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Don't Let the Bugger Get Your Face
The first time I really began to think was while studying Columbus in middle school. I thought, “What the fuck!" It lead to the first poem I wrote, something along the lines of, “White men sailed the sea, landed in our country, hurt the people, made the bleed, filled them with disease, called them savages.” And so I began to question. I began to question the entire legacy of America; the genocide, rape, torture, humiliation, mutilation performed by “the discoverers” paved the way for a history of murder, racism, oppression, and epic ecological destruction. I romanticized the civilized world that was wiped away by European dominance. I was angry at the un-fairness of it all. I saw the world through a different set of eyes with a different perspective.
My grandmother was a crazy person. She was a paranoid recluse and cold. I barely knew her and did not like to visit her when we went over for holidays. I remember only two things she said to me, “Don't let the bugger get your face," and “I hope you have a good life and smile a whole bunch." The former she said some time early in my life and I never knew what it meant. The latter was the last thing she said to me and it blew my mind as it was so out of character for her. I had given her a ride home from the grocery store after running into her there. She said it through my rolled down passenger window when I dropped her off at her house on some sunny New Year's Day.
It was only when she passed recently that I gave her much thought. And I understand now. She was disconnected, cut-off and could not relate to the world. Didn't get it, did not compute, just not in-sync. I get why. Because even today there is no bridge for the culture gap. Native ways, lifestyle, and goals, are different from the mainstream American reality of society. Someone set away from ancient knowledge gets lost, astranged from the sacred knowledge and secrets and guidance, left to wander in a post-apocalyptic, Americanized culture.
We are of Cherokee, of the Walkers. When I learned of this, it was if I had a warm, untainted blanket handed to me in the winter. I proclaimed to a girlfriend at the time, “I am Cherokee!" I felt free and whole. I began to study more of native history, The People's History, and get lost in the Internet. We didn't grow up native; a generation or two ago, the family melted into the great melting pot, as most Native Americans did by or shortly after World War II. So many souls left lost and confused in a sick wrong capitalist world.
While doing a residency in New York City, I was researching masks and one day learned of the booger mask. The mask was a mocking caricature of the European settler. And boom! An epiphany. “Don't let the bugger get your face," she told me. And who was this mad woman to all of a sudden be profound? The booger, the boogie man, the white man. Don't let him get your face.
And in this life, as I grow older, I have learned to release the anger that I contained for years. I have overcome much sadness. I have come to see things in a more sympathetic, compassionate light. I am now content. Through right breathing, right thinking, we begin to relax. We relax our muscles and our belly and our forehead. Hatred, stress, confusion, heartache, and general disarray distort us. We find our faces contorted, gnarled, tense.
She was saying, “Be at peace with it. Don't let it hurt you. Don't let it have you. Don't let it have your face."
Rest in Peace, Mary.