Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 11 • Fall 2004 • Poetry

For Marsha P. (Pay It No Mind!) Johnson

Qwo-Li Driskill

found floating in the Hudson River shortly after NYC Pride, 1992

"You are the one whose spirit is present in the dappled stars."
-- Joy Harjo, from "For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash..."

Each act of war
is whispered from
Queen to Queen
held like a lost child
then released into the water below.
Names float into rivers
gentle blooms of African Violets.

I will be the one that dangles
from the side but
does not let go.

The police insisted you leapt
into the Hudson
driftwood body
in sequin lace
rhinestone beads
that pull us to the bottom.
No serious investigation -- just another
dead Queen.

I am the one who sings Billie Holiday
as a prayer song to you, Marsha P.

We all choke on splintered bones,
dismembered screams,
the knowledge that each
death is our own.

I pour libations of dove's blood,
leave offerings of yam and corn
to call back all of our lost spirits.

Marsha P, your face glitters with
Ashanti gold
as you sashay across the moonscape
in a ruby chariot ablaze.
Sister, you drag
us behind you.

We are gathered on the bridge between
survival and despair.
I will be the one wearing gardenias
in my hair,
thinking about
how we all go back to water.
Thinking about
the night
you did not jump.

I will make voodoo dolls
of the police and other thugs,
walk to the edge,
watch the river rise to meet them.

I will be the one
with the rattlesnake that binds
my left arm and
in my right hand I will carry
a wooden hatchet to
cut away at the
silence of your murder.

Each of us go on,
pretend to pay it no mind,
bite down hard on the steel of despair.

We will be the ones that gnaw off our own
legs rather than let them win.

We will be the ones mourning
the death of yet another Queen.

Girl, I will put your photo
on my ancestral altar
to remember all of us
who never jumped.

Miss Johnson, your meanings
sparkle like stars dappled
across the piers of the
Hudson River.

Gathered on the bridge
we resist the water.

Qwo-Li Driskill is a Cherokee Two-Spirit writer and activist also of African, Irish, Lenape, Lumbee, and Osage ascent. Hir work appears in numerous publications including The Crab Orchard Review, SAIL: Studies in American Indian Literatures, Many Mountains Moving, and in the anthologies Nurturing Native Languages, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, and Speak to Me Words: Essays on Contemporary American Indian Poetry. S/he is currently living in Three Fires (Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi) and Huron territories while pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing at Michigan State University. Hir first book of poetry is forthcoming.

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