POEM FOR NANA by June Jordan

June Jordan (1936-2002)
Poem for Nana

What will we do
when there is nobody left
to kill?
40,000 gallons of oil gushing into
the ocean
But I
sit on top this mountainside above
the Pacific
checking out the flowers
the California poppies orange
as I meet myself in heat
                                                   I’m wondering
where’s the Indians?

all this filmstrip territory
all this cowboy sagaland:
a single Indian
in sight

40,000 gallons gushing up poison
from the deepest seabeds
every hour

40,000 gallons
experts international
new pollutants
swallow the unfathomable

no Indians

I’m staring hard around me
past the pinks the poppies and the precipice
that let me see the wide Pacific
even trivial
by virtue of its vast surrender

I am a woman searching for her savagery
even if it’s doomed

Where are the Indians?
Crow Nose
Little Bear
Slim Girl
Black Elk
Fox Belly

the people of the sacred trees
and rivers precious to the stars that told
old stories to the night

how do we follow after you?

snow before the firelight
and buffalo as brothers
to the man

how do we follow into that?
They found her facedown
where she would be dancing
to the shadow drums that humble
birds to silent

They found her body held
its life dispelled
by ice
my life burns to destroy

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
slain on The Trail of Broken Treaties
bullet lodged in her brain/hands
and fingertips

who won the only peace
that cannot pass
from mouth to mouth
Memory should agitate
the pierced bone crack
of one in pushed-back horror
pushed-back pain
as when I call out looking for my face
among the wounded coins
to toss about
or out
the legends of Geronimo
of Pocahontas
now become a squat
pedestrian cement inside the tomb
of all my trust

as when I feel you isolate
among the hungers of the trees
a trembling
hidden tinder so long unsolicited
by flame

as when I accept my sister dead
when there should be
a fluid holiness
of spirits wrapped around the world
redeemed by women
whispering communion
I find my way by following your spine

Your heart indivisible from my real wish
compelled the moon into the evening when
you said, “No,
I will not let go
of your hand.”
Now I am diving for a tide to take me everywhere

the soft Pacific spoils
a purple girdling of the globe
Last year the South African Minister of Justice
described Anti-Government Disturbances as
Part of a Worldwide Trend toward the
Breakdown of Established Political and Cultural
God knows I hope he’s right.

“Poem for Nana”, originally included in June Jordan’s Passion (1980) is now in Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press).  Permission to reprint the poem has been granted by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate Trust.  (Copyright 2005 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate Trust)

Photo by Gwen Phillips, 1975, courtesy American Poetry Review Records, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

“June Jordan was born in Harlem in 1936.  Poet, activist, teacher, and essayist, she was a prolific, passionate, and influential voice for liberation.  June Jordan lived and wrote on the frontlines of American poetry, political vision and moral witness.” –Learn more from JuneJordan.com.

3 thoughts on “POEM FOR NANA by June Jordan

  1. Thank you for posting this poem by June. I hadn’t read it before. I knew June in New York and had intended to study with her at San Francisco State, but her contract fell through and she ended up teaching the Poetry for the People course at UC Berkeley. I’d occasionally see her at the dog park. She fought a long and courageous battle against breast cancer. In addition, she, Adrienne Rich and David Ignatow were quite supportive of young emerging women and poets of color in the 1970s. They had a vision of producing an alternative to APR–which has been realized on the Web with efforts like yours and Heidi’s. So thank you.

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