I Always Knew It

I knew it at four when I ran for the creek
every chance I got
and my uncle called me “the wild Indian”
as I slid down the bank,
then leapt from stone to stone
to reach the other side.
I knew it when my parents threatened
to give me back to the Indians
if I didn’t behave.
I didn’t care. I wanted
to meet the Indians.
I knew it as I rooted for them
in all the old Westerns
and lamented when they lost
and were cast as the bad guys
again and again. I knew it
when my Native American studies
teacher said, “I think you’re an Indian,”
and when my aunt told my mother,
“Tell her the truth. Tell her
what she wants to hear.”
I knew it at twenty-three
as I stood at a dusty crossroad
on the Rosebud Reservation.
It was stamped on my mother’s
high cheekbones and woven
in her dark hair. It was clear
as the difference between
flat redwood needles
and the scales of a giant sequoia,
clear as the difference
between the musical
chirps of Wilson’s warbler
and the soft, hoarse whistle
of Brewer’s blackbird. I could feel
the People of the First Light stirring
inside me with each contraction
of actin and myosin fibers
in all my muscles, with each
nerve impulse as sodium
rushed into my neurons
and potassium rushed out.
I knew it all along. I knew it
before I could prove it
with a DNA test, long before
I’d heard of Wampanoags. I always
knew it. By the stick-like body
of the tule bluet, the silence
of the lynx chasing rabbits for food,
the silvery needles of Sitka
spruce, and the yodel-like
laugh of the common loon,
I knew it was true.

Lucille Lang Day

Honorable Mention,
2006 Ethnographic Poetry Contest.
First published in
Anthropology and Humanism,
University of California Press