Qwo-Li Driskill


Leave your hair
at the foot of your bed

Scratch your tongue
with a cricket’s claw to speak again

Stop the blood with cornmeal

Your ancestors will surround you as you sleep
keep away ghosts of generals presidents priests
who hunger for your
rare and tender tongue

They will keep away ghosts
so you have strength
to battle the living

Stories float through lives
with an owl’s sudden swooping
I knew some Cherokee
when I was little
My cousins taught me
My mother watches it all happen again
sees ghosts rush at our throats
with talons drawn like bayonets
When I came home speaking
your grandmother told me
I forbid you to speak that language
in my house
Learn something useful

We sit at the kitchen table
As she drinks iced tea
in the middle of winter
I teach her to say u-ga-lo-ga-go-tlv-tv-nv/ tea
across plastic buckets of generic peanut butter
wonder bread diet coke
Try to teach her something useful

I am haunted by loss
My stomach is a knot of serpents
and my hair grows out
as owl feathers