Monday, April 14, 2014

Metabolic Demons

Metabolic what? 

Well, here I am: 52 years old, and as my dear Margo is wont to say, “rode hard and put up wet.”  I suppose it’s not surprising that after a lifetime of non-stop adrenalin, trauma, relocation, loss, stress and struggle, I ended up in a gastroenterologist’s office this morning with a young doctor there on fellowship and his supervisor, both questioning me closely about my alcohol intake, sex life, tattoos, diet and exercise.  An ultrasound of my liver was “fatty” and enlarged.  My liver enzymes are bad.  And, just in case the fact that my primary care doctor issued me a blood sugar meter and accompanying paraphernalia didn’t make it clear, I am, without a doubt, diabetic (damn, I was hoping that just because she said I was ‘borderline’ I had somehow not quite jumped that line).  Plus, I have high blood pressure and my cholesterol is always just below or at the warning level.  And sleep apnea.

“We call this ‘metabolic syndrome’” the younger doctor, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, informed me.  “Diet.  Exercise.  Otherwise, that fat will start to scar your liver.  Do you know what we call that?” 

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.  If you have metabolic syndrome or any of the components of metabolic syndrome, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
 - Mayo Clinic 

I hate it when doctors act like patients live in a dark cave and never listen to the news or don’t pay attention to a million warnings from their doctors . . . or don’t have fifteen relatives with liver-related diseases.

“Cirrhosis,” I replied, wearily.

“Yes, and its very, very painful, you do NOT want to go there,” the senior doctor warned, wiggling his admirable gray caterpillar-like eyebrows as if he were waving me off the wrong exit on the freeway.

Tell me about it.  At eleven years old, I waited outside a hospital room doorway listening to my brother scream as he underwent a liver biopsy, watched him battle back from the edge of serious illness.  As an adult, I’ve visited two of my sisters – at different times and different hospitals - post-liver transplant. I know the routine.  I know the procedures.  I know the drugs.  This doctor may be an Andy Griffith look-alike, but he knew his stuff and he was letting me have it with both barrels.  I don’t want to mess around with my liver, he assured me.  At least, not any more than I already have.

It’s true, I have dragged my poor liver with me through all kinds of trauma, welfare and commodity foods and massive stress – and that was just my childhood.  Adulthood was another string of years on low budget food, an increasing dependence on sugar (my drug of choice; it’s as bad for me as alcohol or other drugs have been for other family members), and less and less vigorous, steady exercise.  Grad school?  One long surge of adrenalin, a hernia, and more sugar.  Fourteen years as a professor?  Um, think grad school with more money for more sugar.  I used to carry my weight evenly, all over my body, a nice survival suit of back-up energy and insulation.  But in the past fifteen years, the fat has concentrated itself in my abdomen like a child I can’t give birth to.

But I have never been a drinker, never taken a questionable substance of the pharmaceutical nature.  I’ve never even tried to smoke a joint, although being in the same room with folks doing so once made me vomit violently off the front porch. Although I have two tattoos, I got them at highly reputable places with the highest standards.  And sexual partners?  Don’t make me laugh (or tell you just how Victorian I really am).  It’s kind of unfair, really.  All those relatives I know who are or have been such heavy drinkers or drug users – my mother and father included! – and who ends up with a lousy liver???  The woman who has been drunk maybe three times in her life.

Still, I haven’t been good to my liver in terms of food.  And, let’s face it, as a woman with at least half my ancestry coming from California Native tribes, my body has a predisposition to metabolic syndrome, possibly even an inherited liver intolerance for the kinds of high fat and sugars my generation grew up on. (Okay, NOW can I get Federal Recognition?!)

I used my brain to pull myself out of poverty – my brain, and learning to trust my instincts, wherever those are located – but I guess I forgot to include my body in that rescue mission.   

In the process of earning a Ph.D., becoming a published author and full professor, I left my body behind, ignored my body’s needs.  Well, guess what?  These are not two independently situated places.  Brain needs body.  Body needs brain.

No brainer, right?

It’s called denial.  It’s called, too stressed out and obsessive about ‘getting things done’ to get up from the desk and go for a walk.

It’s called winning the battle but losing the war.

So I sat there this morning and took my tongue-lashing like a woman, admitted my negligence, promised to get to work on diet and exercise, gave three vials of blood for more testing, and set up an appointment for a liver biopsy.

Then I called my wife.  To her credit, she did not choose that moment to say “I told you so” (she did that later, after I came home), but commiserated and agreed that I probably needed to go to the bead store and do a little retail therapy before heading back to Lexington.

You might be thinking, oh come on, how hard can this be?  Lose the weight.  Go for some walks.  Get over yourself, whiner.  You have health insurance.  You live in a very walkable area.  You have a supportive partner who can cook healthy food like she’s a professional or something.  Why all this moaning and groaning?

Listen.  If you’ve ever been a smoker, or a hard drinker, or addicted to some substance that wasn’t good for you (whether that be speed or wheat), you know that beneath every addiction is a demon eating up that crack, or that whiskey, or that Snickers bar.  Maybe even more than one demon.  Demons like Loss, Grief, Fear, Abandonment, Loneliness, Inadequacy, Hunger.  Demons like Denial, Anger, Self-Destructiveness, Pain.  Demons so complex they can’t ever have a name.  Demons as much a part of you as your DNA, Demons you can never quite completely wash out of your blood.

Those are the demons who need the fried donut, the big bowl of ice cream, the candy bar between classes, the Coke at the end of the term when you just can’t make it through one more round of student conferences without a ‘lift.’  These are the demons who crawled out of some dark place when you were a baby and your parents drank and fought, slammed doors and each other, right over your head.  These are the demons who constructed themselves out of your mother’s absence or your father’s disappearance or the sudden amputation of siblings from your life.  Once those demons got a hold in your body, they dug into your veins and your organs like parasites in for the long haul.  They thrive on divorce, coming out, homelessness, term papers in grad school, competition for TAships, the job hunt, proposals for panels and papers and books.

They do not let go just because you have good intentions about going clean.  They do not give up when your doctor tells you your blood sugar is too high for too long.  These kinds of demons stay, they grow, fed by stress and worry and fear, they get real comfortable, real fat. Real real. 

As real as real gets, my friends.

These are the demons who, even when you DO go cold turkey on sugar, exercise daily, lose 30 or 40 pounds - as I have done TWICE in the past ten years - simply lie in wait, looking for that new stressor to pop up, or that old one to hold a massive reunion.  And then, they POUNCE.  That's called relapse.  Just like an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, I will always be a sugar junkie who can't let her guard down.  But who does, anyway.

So here I sit in my comfortable living room mulling over the fact that at the age of fifty-two, I have accomplished many things of which I am very proud – at the price of my health.  It’s not a very good feeling.  I’d kind of like a big bowl of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, in fact.

Oh wait.

Maybe I’ll just sit with the demons and listen to them scream. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Learning to Pray

She cleans the kitchen: washes dishes,

throws out paper plates, paper towels,

beans left hardening in a pan for two days.

The rain lets up; sun shoots a ray

through dripping trailer windows,

illuminates a red laminate counter top,

raises her hopes.  She thinks, if

the house is clean,

you'll come home.  Who wouldn’t

like a sparkling sink?  By two

p.m., no word; her stomach

growls hard.  She makes toast,

quickly wipes away crumbs,

rinses the butter knife, places

the stick of margarine back

into the fridge.  She doesn’t count

the hours; just know allnight

allday's too long.  She feels

very old; this must be how

grownups feel, living alone.

She doesn’t like it.  She wants

you to come home,

even – yes – even still drunk –

that would be closer to normal

and God knows normal

is all this eight year old girl

wants, so she polishes chrome faucets,

scrubs under the stove rings,

takes out garbage, stands still

as long as that ray of light holds.

Deborah Miranda

Wednesday, March 26, 2014




Hello, little crescent moon.

Good morning icy March wind.

Good morning house wren’s sharp trill

in a sleepy indigo sky.

Good morning oak branches

pointing out directions.

Are you all here to remind

one lost Indian woman to ask

for help from the Ancestors?

Yes, I have forgotten again.

Yes, I went to sleep last night

thinking I was forgotten.

Good morning cold air

bathing me like a newborn.

Good morning sun whose steady approach

pushes indigo to robin’s egg.

Good morning, Ancestors whose spirits

watched over me last night, my body

curled in a child’s vast sorrow.

Saleki asatsa.  I’m here at last.  I’m

here again.  Saleki asatsa, matsa. 

Saleki asatsa, ashi. 


                        Deborah Miranda

Tuesday, March 25, 2014



swept up
 in this swirling
  Sunday siren’s mass
   beating of a thousand
    hearts like the bioluminescent
     swarm of saltwater’s dark matter
       pulling me through a fluid map-maze
        toward a child caught without compass
          somewhere between oceanic depths and
           the feathered thunder of wings    we fly
           three thousand miles on broken sestinas
          and prayers of ancestors back to that slice
         of land squeezed between an open vein of
         hungry saltwater and a backbone of ice
          a blue dot on the map just to rock that girl
           sing her starry stories made of constellations
            show her a home etched somewhere in the
             mystery of her tough turtleheart    we can’t
              navigate that map without vortex-
                generating wings and gills for breathing
                   saltwater angel and mermaid aim for
                    landmarks shining like stars salmon
                      berries trilliums Cedar Waxwings
                                     and her pulse  beating
                                      hard as wings  know 
                                        know that in some
                                          DNA saltwater
                                       everywhere Sunday
                                     is a flock of starlings
                                       who don't need a
                                               just sky

Deborah A. Miranda

Monday, March 24, 2014



It’s early in the morning here on our beautiful campus.  I’m in my book-lined stereotypically cluttered professorial den prepping for the day.  I have a skype interview with students in Hawai’i on my schedule, but forgot to bring a copy of my book to work (normally I keep a copy here but must have taken it home by accident).  Luckily, my institution’s brilliant librarians purchase copies of all faculty books, so I type the title into our e-catalog and my book pops right up.  That, however, is when my heart falls – no, not falls, but actually plummets:  the call number started with an ‘E’ … and I well know what that means.  This book is buried in the bowels of the library, in the ethnology/anthropology section.  Not only that, but in the CALIFORNIA INDIAN section, where no one on the entire campus except our sole California Indian – me – ever ventures. 

This is what my book looks like in the card catalog’s list:


See me?  There I am, 20th-21st Century memoirist, poet and writer: accompanied by Stone Age spear and arrow points of California and the Great Basin, Handbook of Indians of California, Indians, missionaries and merchants: the legacy of colonial encounters on the California frontiers and California Archaeology.  You might also notice that First families: a photographic history of California Indians by L. Frank and Kim Hogeland, another book from my publisher Heyday, is also consigned to this dungeon (it should be in with photography and/or art).  Since Bad Indians is a memoir that also contains poetry, short stories, artwork, photographs as well as some re-purposed ethnographic materials, placing it there with stone age arrowheads and California archaeology pretty much guarantees that it will never cross the path of a creative writing or English student browsing through any of those sections.   

The book is, in effect, hidden from sight.  None of the Creative Writing Minor students whom I hope will envision me as Mentor/Writer will ever see what is, in my mind at least, my literary masterpiece and a pretty interesting take on the memoir genre as well.  They'll see the books of their other professors on those library shelves, but not mine.  How does that look?  For someone like me - female, Native, lesbian - establishing a professional identity at a university with very few people of color or out professors is a hell of a lot of work.  But thanks to a simple number, it’s kind of like my book, and my life as a writer, don’t even exist.  Those words “Native American/California Indian” trump everything when it comes to classification of my literary output. 

I'm in my office again (the hours spent in this chair would stun you), taking a quick break to read some news from the outside world.  What catches my eye?
An article on the “post-racialization revolution” on television’s post-apocalyptic/zombie/futuristic series now in vogue celebrates the more realistic view of society with black, mixed-race, Asian, Latina/o, female leaders (as well as zombies; not too long ago, the zombification of the world was all white, something Key and Peel make fun of in this brilliant skit).  The article lists with celebratory acclaim the actors of color, along with scripts that avoid type-casting all villains and zombies as black or Latino/a, which now regularly populate our television screens.  Quite a change from even the recent past!    

But wait.  Did I hear the names of any Native American actors or roles?  Nope.  Apparently, Indians – who have survived colonization, Missionization, reservations, poor nutrition, bad health care, mind-blowing governmental abuse and a multitude of other metaphorical zombies - will NOT withstand the zombification of America.  Even the epic novel World War Z in unabridged audio form (over twelve hours long) – the fascinating, detailed novel by Max Brooks, not the lame movie - features just one Native woman fighter – Lakota, of course - who, of course, dies (she does pick up a turtle, murmur “Mitkuye Oyasin,” in her very brief cameo, however).

We do, of course, have the sci-fi/Western thriller Cowboys and Aliens, with Adam Beach as – oh, wait – the whiteman’s sidekick who, naturally, dies while saving said whiteman.  So really, does that even count? 

I would be remiss (and embarrassed) if I didn’t mention a great indie film titled The Dead Can’t Dance.   Shot in 2009 and released in 2010, the film is about 3 Indian guys who survive a virulent gust of wind that turns everyone else into zombies, but leaves them untouched.  Why?  Because they’re Native American and have some genetic immunity to the zombie virus.  GET IT?  Genetic immunity!  This is where being left out can be useful, I guess.  The meek shall inherit the earth and all that.  Or just poetic justice, dude.  (What are the chances of this film coming to Lexington's State Theater, I wonder?  Or YOUR hometown?  Is it even on Netflix??)

Again, I can’t leave you without Cutcha Risling Baldy’s excellent blog post on using a zombie lens to read contemporary Native existence, telling us, “Zombie-pocalypse sounds eerily similar to California Indian history...”  She’s brilliant.  Watch out for this woman.  Cutcha flips the paradigm around to read Indians as Zombies, but making very clear that this is not exactly a good thing.  

Sigh.  Sometimes being the only Native academic (or, let’s just say it, person) at my academic institution feels a lot like being the last Indian on the planet.  Maybe I’m in one of those sci-fi shows and I just don’t know it.  W&L is famous for being under a powerful "bubble" that keeps all unpleasantness (poor folks, third-world problems, ugly people) at bay.  Could it be the end of the world has already happened and I missed it?

Obviously, my next project needs to be an edited anthology of Native American zombie-apocalypse pieces.  Along with all the other projects lined up in my head.

Here's a sort-of-happy-ending to part of this story.  There was one thing I could do about the placement of my book in our institution's library:  I emailed one of the librarians and told her my story.  She was enormously sympathetic, and immediately said that she had no idea that’s where my book was located, and that when I returned it to the library, to bring it directly to her; she would go about the process of recategorizing it so that it sits with other memoir/short story/poetry literary works.

Wow.  All I had to do was ask.  Actually, I didn’t even do that; I simply relayed my dismay, and Elizabeth was all over it. Thank you, Elizabeth.
Of course, Elizabeth is an extraordinary human being and I can’t count on all librarians being quite so receptive, but, would it hurt any of us Native/Native Scholars/Writers/Allies to check out the call numbers on Native books, and request that they be moved into their appropriate literary category?  Or to do the same thing in the many bookstores out there where I routinely find Native poets in with either Native history or White People’s Woo-Woo Crystal-Gazing-How-To’s?

It would be a start.  The rest of the world might not be as responsive as my small liberal-arts university librarian, but a concerted effort would be better than becoming part of the living-yet-dead-Native-authors down in the basement.   

It’s hard when even the zombies (or those who animate them) don't want us.

Monday, March 17, 2014


You cannot imagine how envious all the other kids were of these glasses.


I often dream of cats who are birds
or birds turning into cats –
does that mean my ancestors
are trying to contact me?

                                                                        I grew up in a succession of trailers –
                                                                        mostly single-wides.  I dreamt of living in                                                                         a real house with a staircase and big
                                                                        windows that opened wide instead of
                                                                        little glass slats you cranked into slits of air.

I’m not Indian but my step-
daughter is ¼ and her daughter is
1/8 and her kids will be 1/16, and
I’ve been Indian in ALL my

                                                                        We ate cheap hotdogs, mac n’cheese from
                                                                        the food bank, spaghetti, white
                                                                        bread and margarine.  You know. 

I got a tattoo of my spirit animal
on my ankle after my vision-quest.
Wanna see?

                                                                        I got free lunch at school.  I was too
                                                                        hungry to hide the special red tickets
                                                                        from the other kids.  Besides, I had to get
                                                                        into my pre-diabetic training.

You have such gorgeous black long
hair. Such great skin.  Such high
cheekbones.  I grew up with a bunch
of Cherokees … You guys get lots of
money from the government, right?
Or do you have a casino?

                                                                        I do not get a casino per-cap.  We can’t
                                                                        even get Federal Recognition.  I took out                                                                         loans for my college education.  I did get                                                                         some cool gray cat’s eye glasses in third                                                                         grade from welfare, though.  They were
                                                                        key to my popularity.

I’m friends with this Algonquin
Medicine Woman … saw this turtle
rattle at a Pow Wow … the Indian
woman wouldn’t sell to me … I got
an Indian friend to try .. turned out
the seller was Joanne Shenandoah’s
mother … sorry, this is a long story, but
storytelling is important to your people,
isn’t it?

                                                                        Sometimes we got a free turkey on
                                                                        Thanksgiving if someone put our name on
                                                                        a charity list.  Free!

I’m sooooo jealous of you, you have
such a spiritual inheritance, a connection
with the earth.  I’m culturally
impoverished compared to you.

                                                                        My inheritance includes genocide, PTSD,  
                                                                        diabetes, glaucoma, bad teeth, extreme
                                                                        astigmatism, crooked feet, bad dreams,
                                                                        poor choices and a looooong memory.

Do you have an Indian name?  Can
you give me an Indian name?  Actually,
I kinda have one I gave myself
already, can you translate it?

                                                                        Let’s face it, I’m a wannabe too.  I just
                                                                        wannabe normal.  Go for walks.  Read a
                                                                        book.  Eat a hot dog and know the
                                                                        ingredients won’t poison me.  Have the
                                                                        privilege of not needing anger to
                                                                        cauterize all these open veins.

- Deborah Miranda

Saturday, March 15, 2014


       for Susan Schultz 
"The tract through which we passed is generally very good land, with plenty of water; and there, as well as here, the country is neither rocky nor overrun with brush-wood. There are, however, many hills, but they are composed of earth. The road has been good in some places, but the greater part bad. About half-way, the valleys and banks of rivulets began to be delightful. We found vines of a large size, and in some cases quite loaded with grapes; we also found an abundance of roses, which appeared to be like those of Castile."
"We have seen Indians in immense numbers, and all those on this coast of the Pacific contrive to make a good subsistence on various seeds, and by fishing. The latter they carry on by means of rafts or canoes, made of tule (bullrush) with which they go a great way to sea. They are very civil. All the males, old and young, go naked; the women, however, and the female children, are decently covered from their breasts downward. We found on our journey, as well as in the place where we stopped, that they treated us with as much confidence and good-will as if they had known us all their lives. But when we offered them any of our victuals, they always refused them. All they cared for was cloth, and only for something of this sort would they exchange their fish or whatever else they had. During the whole march we found hares, rabbits, some deer, and a multitude of berendos (a kind of a wild goat)."
" I pray God may preserve your health and life many years."
" From this port and intended Mission of San Diego, in North California, third July, 1769."
[excerpt from Seventy-five years in California , page 371, by William Heath Davis]


We   here
are composed of earth
valleys and      rivulets
vines     loaded with grapes
an abundance of roses
We     Indians     on this coast    
carry on
very civil,     old and young 
decent     on our journey   
we treat with      confidence and good-will
all lives

always care for
the whole
a kind of wild

s     o    n     g        o     f

I I ‘ U R*
(* one of the Kumeyaay words for Juniperus californica)

         - by Deborah A. Miranda

I've had examples of erasure poems pasted into my notebook for years, but somehow the idea never grabbed hold of my imagination.  Until this morning.  And probably this inspiration came from skyping with Susan Schultz's Documentary Writing class yesterday (from Virginia to Hawai'i thanks to the magic of the internet!).  Susan has long been one of my heroes; the publisher of TinFish Press and so many of the quite beautiful chapbooks in my collection.  But she's also dear to my heart because of our mutual fascination with creating poetry (i.e., truth) out of the documents that pervade our lives.  

Speaking with her students yesterday, digging deep for answers to their questions and questings, I thought again of all the letters and diary entries left behind by Father Junipero Serra, the man responsible for making the idea of California missionization happen.  Bad Indians contains two "found" poems constructed from Serra's letters, but the layers of meaning in the word 'erasure' drove me to try something different this morning.  Yes, I wanted to erase Serra from the San Diego landscape from which he writes.  Yes, I am going to hell for this.  Yes, I am looking forward to all the really awesome poets who will be waiting for me at the gates.

After I wrote this poem, I wondered how to write ABOUT the form of an erasure poem, the concept of them.  Turns out lots of other people have attempted this, so I will just point you to Via Negative: A Literary Weblog, where Dave Bonta says:

"Just as (we are told) there are no atheists in foxholes, so the erasure poet comes to believe that there are no truly prosaic passages in a passage of prose. You can only look at arrangements of words on a page for so long before you completely lose track of which are the expected sentiments, the set phrases. Strangeness affects them all. You look deeper: within words, and between words widely separated on the page. New possible poems spark with electricity, like Frankenstein’s monster just before full reanimation. But it’s a zero-sum game: for one poem to open, countless others must remain closed. Syntax, like time, only flows in one direction. Knowing this, you hesitate over the source text. The poems are parallel universes, each with their own laws. And as in physics, any pretense of the observer to a god-like standing above the observed phenomenon is impossible; to observe is to recognize, and to recognize is to implicate oneself in an inherently contingent origin. Perhaps the Daoists are right, and the only perfect art object is the uncarved block."

And perhaps erasure poems must themselves be erased and transformed.  This poem is for the students in Susan's class who gave so much of themselves to me yesterday, and who have so much beauty to give to the world.