My friend, the big hearted Susan Deer Cloud, has just won a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) grant, sending a much needed $7,000 her way. Though she lives in Binghamton, she returns often in her poetry to her heart country, the Catskills, where she grew up in Livingston Manner, the subject of a memoir in poems that she’s now writing, Borscht Belt Indian. Susan is a political poet who readily expresses outrage over injustices committed against Native Americans and others, but she writes with a humanity that brims with friendship, humor, and love. She laughs too much to be bitter.
So how did she win this award anyway? Who knows. Except that she deserves it. Among the half dozen poems she submitted is this one that I’ve heard her read aloud several times, a real crowd pleaser. It’s her Declaration of Independence from being the Suffering Woman Poet. It’s her shout out to Charles Bukowski.
I Hate Emily & Sylvia aka NDN Ars Poetica
I was sitting Indian-style on the floor at an Amherst Books poetry reading.
I knew it would be one of those readings like a New England funeral
when the first poet, a young man, stated, “I must apologize before I start.
My first poem is a little political.” So I was stuck in the crowd’s web
of designer jeans, thinking, “Great. But why are you apologizing?
Honey, you’re young. You’re supposed to be political.” I listened
to his poem mirroring one of those picture puzzles where you get
to find the hidden animals. I just couldn’t find the political animal
in his poem. Abandoning the hunt, I noticed that the books
on nearby shelves were remainders. Cool. Really cheap books.
I eased out Charles Bukowski’s Slouching Toward Nirvana, leafing
through it, waiting for my friends to read so I could slouch out of there.
I decided to buy Bukowski’s posthumously published book, revel in it
in the long hot bath I’d partake of back at my latest temporary place.
I was imagining my aching bones from sitting two and one half hours,
three minutes and ten seconds on hard dirty floor, drinking
Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer because drinking crappy beer seemed to be
the “thing” at these Friday readings.
Driving home I had to go past Emily Dickinson’s house, and
I thought of wings and hope and all that shit. I flew on by, driving
six hopeless miles of back roads to where I live with the trees.
Once inside I poured myself a glass of Bailey’s Irish Crème Liquor.
I was in one of my black Irish-Indian moods but still kind of happy
from the crappy beer. Next I ran the bathwater full blast, dumping
a mad mix of mandarin orange and coconut scented bubble bath
into churning H20. It was starting to snow outside and that put me
in a tropical mood. I lit candles, shimmied and slipped out of my soft
skirt and velvet blouse and flowered stockings and red suede boots –
just me, a female Gaugin, and Bukowski, lolling naked together
in the balmy bubbles. So I’m reading about Hank’s escapades
in Long Beach, getting drunk in bars, fucking hookers, cursing out
women, punching men, having young girls crawl through his window
once he was famous enough for them to think his pockmarked face
perfect. I’m reading this stuff and playing with myself a little,
only I’m getting too pissed off to go all the way. I keep remembering
how Emily Dickinson was one of the few women poets taught to me
when I was in school. Her and Sylvia Plath. Our woman poet role models.
Emily who spent her adult life inside safe rooms baking cookies, making
tight cold poems, while Walt was wandering the land, all expansive
and ragged and sprouting hair and beard like sweetgrass. Emily, who
never got laid or made love or smelled a man’s sweat mingling with hers
in such a way she’d feel wildflowers bursting out through the star pores
of her parasol-shaded skin. Emily. Poet my male friends prefer
because her poetry is spare. How about poetry fat, nasty, revolutionary,
raw, rowdy the way we women really prefer to be? And Sylvia.
Feminists bemoaning Sylvia plunking her head in a turned on gas oven
after imagining her model self a Jew somewhere in between Daddy
and Ted Hughes. I wonder what she would have done if she grew up
an Indian girl? I ask why no one praises any women poets for doing
what Bukowski did? What would Hank have done if he’d been
in Sylvia’s shoes? Left the kids with Hughes, gone dancing barefoot
in a pub with a poet lover fifteen years younger than Ted and ten times
better in bed? I sip more of what I call goddess milk, smiling at bubbles
crackling in an exquisite water music, sparkling in rainbows ephemeral
as spontaneous song. I’m thinking of my own escapades, how I earned
my reputation of Native American Jezebel, but, hell,
that’s in the city I escaped from, where during the Burning Times
the Puritan types would have torched me as a witch instead of
torturing me on the rack of behind-the-back gossip.
Ah, the tropics, me and Bukowski slouching toward nirvana.
When do I get to be praised for having beautiful young boys
crawl through my window to make love with me? When will I get
admired for drinking, brawling, balling, and growling words like fuck,
bitch, shit to sound tough? When do I get respect for wandering
the land with sweetgrass hair and wearing no underwear under
my outer clothes? I want to know why the Dickinson house docent
thought it wonderful that Emily lowered cookies from her virginal bedroom
to neighborhood boys waiting below. Who the fuck cares? I, for one,
would think it more wonderful if she had lowered a ladder for the boys
to climb up. Where is the female poetry that doesn’t wear a corset
or chastity belt, or involve a vaginal oven? Where is our American Lalla,
our poetess who sings her poetry naked while whirling into ecstasy?
Yeah, me and Bukowski word-fucking in the tropics on a snowy night
six miles from Emily’s house, nothing inside my oven,
coming together in a bubble bath, reaching nirvana.