The first featured poet for the month of April is Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp, of the Costanoan-Rumsen Carmel Band of Ohlone Indians. Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Michaelsun as he has honed his craft and made quite a name for himself in the literary scene. His ease with words is matched by a keen eye for art, which makes him expertly suited to explore so many of our vast cultural spaces. He is able to then link these worlds in his work with apparent ease, leaving the listener and the reader amazed.
Michaelsun is an MFA candidate at the Institute of American Indian Arts, with a BA in English lit from CSU San Bernardino, and two AAs from Mount San Antonio College. Nominated for a 2016 Pushcart, and winner of the Muse Times Two Poetry Award, he is also a 2016 Periphery Poets Fellow, poetry editor for Mud City, and has curated the Claremont West Reading Series. He has published over 80 pieces across the United States and Internet, and his most recent publications are in the Yellow Medicine Review, and Red Ink.
Discovery Of Gold
Georgia Legislature. Following the Discovery of Gold, it Became Illegal for Cherokees to Mine Gold, Testify against White Men, or Hold Political Assembly. 1829.
Constable, John. Hadliegh Castle. 1829.
-by Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp
I was eight when we started
working on a thousand
to our house. My dad brought in guys
he knew from his Chino
Guys who got out and stayed out
for a year he would bring by. One of them
was Julien. During an interruption
in digging by hand a sewer
trench beneath our house to the future
half, Julien saw me dunking
on the basketball hoop dad had gotten
me from a garage sale. I had lowered the rim
to 4 feet, low as it would go.
I couldn’t dribble, I couldn’t shoot.
I just held the ball and ran
and ran and leapt into the air,
slamming the ball through hoop
and chains. I’d hold on
long as I could, kicking,
imagining a crowd cheering on
my beautiful imagined body,
until fingers gave out
and small sneakers hit the driveway.
Then I’d do it again.
I was super-good at basketball.
Julien clapped for the ball. I couldn’t pass,
I couldn’t throw. I didn’t want to look
stupid either, so I carried the ball to him
and two-handed I handed it to him.
He squeezed the ball to test
the pressure, then he dribbled beautiful,
dribbled between his tall legs
and started shooting free throws
as if with cheat codes—to me:
the hoop still only four feet high.
I was super-good basketball.
I asked him how he did that.
He asked if I wanted to learn,
and I did, so he raised the hoop
to regulation height.
He showed me to hold
the ball, to be fluid and move,
how a dribble is so much more
than just a hand to strike with
an orange surface, and how
shooting the ball was more than pushing
a thing away. So I did, over and again,
until I was laying up balls like a flu,
hitting free throws as if I was Bruce Lee
and Cochise’s green Power Ranger baby.
I did that until I was old enough
to help with the addition.
After homework I dug ditches
until we filled them with sand
and rebar, pipes for water
over pipes for sewage, and screed it all with cement
and then we put up the walls
I picked up nails, and caulked
every, every seam, and some days
I saw my friends too. But first
came insulating and wiring
and more plumbing and dry wall
and picking up black screws.
My basketball paled and cracked
and flattened from the sun and years
and years and years
By the time I was 16, Julien had six
children from four different women,
and he was bringing back songs
and ceremonies, and I was fighting Bros
in their white, lifted, Ford F150s
for throwing soda cans at me
working their mouths around injun
the way they did with Skol
faggot or nigger. My dad tried to convince me
to quit fighting: if I was ever hurt,
what would all these Y.A. guys do
to these stupid mixed-up boys?
They loved me through their love for my dad.
Julien just broke up with his then girlfriend.
A seventh baby, and fifth woman. He couch
surfed, his checks garnished of everything,
no matter how much he tried to be there
for his girls, all seven girls.
So when his old cell mate, Frankie, called my dad
saying Julien was spending time in his old territory
in east L.A., my dad called and sat down with Julien.
Frankie had since moved to Texas,
started a company to make custom computers
for companies. He offered Julien a job
if he would leave the LAC, and would pay
enough Julien could afford his garnishments
and after a few months Julien would be even
able to afford to move his twins and their mother
out with him and his lighthouse of a smile.
But he would have to leave his tribe,
leave everything he’d worked for with them
behind and he’d have to abandon his other girls
which all he loved behind, with their mothers
whom wanted nothing anymore to do
with his wandering smile. Julien came around
to leaving everything behind, to sleep in a bed,
for Texas and the women who would have him.
He recorded a C.D. of lullabies for all of his girls
for while he was gone. He packed up his Ford Torus,
and drove out from a Riverside couch to Texas.
We got a call that he’d died at one in the morning.
A drunk got on the 10 the wrong direction
doing 80. Killed Julien instantly. He never made the border.
At the funeral, my dad pulled every mother
Julien had made to the side, and told them
each to support the other. Put away all
dirt and teeth. Care for all of these girls,
Frankie pulled me aside and told me
how Julien always loved me like a brother,
loved I never asked what he went to the Y.A. for.
Frankie told me all the ex-cons dad helped out
loved me for never asking after their pasts.
And yet Frankie said I needed to know Julien’s.
Julien went into the Y.A. when he was 13.
He was part of a gang, and he tortured
other gang’s members–children, men
–in his boyhood bedroom. They called him Spike.
Bic lighters, four-inch galvanized steel nails.
A man who had a tongue roughly split by Julien
turned State’s Evidence. The longest part
of Julien’s trial was trotting out evidence,
photographed burns, cuts, tongues and eyes marred.
Julien was angry for a long time in the Y.A.
and earned himself years of extra time.
When my dad came to the Y.A.,
bringing ceremonies with him,
helped Julien to set down his rage.
Julien quit fighting, lifting weights,
and started playing basketball.
With good behavior, he bought
his extra time down and was free
at 25, seven years after
he was supposed to be released
Frankie held my shoulders, said, you remember.
You always remember how much people can change.