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By Deborah A. Miranda

The people you cannot treat as people

Whose backs bent over your fields, your kitchens, your cattle, your children

We whose hands harvested the food we planted and cultivated for your mouth, your belly.

We whom you beat into plows until we hated the very earth from which we emerged

We whom you buried between the river stones and beneath adobe mud

We whose skeletons, like rebar, held up your mission walls

(built on stolen land by stolen hands)—

We know something about foundations.

We who have risen from the roots of those footings

Whose pain you will not acknowledge even when we shout it in the streets

We the people tear down monuments to the men whose hands held the whip that beat enslaved Indian or African, whose blood mixed with stones and dirt to make the mortar of your fortunes

Whose skin gleams black and brown, copper and tan, whose skin is olive and white like yours.

We know why the foundations rot and crack beneath your children

We whose children have felt those reverberations in the wombs of their mothers

We enter the halls of the academy and the House and the Senate like drops of rain seeping through your roof from a weeping cloud of justice

Listen. We are telling you why this foundation cannot last.

Here we are at Standing Rock protecting not just our waters but the water you drink

Facing water cannons in below zero weather, rubber bullets like fists, sound cannons shifting the bones in our ears,

Protecting not just our waters but the waters your grandchildren will drink

Here we are in Flint Michigan, hauling jugs of contaminated river water from our taps to press conferences and courts of law

Demanding, would the children of a wealthier, whiter city be forced to drink this poison?

And here we are, telling you: your corporate money will not protect you from a corporation with more money

This country’s foundations are not built on democracy

Not one nation under god

But a multitude of oppressions beneath your feet.

We endure before you, still humming with the power of the sacred,

Knowing a body drowned in adobe leaves an empty space, knowing how emptiness caves in

We want to live,

want to do this work that is our inheritance.

We exist here in the disaster zone of a nation struggling to emerge

We are midwives, we are doulas, we are grandmothers

We have studied construction and the art of rising from rubble

And here we are, still not burning this country down, still not setting fire to the master’s house

(though you have not seen even one tenth of our grief and our anger).

You can never extract our bones from the foundation—

But reward the weight they’ve held with homelands and sovereignty

You can never return home those bodies once stolen—

But honor their descendants with the means to earn homes and clean water

You can never un-tell all the lies or fill in the omissions of this history—

So make room for us, or move aside

We know something about foundations.


Listen as Deborah A. Miranda reads "We".

Added: Tuesday, April 27, 2021  /  Used with permission.
Deborah A. Miranda
Photo by Margo Solod.

Deborah A. Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay Area in California. Miranda’s collections of poetry include Raised by Humans (2015); Indian Cartography: Poems (1999), winner of the Diane Decorah Memorial First Book Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas; and The Zen of La Llorona (2005), nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. Her mixed-genre book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (Heyday, 2013), received the PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, a Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Association, and was short-listed for the William Saroyan Literary Award. It has been widely adopted for use in Native American Studies and Creative Writing programs both in the U.S. and internationally. Miranda lives in Lexington, Virginia with her wife Margo and a variety of rescue dogs. She is Professor and John Lucian Smith Jr. Endowed Chair of English at Washington and Lee University, where she teaches literature of the margins and creative writing while fending off Confederate dead, rebel flags, and swarming microaggressions that know no season. Poetry is not her weapon, but it is her superpower.

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