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Flapper Press Welcomes Diane Willie—Weaver of Colorful Thought-Word Tapestries

By Annie Newcomer:


November is National Native American Heritage Month. To celebrate, I reached out to Diane Willie to share some of her beautiful poetry. Diane and I were members of a poetry group moderated by our astonishing teacher, Denise Low, in Kansas City, Missouri, at the home of Alan Proctor, one of our 2022 recipients for a Best of the Net Poetry Nomination for his poem, "Invitations."


Diane's words explode with imagery and color, and I am honored that she is available to share her work with our Flapper Press readers. She has also agreed to return to the Poetry Café in 2023, when I will conduct a full Interview with her so that she can share more poetry and her writing process.


In compiling this piece, I learned that in the United States, "Native American" has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or Indigenous American are preferred by many native people in addition to First Nation and specific tribe names. In order to show respect to Diane, we have referred to her tribe and shared its name.

Diane Willie

Diane Willie is an instructor at the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University with an associates degree and the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in Education. She has pursued graduate studies in Creative Writing and Education. She is from the Navajo tribe of New Mexico. Her favorite authors are Leslie Marmon Silko and Louise Erdrich.


Diane’s chapbook, Sharp Rocks, was published by Mammoth Publications.


The esteemed Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low (2007–09) wrote of Willie's work:


"Diane Willie’s original voice adds depth to the 21st century stories of the American Southwest. Her mythical tales draw upon Navajo, Pueblo, Spanish and Anglo histories to create her own mélange. Always, the Native viewpoint structures Willie's narratives. Read these as rituals of healing. The final message is Hope, esperanza"
 

Georgia O’Keeffe in the bedroom at Abiquiu. John Loengard / The LIFE Picture Collection

Legacy


Anna Maria García


My grandmother told me that I was born Anna Maria García. But somewhere between the birth canal, incubator, and maternity ward, my name included more letters and the last name that belong to another family. I have a feeling that a lack of a Navajo translator, a white nurse and my mothers death had conspired to provide for me a persona that was not me nor mine. Therefore, the logic was that I died on the same day I was born I am not a life or a definition, just a notion.


Lordes Maria García


I spied on her and thought it was wrong. I was a voyeur in my parents' attempt at making love. It was not making love really: it was having sex under a pine tree. They did not utter words of sensuality, nor did they acknowledge their love for each other. It was just heavy breathing and mimicking each other’s body movements. I became a possibility when my father stopped his movements and said, "Shit!" It was not a glorious beginning for me, but I believe my mother created an essence for me that day. Thus, my mother was not flesh to me, just a feeling.


Hope Maria García


My grandmother journey to California and married four times. She ran away from home at thirteen and married that Sarracino boy who later changed his name to Lincoln because he liked the 16th president of the United States and smoked punching cigars to make an impression at the tribal offices. Later she married a soldier named Newsome. She moved to Nevada with him but he gambled his fortune and love away.

She came home to Laguna as a García woman. The stories about her third marriage are vague. No one knows who she married or what she was called. She was just Hope. Her last marriage was to Anaya‘s cousin Bardo, the one who worked for the railroad: he was the steady one who loved green chili and the Detroit Lions.

He was my true grandfather and I think he would have enjoyed my face to my company. Unfortunately, he died two months before my mother was born. A railroad tie fell on him, and he turned gray just before he died.

Hope died in May when my mother was born. I like to think that Hope died of a broken heart, but the women in my family die at childbirth.


Maria García


I once saw a black-and-white picture of Georgia O’Keeffe walking towards the camera. She had a calico dress and scarf that covered her head like those grandmas at the Navajo Nation’s Fair. She really looked Navajo in the picture.

I have no idea what Maria looked like. She probably looked like my Grandmother Hope but maybe, just maybe, she looked like Georgia O’Keefe in that black-and-white picture I saw in the museum.

It was a face with lines of wisdom and eyes that had seen love, hope, and tragedy. It was a face that was inquisitive. It was the face that captured knowledge just like the canyons capture the rain water. It was a beautiful face. It was tired and it was old— Grandmother old. It offered a comfort and a sense of home.

Maybe my Great-Grandmother Maria had a Georgia O’Keeffe persona too. Maybe she was an artist who saw beauty.


 

Photo: Jose Luis Mieza Photography

García


1.

Bad history— tequila and government beans with cheese —that’s today’s García name. It is Uncle's explanation for being a García, what he calls a long line of unnoticeable García men.

"García without a purpose!" Auntie yells at him.

Uncle understands that García women hold the true story of the family, and the retelling does not include him or the men of the García family.


2.

The baby died during the day. Deprived of milk and his mother, he died without a name and without lullabies. He died outside the sacred mountains, so it was ok to bury him in the cemetery for children. A priest threw dust on him and he disappeared into the earth, like a prairie dog hiding from the heat.

"The soldiers wanted to hang the two girls," she said in the storytelling. "The bereaved mother. Back then they hung Navajos without any reason. Lots of babies died in those days."

Those were days of the Navajo Long Walk.

The two young girls, babies themselves, were shackled and tied to mud walls in the jail house of Bosque Redondo. They were to be hung at dawn, and so-called justice will be served for the little mound in the cemetery.


3.

The young mother cried. She would have no more children. Death was part of the life in Bosque Redondo, but death songs were healing. Messages were in song.

They escaped in the night. Women prisoners in the Bosque Redondo asked the darkness to help them, to hide the moon and make the wind howl all night.

"Take us home to Mt. Taylor," they sang.

Owl was summoned to guide the little girls home. Coyote took his place in the distance, waiting. It was the women of Bosque Redondo who conjured and wove the events that freed the little girls. The Navajo women sang sorrowful lullabies to sing the soldiers to sleep. Apache women asked the Water Spirit to help free the girls. Comanche women brushed the foot prints away and sent them with the howling wind.

"Hide during the day and walk at night," they were told.

"Follow the belt in the sky. Listen for the owl."

The the owl screeched in the west. The girls left with a bag filled with coffee grounds and a sack of sugar.


4.

"Don’t cry," the big sister said. "We'll be home soon."

Their feet bled from the relentless cholla cacti and sharp rocks. Their hands bled from digging holes under juniper trees during the day. Coyote wandered in the distance and called out when he saw movement. Sister tied knots on her mother's tattered blanket to count the nights of travel.

"Twenty-three knots," Sister said, "we made it to the Río Grande."

The frogs on the banks of the river sang songs of joy and the owl screeched for them to continue. But little sister did not want to follow the owl, the stars in the sky, or the laughing Coyote. She just wanted to listen to the flowing river and go to sleep.


5.

Sadie García saw two shadows near the river, one covered in tattered white wrap and the other slumped against the tree. La Llorona wailed in the distance waiting for the two shadows to come to her. The crickets were silent, and the frog hummed a death song, a song that extended itself to Sadie García‘s heart.

Sadie García rolled up her sleeves and bargained with La Llorona for her little sister’s life. Countless moon hours passed while to women haggled. In the end, La Llorona accepted a half bag of coffee grounds and a whole bag of sugar. Afterwards, the owl screeched resolution. Coyote and La Llorona sat near the Rio Grande sipping coffee.


6.

"Big sister married Sadie Garcia’s boy," she said.

And Little Sister, new daughter of Sadie García, returned to her family bearing the García surname and a new Legacy filled with death and survival. Little Sister— who was Catholic, good with horses and slapping tortillas like her Mexican mother— insisted that the Garcia surname be passed down to every girl born to her family. For many generations following, Garcia women have reveled in the retelling of their bad history.


 


Butterfly's Death


1.

Yesterday a Butterfly died. I asked the rain to cry because I could not. It was her birthday and she was nearly forty. Yesterday was my birthday too, and before I knew of her death, I was happy.

The butterfly died alone. No one stood by nor said good-bye. Her only companions with the beeping machines and a white blankets without words. Butterfly will only be remembered as a memory in someone else’s conversation, and they will say the Butterfly was a good person.


2.

A photograph was tucked in a box of the Butterfly's memories. It showed the butterfly sitting in a wicker chair with brown boots. It was an old photograph with crumbled edges and white creases on the photo. She smiled at no one and someone. The photograph was large 11 x 13 inches, not an 8 x 10. On the backside of the picture, the inscription read, "Woolworth's 1978," and it provided a clue that she was five years old then. Her dark hair was divided into two pigtails. It looked shiny, probably from the lighting from the lightbulbs, and combed with precision. Her shirt was striped and blue. Was she frightened by the experience of taking a picture? Maybe she was optimistic about living her life beyond that moment. Or maybe she was excited to learn that she would forever stain the photographic paper.


3.

The butterfly did not have family. She envied other butterflies—the perfect ones without broken wings or broken circles. In fact, she mimicked other butterflies and provided for herself an identity that was not her own. She learned that she was not a dragonfly, a lady bug, nor a moth. To say she was disappointed about identity would be an understatement, for she saw herself as pieces, pieces without edges. And finding all the right pieces was her life‘s mission.


4.

Last night, I dreamt owls and ravens flew over me, trying to cover me with a blanket. Outside in the daylight, I noticed the oak tree lost all its leaves and the trunk was left to battle the wind and rain. It looked bitter and alone. The branches were twisted and unforgiving. It seemed to be reaching for the leaves that had fallen away. I wanted to tell the tree that soon it will grow new leaves, but it seemed easier to let the tree find out for itself. I heard the wind whistle as it blew through the hallway. It was cold. I sat down and turned on the television, a box of images I covered myself with a blanket .


5.

In the last image of the Butterfly, her hair was curled, and she was dressed in a maroon shirt with silver earrings. She wore a black skirt and strapped her feet with open-toed sandals. She put makeup on to hide the dark half-moons under her eyes and smeared purple lipstick on her lips. She put rings on all her fingers and doused herself with heavy-scented perfume. She stood and smiled— curves on her face and no teeth. In that moment Butterfly only saw wreathes of happiness. She died just as the sunlight entered the room.


 

For information on ordering Diane Willie's chapbook, Sharp Rocks, please contact us here.


Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit , that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community.


Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!

The Flapper Press Poetry Café

Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize.


Submission Guidelines:

1. Share at least three (3) poems

2. Include a short bio of 50–100 words, written in the third person.

(Plus any website and links.)

3. Share a brief backstory on each submitted poem

4. Submit an Author's photo and any images you want to include with the poems

5. Send all submissions and questions to: info@flapperpress.com

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