Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving of Survivors

print by Melanie Cervantes
I remember long ago hearing a wise piece of counsel from Wallace Black Elk, a controversial Lakota
elder who has since passed. He said, “Wherever you travel in the world, it is a matter of respect and would be a great benefit to learn the ways and history indigenous to that land.” In Europe, the old ways of that land - the Celtic and Druid; in Asia, the Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu; in Africa the ancient African cosmology that preceded the missionaries; in the Americas the ways of the First Nations.

Since this is the one time of the year when the mainstream culture includes and recognizes the First Nations in our national story, I wanted to share with you another Native elder’s words on Thanksgiving.

Chief Oren R. Lyons is Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation and a Native American scholar at Syracuse University. Here he shares the First Nation’s history of Thanksgiving and survival:

"Thanksgiving in America is a family day. It’s the least commercial of American holidays, and that’s good.

I can only suppose that religious peoples would celebrate Thanksgiving religiously, meaning that they would direct their gratefulness to the god of their religion, or gods, as the case may be.

As for us, the native peoples of North, Central, and South America, giving thanks is a way of life. We have ceremonies of thanksgiving for all of the Creation that take place around the lunar year.

Prior to 1492 things were quite good here in Turtle Island (North America). The streams, rivers, and lakes were teeming with fish. The woods were magnificent with old growth trees, full of free and contented animals. The Great Plains of North America were as full of animal life as the Serengeti plains of Africa. There were millions upon millions of buffalo and passenger pigeons. The deer and the antelope were playing and villages upon villages of our peoples (American Indians) sharing peace and prosperity and giving thanks on a daily basis to the Creator for the goodness and bounty of Mother Earth. Life was good. No doubt things have changed, drastically.

In 1620 a small band of religious refugees and entrepreneurs fleeing religious persecution on a small sailing vessel named the Mayflower landed at a place we now call Cape Cod. After raiding a deserted Nauset village of ten bushels of corn, oil, and a bag of beans, they settled at their next stop – a deserted village of the Wampanoag [people] called Pawtuxet and later renamed Plimoth. For the native people of the Americas, the story goes downhill from there.

Yes, it’s true that a former English slave named Samoset, an Abnaki, came with another former slave named Tisquantum, a Wampanoag, and together they saved the lives of this bedraggled group of survivors whose ranks had dwindled to nine able-bodied men. The others were too sick and/or weak from hunger to help themselves.

Yes, there was a harvest celebration in the fall of 1621 and the great leader Massasoit, with ninety members of his village, brought five deer to help launch a three-day feast. This was the first Thanksgiving for the English on our soil.

Massasoit kept the peace. It was the children of this Thanksgiving who broke faith. In 1661 Massasoit died and in 1676 his son, Metacomet, was hunted down and killed by the English in a swamp. His head was put on a pike and stayed for twenty-five years as a reminder to all native peoples that this fate awaited those who would resist the hegemony of English and Christian empire.

Today we the survivors of a great genocide continue to give thanks for what we have. It is still our way of life, and I think it’s a good idea that Americans set aside a day of thanksgiving for life and family. The freedom to give thanks is not predicated on a religious doctrine, but it is an inherent right vested in this land and our peoples who were here long before the white man."

- Chief Oren Lyons


Giving thanks, or an attitude of gratitude is one of my own keys of survivorship and living the well-lived life, beyond surviving and on toward thriving. I am very grateful to be a survivor.

All the best as we reflect in gratitude,
el poquito

Monday, November 17, 2008

Again and Again I Am Reminded

a villanelle por mi compadre tiburón

Falling down again, I raise high my fist!
Groping the air, I stumble and fall.
Rising up again, a window opens.

Frustrated, angry, I am so pissed.
Blind and psychotic I try to crawl.
Falling down again, I raise high my fist!

Again, I’m reminded that I am blessed;
to open my eyes; to hear the call.
Rising up again, a window opens

wide to me, the invited guest,
and I tumble through, begin to fall.
Falling down again, I raise high my fist!

I struggle to try to do my best;
if only to climb even a small
rising. Up again, a window opens.

Forward always on this quest!
Tiahui! Courage for us all!
Falling down again, I raise high my fist!
Rising up again, a window opens.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Rapture of Matisse's Scissors

84 year old hands
guide scissors,
carving light,
pure chroma;
visions: Japanese Green,
Persian Violet, Aquamarine.

Matisse’s scissors move forward,
always forward – confidently
cutting the contours,
cutting away all that is not
leaf and vine; woman and flower;
determining what is not,
and what is.

Perseverance furthers.
Determination defines.

This: I will keep.
This: I will not, and
around my feet -
worry; fear;
pain; despair.
I cut them away.

Remaining: the fruits, the flowers, the sea, the vine.

Buddha’s blade cuts; a scythe
through dark illusion.
Sword of discernment
slices the air
the fabric, the veil
of the known Universe,
torn -
never to be the same!

Once witnessed,
you cannot turn back.

Once the veil has been sheared
in two,
you are the invited guest
into an

Buddha with shears -
more than
invited guest.
From his wheelchair,
from his bed,
dancing, birthing
hand-carved illumined
dipping hands into
raw earth,
color, form…
stirring Life and Joy,
flora and fauna,
springing forth
from his hands
as if


Genesis: Let there be Light!

Magic leaping,
climbing the walls,
ascending upward,
around the corner, down the hall,
spilling… pouring …
into the rooms, out the doors,
through the windows,
into the streets,
ecstatic splendor
throughout the countryside;
the magic of:
a child at play;
Buddha with his Blade
of Discernment;
a madman departing in
magic of Light and Beauty
rising from his aged hands…
Hands that
loved, touched,
wiped tears, comforted;
tended wounds, gardens,
children and paints.
Now, magic scissors
and pure heart,
cut a swath
through darkened
fear and illusion…
and passive voices
of lost hope.

He is more alive than most!
More free than many.

He is the Pied Piper
on the “Adventure of a Lifetime”
through the veil,
up the hill…
a chapel of light, a beacon
on the mountaintop,
calling All
to the Tree of Life,
to sit in its shade,
to taste its fruit…

Behold: the Gateway,
spun from color, breath,
determination and spark;
from the
Rapture of
Matisse’s scissors.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A little something to help ease you through Election Day

These two pieces say it all. Hope they help take the edge off any election day stress.
Good Luck America...
~el poquito

from The People Have the Power
-Patti Smith & Fred Smith

...and my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
that the people have the power
to redeem the work of fools
upon the meek the graces shower
it's decreed the people rule

The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power

(mural - Detroit Industry - Diego Rivera: Detroit Institute of Arts)


Old Fat Naked Women For Peace
by The Righteous Mothers

Dia de Los Muertos - Day of the Dead

Dia de Los Muertos - Day of the Dead is a time of remembering. It is a different take on the season of Halloween, ghosts and ghouls. Some connect it with All Saint's Day on the Christian calendar, but it far predates any missionary influence to pre-Columbian indigenous tradition and history. This is the time when we have been taught to honor the memory of those loved ones who have left our earthly world. We remember them, what they taught us, the flowers and songs of their lives that they left behind for us to remember them by.

I make the ofrenda, the altar, from a table in the "living" room. I cover it with a nice cloth, add candles, light them, place photos, flowers, favorite foods- the pintos, the chile, favorite drinks - the coffee, the vodka, poems and stories, obits... I light the new mexican sage and let the smoke drift over the altar. I remember each of them - our time shared together; some a long lifetime; some a brief, but important crossing of paths; some old, some far too young. Each of these folks who has died and moved on, has left a part of themselves with me. I recognize the gifts I've received. And I am grateful.

They don't need my food offerings. They don't need the candles or the flowers. I need those things: small actions that recognize the importance of those who've gone before me, that help me to remember and keep their memory alive. They don't need my earthly offerings. But they do need me to remember. And I need me to remember. Remembering the Past and the seeds that they planted, in order to move forward in courage into an unknown future.

One day perhaps my children will make an ofrenda and teach their children this simple way to "Remember." Perhaps my smilin' mug will be looking out at them one day and they will remember. We will bridge across time and distance with love and memory and remain connected. Always.