Franci Washburn

September 26, 2009

Still Present

In Memory of Marlon Evans

In the rain drenched brown of the earth, still I see your face

Dripping sweat after your run up Tumamoc.

Within the strong branches of the palo verde, still I see your limbs

Striding into the Hotel Congress to hear good music.

In the distant stars of the night sky, still I see your eyes

Shining in the moonlight at a Chicken Scratch Dance out on TO.

Listening to the snap and rattle of thunder, still I hear your laughter

Amused at some silly joke I told over coffee at Casino del Sol.

Still I see your face

Still I see your limbs

Still I see your eyes

Still I hear your laughter

Within the beauty of this place you loved,

You are still present, my poet friend.

As long as the land remains,

Yetsuko he. I will remember.

Four Crazy Indi’n Women Dancing in the Rain

The rains are late this year. They all wonder if they

will come at all.

Neighbors sit outside, stare at the sky, smoking and joking.

One Lakota, one Yaqui, one Tohono O’odham, one Diné,

all come together, a community praying for the rain.

Doreen, blind Tohono O’odham, they call her their


Puts up a wetted finger, says, “It will rain tonight, the

dew point is up, and the TO are dancing.”  We believe her,

take another sip of Diet Coke, blow smoke in prayer.

Liz, Diné, says she is allergic to the sun,

blisters, burns and peels.  They sympathize, the other

brown women, and Liz says, the rain is a blessing

an ointment, balm for her skin,

and for her soul.

Stacy, Yaqui, her cell phone rings, but she tells them

she can’t talk now because

They are watching the light show, waiting on the thunder

flinching as the thunder cracks the sky

To let the rain leak out.

Arlene, Lakota, thanks Tunkashila as the first drops fall

cool and gentle.

Speaks of Wakinyan, bringers of rain, but respectfully

not to offend and risk punishment

for what, she doesn’t know, but something.

It rushes and roars, pouring off

eaves in silver sheets.

They laugh as the downpour puts out their cigarettes

Smoke and rain, fire and water

Four crazy Indian women dancing in the rain.

Rapid City

She snagged him in the Frontier

On a beer soaked Saturday night in July, hot sweat

Overruling his I’m A Beast cologne

beer belly done lapped over dinner plate

belt buckle he won at the

All Indian Interior Rodeo in 1981.

He snagged her in the Frontier

A beer soaked Saturday night in July, hot sweat

Pasting tendrils of her graying hair to the

back of her neck, belly slack

emptied of the kids she had at the

Pine Ridge IHS hospital in 1979, 1980, 1982.

They caught each other looking at 1 a.m.

when the lights came up and

the bouncers invited them to

throw themselves out

But they had already

Accepted the invitation twenty-five years ago

And there they stand, holding each other upright

Because they can’t stand alone,

Beneath the crackling and fizzing neon sign

June bugs blindly bashing themselves against the light.

She paid the cabbie in nickels and dimes and pennies

all she had

pissed him off because he had to count it

while she leaned against the door of her weekly rented

room at the motel on East North Street,

puking her guts up and

He fell up the step into her room, fell asleep half onto her

paper thin sheets, his jeans around his knees

and couldn’t go any farther

wishing for just a little piece off a five pound block of

Commodity Cheese, best hangover cure in the world,

his father used to say.

They caught each other’s dreams, two stepped

through the saw dust in eighteen-year-old bodies,

lean and taut before tomorrow came

And when the sun came up through the dirty window,

they held each other, cried and

cursed the night for being gone too soon.

The Master Bead Worker

In Memory of Anne Kills Enemy Keller

Fat Crow beads threaded on leather lacings, colors wild,

here and there

a slightly off color bead where it shouldn’t be because

Uncí’s eyesight isn’t good enough to discern eggshell

from pure white or turquoise from light blue.

She smiles because she thought she would

never be able to bead again—

Only memories left of working a daisy chain hair clip or

a peyote stitch design on a pipe bag in size 12 beads,

Tinier than sugar ants, smaller than a gnat’s eyeball, little

beads that fall from hands too weak to hold them.

She thought she could only sit in her wheel chair,

trembling left hand held in her right hand, hearing aid out so

She can’t hear the woman down the hall screaming what

She herself has too much dignity to express:

Help me!  Help me!  Help me!

She thought she could only wait for her next injection of insulin,

wait for the laundry woman to not bring back the flowered 

dress that Lee bought for her,

wait for her tired heart to stutter and stall and stop.

She whispered in our ears, “This place is like being in jail.”

We sit on her bed, me and Fran, and sometimes May Fern,

the bed that she proudly makes up every morning.

Uncí sits in her wheel chair, that rolling hospital table between us

and on it, the big box of Crow beads, scissors, 

conchos and roll of white leather lacing.

Tiny bits of lacing flake off onto my dark pants,

“Leather dandruff,” Uncí says.

We make hair ties and key chains and after we are all gone home,

Uncí’s gnarled hands undo the ones that Fran and I made,

straighten the twisted lacings, take off some beads

and put on different colored ones.

She talks more now, tells us about her horse

who jumped the fence so she never had to open a gate.

She jokes about her new daughter-in-law, Ricky,

Gives her an Indi’n name—Kicks a Hole in the Sky.

We fancy dance around her room, and she laughs.

The last time I saw her, she smiled when I came into her room, and

there on the bed she had laid out all the hair ties and key chains—37 of them—bright against the white, nursing home bedspread,

a glory of sky and trees, sunsets, brown bears, and

Iktomi tricksters in hot pink and periwinkle.

She smiles shyly and she says,

“Do you think we could sell them?”

I imagine her now, sitting at the end of the Good Red Road,

laughing as she tells that story about the time

she sneaked into the movie theater,

sat in the section reserved for white people

and got away with it.

She sits on the grass with the other master bead workers,

their beads sorted out by color,

their needles and thread and scissors close at hand,

while rainbows and lakes,

buffalo and horses,

sunsets and memories

Flow from their nimble fingers in patterns of

little beads, size 12, smaller than sugar ants,

tinier than a gnat’s eyeball.

Uncí, bead me a river.

Riding the Short Bus

I was driven to this dead end against my will.

I wanted to believe in all those things they said were true,

riding the long buses with everyone else:


the American Dream,

the Virgin Birth,

the resurrection,

higher education,

five year warranties,

the inherent goodness of people,

the axis of evil,

the weapons of mass destruction,

the justice of the justice system,

and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

will turn anyone into a poet.

But I find myself with two or three others, stuck on the short bus

seeing all those lies wrapped up in the emperor’s new clothes

and I wonder what the hell is wrong with being


when humans are stupid and cruel, vicious and


gullible Gullivers gamboling to glory and writing


about ground up chickens and torch-like roses and what

Moses wanted, for


and some fool editor at the APR proclaims it


and others moan “ahhh!” because they think they’re supposed

to understand it, that there’s some deep meaning in that,

something to believe in.

I wanted to believe it, I really did.

Wasicu, wasicu . . .

Wasicu, wasicu

Taker of the fat.

How much can you eat?

Already bloated with all

You have consumed, and yet

You eat.

The timber for ship’s masts

Trees of ancient wisdom, gone down your gullet.

The winged ones of the sky, passenger pigeons

Clouds of birds, vanished.

Tatanka Oyate, Buffalo Nation

Core of our existence, devoured by your greed.

All the fruits of Maka Ina, you take

For yourself, and even when you are satiated

Still you take, despoil, push

Starving ones away from the feast, push The People

Here and there, taking Maka Ina herself,

Digging into her body with your long knives,

Devouring her guts and blood to satisfy your gluttony.

Wakicepa he le e.

Too fat person you are.

Wasicu, wasicu

Taker of the fat.

How much more can you eat?

Franci Washburn is an Assistant Professor with a dual appointment in American Indian Studies and the Department of English at The University of Arizona. She has published journal articles, essays in edited volumes, poetry, and a novel, Elsie’s Business. A second novel, The Sacred White Turkey, is due for release from University of Nebraska Pressin the summer of 2010. Marlon Evans was her friend.

One Response to “Franci Washburn”

  1. […] Franci Washburn « Back Room Live – view page – cached Listening to the snap and rattle of thunder, still I hear your laughter — From the page […]

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