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Also by Lisa Chavez:
The White Professor Holds Forth on Indians | Surrender | Guns

The White Professor Holds Forth on Indians

Wind breathes the snow horizontal,
flakes like scraps of paper ripped
in fury from the pages of a book.
All semester he has droned on, voice
arrogant and incessant as the thrum
of the fluorescent lights.  She watches the snow,
watches herself grow silent, diminished
by his onslaught of words.  "Our culture,"
he says, hearkening back to Europe's clattering
shores.  "Our culture," he says, meaning his,
as if he does not see the darker faces
on the fringes of the class, the studious
young black man taking notes, the Asian girl
toying with her field hockey stick,
and her.  All unseen, as if these ivy choked
structures could contain only one color.
His words are a river.  She is battered
along from rapid to rock to deceptive
calm.  He is not an evil man.
He is the Native American specialist.
What he doesn't understand makes her gasp.
He turns all she knows strange.  Her own life
made exotic, a painted trinket turned out
for tourists.  And the world he takes for granted
is foreign to her, a chambered nautilus of chilly
rooms lush with the rustle of certainty
and paper money.  She has never been
so lost before.

And then a tiny miracle, tossed like coins
to a beggar's cup.  He switches on a tape
and a woman's voice struggles through
the static of years. The song, in a language
unknown but familiar, rises like a flutter
of beautiful brown moths.  Sitting there,
she can picture the singer, long dead
but resurrected:  brown face finely
wrinkled as an autumn leaf, twin
gray braids, the familiar Indian body—
short, sturdy, thick-waisted.  She thinks
of her own grandmother:  smell of woodsmoke
and home-tanned moosehide, fry bread
and Labrador tea.  Her brown hands
grip the desk in longing.  And she swims
into the song like a salmon fighting
its way upstream—a muscled sleeve
of silver scales slipping through the net.

Printed in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of CLR

Lisa Chavez

Lisa D. Chavez is a Chicana Mestiza born in Los Angeles on the winter solstice, and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Her first book of poetry, Destruction Bay, was published by West End Press, and her second, In An Angry Season, was published by the University of Arizona Press (Camino del Sol). She's had poems published in The Americas Review, The Colorado Review, Blue Mesa Review and Prairie Schooner among other places, and had poems included in the anthologies Floricanto Si! A Collection of Latina Poetry (Penguin), The Floating Borderlands: 25 Years of U.S. Hispanic Literature (University of Washington Press), and American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon Press). Her creative nonfiction—part of a longer memoir-in-progress—has appeared in Fourth Genre, The Clackamas Literary Review and other places.

She teaches at the University of New Mexico Albuquerque.

You can find Lisa Chavez on the web at:
—  Albion College
—  Heartland Magazine
—  Amazon
—  Barnes & Noble


Published by Clackamas Literary Review, in print and on the web at
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