Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

$16.95 Graywolf

“What’s the last book of contemporary poetry that really blew you away?” is a question I often ask, and lately, it seems like the answer is always Whereas. Throughout her debut collection, Long Soldier, a dual citizen of the U.S. and the Oglala Lakota Nation, responds to President Obama’s 2009 congressional apology to Native Americans—signed with little fanfare and given little public attention—by dismantling, contrasting, and employing its language. The poet rubs personal experience against historical document and the sparks fly. Praise for this book is popping up everywhere (The AtlanticThe New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times…), and with very good reason.

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WHEREAS a string-bean blue-eyed man leans back into a swig of beer work-weary lips at the dark bottle keeping cool in short sleeves and khakis he enters the discussion;

Whereas his wrist loose at the bottleneck to come across as candid “Well at least there was an Apology that’s all I can say” he offers to the circle each of them scholarly;

Whereas under starlight the fireflies wink across East Coast grass and me I sit there painful in my silence glued to a bench in the midst of the American casual;

Whereas a subtle electricity in that low purple light I felt their eyes on my face gauging a reaction and someone’s discomfort leaks out in a well-stated “Hmmm”;

Whereas like a bird darting from an oncoming semi my mind races to the Apology’s assertion “While the establishment of permanent European settlements in North America did stir conflict with nearby Indian tribes, peaceful and mutually beneficial interactions also took place”;

Whereas I cross my arms and raise a curled hand to my mouth as if thinking as if  taking it in I allow a static quiet then choose to stand up excusing myself  I leave them to unease;

Whereas I drive down the road replaying the get-together how the man and his beer bottle stated their piece and I reel at what I could have said or done better;

Whereas I could’ve but didn’t broach the subject of “genocide” the absence of this term from the Apology and its rephrasing as “conflict” for example;

Whereas since the moment had passed I accept what’s done and the knife of my conscience pierces with bone-clean self-honesty;

Whereas in a stirred conflict between settlers and an Indian that night in a circle;

Whereas I struggle to confess that I didn’t want to explain anything;

Whereas truthfully I wished most to kick the legs of that man’s chair out from under him;

Whereas to watch him fall backward legs flailing beer stench across his chest;

Whereas I pictured it happening in cinematic slow-motion delightful;

Whereas the curled hand I raised to my mouth was a sign of indecision;

Whereas I could’ve done it but I didn’t;

Whereas I can admit this also took place, yes, at least;

 

posted by Gabrielle Bates