to the white woman who told me, "when I was a girl, I wanted to be an indian, too."


When I was a little girl,
I wanted to be an Indian, too -
I felt at home in the water, the
sea-salt rushing against my cheeks;
and how beautiful, and how
silent, long black hair blowing
back as stars and sequins
aligned around me; god! Didn’t
I want to be an Indian! Didn’t I
want to dance the two-step like
my Chicha, to ride behind her
in the Lilac parade on a horse
bedecked in beadwork and
bangles, and so strong, and so

Oh, my imaginary Indianness
would be so beautiful! I would
speak to the squirrels and
giggle with the black bats in
the caves where my cousin went,
when he slipped down that
black treacle cavern and never
returned from the tar. Or like
my auntie, so beautiful with her
hair permed and teased high
and her jean jackets, lipstick
mouth and crystal meth; auntie, 
oh - the lament for my auntie’s beauty
goes on and on, for she was more
agile than Pocahontas, more slender,
and more fine.

I wanted to be like my uncle,
didn’t I, like my uncle with the
cans of spray paint that swirled
with all the colors of the wind, 
painting mustangs and steering
wild stallions, drawing faces
of the demons he saw, hiding from
them in his rig, his burnt spoon,
hypodermic needles; uncle -
Didn’t I want to be an Indian,
back then when I was a girl?
Didn’t I know the reservation
like a map in my mind, where
the iron-cast play-horses
rusted into the earth?

Mistylynn Shipman Ellingburg is a Shoalwater Bay Indian from the Washington Coast. Her short fiction, "Chicken Dance," was selected by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler for the 2015 Best Small Fictions Anthology, and was also listed on Wigleaf's Top 50 (very) Short Fictions, 2015. She is the University of Idaho's 2015-2016 Hemingway Fellow, recipient of the Willamette Writer's 2012 Kay Snow Award, and the 2007 Katie Herzog Barnes N' Noble Writing Award. Her work has appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, Specter, 100 Word Story, Split Lip, and other publications.

Poem originally published in Rabbit & Rose.