythms of my voice.
Glimpses the shadows of my Indian grandmother
In the chiseled cheekbones of my face,
Or see the turquoise in my heart.

-Deloras (Dee) Lane

1 comment:

  1. How about if "turquoise in my heart" doesn't "mean" anything, but has an unmistakable impact beyond "meaning"? It's a beautifully emotional line and I find myself wanting to leave it at that. It's really a perfect line that brings a perfect poem to a perfect close. I think I have a sense of why it works so well,but, right now, I don't have words. So, I'm content to replace "what does it mean" with "how did it affect me". It unsettled me.


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