Friday, May 20, 2022

The Futility

You know I figured it out, right?

Did you think I would not?

Did you think I would 

blindly accept,

meekly internalize,

never question,

not be able to see past my own


So now.

I know you.

But it seems you do not know me

at all

if you thought I would not

figure it out,

that I would not 


And the hollow sadness of all of this


I would have accepted the true you.

The one before you ever made the mask.

The one before you ever drew the curtain.

The one before all of

your desperate trying to make yourself look like, 

seem like, be like

something else,

trying to make me fit your


I would have accepted,

Even loved,


As just


If you were able to dismantle the creations

Forced on you.

They do not serve you, protect you


They have become your damage.

The futility


all of it.

--- ks 5/20/22

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Puppet Master

Gepetto pulls the puppet strings.

Arms akimbo,

Knees jerking upward,

The puppets dance in fractured motion.

They love the dance,

And maybe they love Gepetto,

But they tire of the strings. And of being


This way and that.

One by one

They release

the strings.

They dance.

-k.s. 1/19/22

January 2, 2022

What is it with you?

What is the block,

the wall,

the huge gray hunk of cement 

that keeps you bottled up?

When did you learn it is dangerous to talk?

When did you learn you retain more power when you refuse to talk?

Jabs, attacks, cuts to your softest parts,

to your heart,

to your soul. 

How you must have bent and warped and rerouted your heart after each one. 

When did you start to believe that controlling all the things outside of yourself

keeps your world in control? 

It doesn’t, you know.

And maybe none of that is true.

Maybe all that is true is that you 

Talk when you want

Stay stony silent when you want

Judge when you want

Accuse when you want

Push away 

And refuse to explain or discuss because that would mean a diminution of your power.

At most, you leave a sparse trail - breadcrumbs of communication





So that no one can figure out what is going on

Although you impatiently expect us to

When you want us to.

How is all of this so difficult?

How has this become so sad?

Something that should excite us, a treasure chest of gold pieces

we both love:

history, maps, photographs, letters, writing.


How has that devolved into a mire of 



Personal attacks?

Like we speak different languages


I don’t understand the words coming out of your mouth

And you tell me not to say any.

How do we recover?

How do I save myself from what I don’t want to see in you,

from the nausea and fear and anger 

that open like an enormous, endless, black, molten pit in me

spewing out red hot echoes that burn far too close 

to the ashes of my upbringing

    and my first husband

before I knew boundaries even existed

    in normal people

and leave me staring,

wide-eyed and blank,

frozen in disbelief, 

not knowing what to do 

shaking, in that moment.

- k.s. January 2, 2022

Wednesday, January 26, 2022



by Kara Stewart

The words are stuck



somewhere in my throat, all jagged points 


into soft inner


They won’t come out

They aren’t even the right ones

They are only the most used, most familiar, after decades of 


the dictionary,

the language

They are sloppy, rough 


slapped onto deep wounds

Instead of 

tiny, delicate stitches made with exactly



thread and exactly 




My brain wracks, trembles, groans

to find the delicate stitches,

the right thread;

stomps and storms in


at words trundled in its



I can smell them,


Saturday, January 22, 2022



by Kara Stewart

Take me out of your chess game.

Do you see me as one of your 


or am I the opposing player?

I am not part of your

Chess game.

Take me out.

Stop trying to anticipate my moves 

in advance,

Stop trying to set up the board

so that you maneuver me to

a place you feel is 


Look up from the board.

And talk to me

About the now,


Say what needs to be said


Without considering 

Your next move,

My next move.

Put the board away.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Who Are You?

The barn is on fire. Blazing flames wallop out of the open double doors in front; they shoot jagged golden triangles through the small upper window used to haul hay. They send spiraling sparks into the night sky. Red paint, already weathered and worn from years of sun and rain, peels its final layers into red and black curls of charred embers and slides down the wooden siding. 

Who are you?

Do you lead the horse through the barn doors to safety, emerging from the smoke and flames into the cold night air? Do you whisper soothingly into its mane as it dances sideways, feeling the heat of the flames on its flanks? Does smoke lift off your sweater; do sparks crackle in your hair? Did you hastily throw your jacket over the horse’s eyes when you reached its stall because you knew it would panic if it saw the flames rising closer, closer? 

Who are you?

Are you whickering nervously as unnatural heat grazes your flanks? Do your eyes roll in fear, nostrils widen as you smell acrid smoke, see the flames shooting skyward? You want to bolt. You cannot. You are trapped. You scream and toss your head. You dance sideways. Dark softness is tossed over your eyes and wrapped around your head. In the dark, you can breathe. As long as you do not see the flames of reality, as long as you are helped to ignore them, you can be coaxed to move. 

Who are you?

Are you on the hill outside the barn, under the stars, mouth open in horror, eyes reflecting sharp yellow flames? Do you hug your arms around yourself, not trusting what you see to be true? Do you stare in silent shock at the ones shouting directions that are unheard, unheeded, unnecessary? 

Do you shout directions: unheard, unheeded, unnecessary?

Who are you?

Are you frantically lined from barn to farmhouse, passing thimbles of water to throw on the two-story wall of flames? Do you snatch each bucket with furious speed and shove it to the next in line, water sloshing over the top? Does your adrenaline pump so full and fast that you barely feel your arms, your hands, for the millisecond they grip each heavy bucket? Do you move through the horror with desperate, defeated action while a corner of your mind, the corner you keep hidden even from yourself, knows these Herculean efforts will not stop the barn from ending up a smoldering heap tomorrow?

Who are you?

Are you in the house, calling 911, making redolent pots of strong coffee and keeping the children safely inside? Do you soothe and shush the littlest ones and tell them, "Go back to bed, everything is fine." It is a lie, you know it as you say the words but you tell yourself they will believe. Do you take towels out of the linen closet and stack them by the sinks? Pace back and forth because you still don’t hear the rescue sirens coming to put the fire in your beloved barn out for good? Where is the fire engine, where is the fire engine, you wonder. Why aren’t they coming? What is taking so long?

Who are you?

Did you sneak out of the back door into the night that should be black but is lit up like a permanent firecracker? Are you crouching down, watching in your thin pajamas, shivering, unseen, hugging your dog's warm familiarity close? Are the flames oddly beautiful as their bright sparks circle into the black sky? Can you hear the whoosh from the force of the fire pushing out of the barn? Do you wonder if anyone else hears it? No one does. Just you. Always just you. You shiver and pull your friend closer, not from fear of the flames, but from cold.

Who are you?

Do you stay close to your human as she slips from her bed and sneaks out the back door? Do you sit next to her, pushing your strong shoulder blade into her to steady her? Do you give her cheek a quick lick and settle into her lap to warm her as she pulls you in? Do you smell the smoke, hear the whoosh from the force of the fire and know you must stay with your small human? But she is a smart girl. She will not go near the flames. Not this kind anyway. 

Who are you?

Do the flames burn through you like hell’s own dragon? Do they shoot out your eyes, razing everything within, from the most delicate, soft pink mousling heart nests to rough, rusty saw blades hanging on your walls? Do the flames destroy you from the inside out? Will they be the end of you and all you held dear in your comfortable sheltering walls? Do they destroy those within and those without, all in different measure? Do you burn with fury, knowing you will be a pile of rubble tomorrow, wisping white smoke rising from your belly? 

Who are you?

Does the tip of your cigarette flare red as you breathe it to life? Do you toss your lighter across the ditch, into the frosty field, far from your rusty pick up? Do you open the creaking door, climb into the cab, and take a couple of cranks to start the engine? You look in your rearview mirror across the fields and hills at the glowing roar of the barn through the darkness, shrinking to a pinprick as you drive away, billows of white exhaust lingering behind you. Do you grunt in satisfaction? Or dismiss that chapter without a second thought?

Who are you?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! Apple in the Middle

Apple in the Middle, Dawn Quigley's debut novel, is a Young Adult (I'd say young YA or even upper MG) coming of age story whose main character is Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, just like the author.

Publisher's Synopsis:
"Apple Starkington turned her back on her Native American heritage the moment she was called a prairie nigger-a racial slur for someone of white and Indian descendance-not that she really even knows how to be an Indian in the first place. Too bad the white world doesn't accept her either. After her wealthy father gives her the boot one summer, Apple reluctantly agrees to visit her Native American relatives on the Turtle Mountain (North Dakota) Indian Reservation for the first time. It should have been easy, except that she makes all kinds of mistakes as she deals with the culture shock of Indian customs and the Native Michif language, while trying to find a connection to her dead mother. She also has to deal with a vengeful Indian man, Karl, who has a violent, granite-sized chip on his shoulder because he loved her mother in high school but now hates Apple because her mom married a white man. As Apple meets her Indian relatives this summer, she finds that she just may have found a place to belong. One by one, each character-ranging from age five to eighty-five-teaches her, through wit and wisdom, what it means to be a Native person, but also to be a human being while finding her place in the world. Apple shatters Indian stereotypes and learns what it means to find her place in a world divided by color."
Apple in the Middle

Remember those days of junior high (dating myself here, I should say middle school, perhaps) when so many of us felt completely socially inept and were the biggest misfits ever? That's Apple, the main character. Socially awkward kids - no matter their personal race or culture - will welcome reading about someone just as awkward. 

Additionally, Apple's identity struggle is something Native kids (and adults!) will relate to. Identity issues (a result of 500 years of non-Natives telling Natives what they are or aren't, which is in conflict with what Natives really are or aren't) are a big player in Native psyches and have many ramifications, and can be magnified when the person is mixed race or biracial, as is Apple. 
Apple says, "I call it the Ping-Pong effect because you’re the ball, and nobody ever wants you in their space. Have you ever felt like that? Never really belonging anywhere, but trying your darndest to run between two lives only to find you’re always stuck in the middle.”
Yes, Apple, yes, I have felt like that. All my life.

For elementary teachers or parents, although I can't find an official guided reading level on this book, I'd put it at about a T, definitely within the grasp of 4th or 5th grade classroom libraries. You can also use it to follow or teach character development. But its highest use for you will be to read it yourself. It will help inform so many other things you do around Native people for the rest of your teaching career (keeping in mind that there are well over 500 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. and many state-recognized tribes also, and that this is a story from one of those tribes). You will gain insight into some common Native issues as well as learn about the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe through informative sections sprinkled throughout the book. 

As Jean Mendoza points out in her review of Apple in the Middle on American Indians in Children's Literature, there are also several other recent #OwnVoices books that you should read with that same goal of informing your teaching, such as Cynthia Leitich Smith's Hearts Unbroken and the graphic novel series, Pemmican Wars, by Katherena Vermette

For middle school or high school teachers or parents, I'd echo the same highest use and further reading, and additionally challenge you to include your learning from this book in your American History and other related Social Studies Essential Standards. I would go into detail, but just now, reading over my state's NC Essential Standards, I am so disgusted at how we are left out that I can't bring myself to list the million ways you could infuse courses with accurate content about Native people. Disclaimer: I'm Native (Sappony), in case you didn't know. But why should that matter or change anything I just said?

We need so many more books like Apple in the Middle. I look forward to Dawn Quigley's next books!