Two Spirit

Poems on Gender


They gave us the Enlightenment 
We thanked them with genocide 
Their freedoms appalled the missionaries 
But their ideas inspired Rousseau and Voltaire 
The shoeless warriors of the Paris streets  
When they stormed the Bastille 
Were marching to a native beat 

We killed them in the tens of millions 
Cut down their forests 
Slaughtered the animals 
Salted the earth with slavery and disease 
Now we come to pick over the bones 
And use them as weapons 
For our fashionable ideas 

Two Spirit
Does not belong to us 
It belongs to the cultures we destroyed 
Over sixty thousand years of human history 
Shattered, wisdom buried, wonders lost 

I have read about cities, vast in scale 
That rose up with a harvest moon 
And then melted away in the spring 

I have read that you could start 
At the mouth of the Mississippi 
Travel north to the Great Lakes 
Through many tribes and villages 
Many different languages 
Many customs and traditions 
And always find a welcome 

I have read about the Turtle and the Bear 
The Wolf, the Elk and the Beaver Clans
I have read that in some places, some times
If you had a dream 
And it told you what to do 
You had to do it 
And anyone you met 
If you told them about it 
They had to help you out 

We have glimpses of times and places 
Where women and men were friends 
Where both sexes were respected 
Where the rules of gender 
Had many different meanings 
Many different variations 
And sometimes, maybe 
Were not even rules at all  

This was no lost paradise
It was life, blossom and thorn  
There were wars, empires, slavery 
Mistakes made, lessons learned 
Revolutions of every kind 

We have so many stories 
Good and bad, terrible and surprising 
But all just a tiny sliver of what was lost 
Time and murder have done their work 
There are only these last precious flowers 
That survived into the modern world 
From the land we slashed and burned  

We can respect the flowers 
We can be inspired by them 
But we cannot copy them 
We cannot own them 
We cannot graft them onto the world we made 
Onto the cancerous bones of class and sex and race 
We cannot pretend ourselves out of the history we created 

Leonard Peltier is dying in prison 
Native women are still disappearing 
The war against the land and its people 
Goes on 
The war against women 
Goes on 
The war against the poor 
Goes on 

We have no license to speak for those who survived 
The genocide our ancestors brought with them 
No license to spend their culture like easy money 
To decorate the crimes and cruelties 
Of a world we must destroy and build anew 

First Peoples have a right to self-determination 
The entire planet cries out for revolution 
The war goes on – and we are losing 
So tempting to crawl back into a land of fantasy 
Where the personal is political and nothing else counts
But the war goes on – time is running out

It’s good to learn from different cultures
Dangerous to imagine we understand what we don’t 
The past can be a magic mirror that shows us
Just exactly what we want to see 
Or it can be an inspiration
All these things were possible 
How many more?
What else can we do? 

There are two sexes 
Male and female 
It takes one of each to make a baby 
But what this means – what we make of it
Has changed more times than we can imagine 
It will change in the future 
It’s changing now 

If we are to choose the direction of that change 
We must start with an honest look at the world we’ve made
Women have been oppressed by men through all of recorded history 
From the cities of the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates 
Down through the ages
Male supremacy 
Embedded in the laws and institutions 
Feeding into and fed by slavery, property, class war and violence
Gender is how they control us. Gender is how they divide us 

Masculine and feminine are not different options 
They’re different forms of oppression 
We need a repolarisation 
Not the masculine and the feminine
But the good and the bad 
The kind and the cruel 
The brave and the cowardly 
The rebel heart or the mind in slavery 

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