Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kids on Ponies

Deby Miranda, Los Angeles, CA
There used to be this guy ... he'd come through the neighborhoods with a pony and a set of child-sized, mythologically-correct cowboy gear: the hat, vest, chaps, sometimes a bandana.  And he'd smooth-talk the parents while the pony charmed their kids: a picture, just a few dollars, every kid's dream.  Remember that guy?  More importantly, remember that pony?

It's the iconic American Childhood photograph: a kid, somewhere between three and twelve years old, seated on a generic pony.  Sometimes frightened and cowering, sometimes living the fantasy with a yell or a waving hat, the children vary by age and ethnicity, but the theme is always the same: Wild West!  Cowboys!  (Injuns!)

I have two of these photographs.  In one, I am sitting with a broad grin, but fairly sedate.  That's the cover of Bad Indians.  In the other, much faded, I have my left hand raised in a proud "V," giving the peace sign.  This second picture makes me think that my father was the adult who put me up on that pony; he loved encouraging the Brown Power Fist or the Peace Sign.  Or, perhaps he was already gone by then, and I was signaling to his absent spirit, far away in San Quentin.  Either way, that second picture has my dad's flare for the radical flashing across my face.

Because the Peace Sign photo was too faded to work well on a book cover, I used the sedate version for Bad Indians.  But you know which one is my favorite.

 Do you have a Kid on Pony picture of yourself?  Send it to me at and I'll put it up here.  

Two of my sisters have already started off the collection with their contributions!
Louise J. Miranda Ramirez, Seaside CA

Patricia Miranda Maldonado, Seaside CA

Send me YOUR kid on a pony moment!

Tiara Ramirez, San Jose CA

Terry, Grand Rapids, MI

Susan, Columbus OH

Mickey, Seattle WA

Johnny and Jenny, Butte Montana

Timmy, Los Angeles CA

Katrina, Albuquerque NM
Joshua, Chicago IL

Margaret, Portland OR
Rosa, Tijuana Mexico

Chris, Kansas City MO
Ku'ualoha Ho'omanawanui says,
 So this is "riding a pony Hawaiian style." That's me on the right, one of our old time paniolo cowboys Keoki Ka'eo, a rodeo legend back in the 1950s on the left, my sister and our friend Tina in front. Keoki's horse's name in Manyana. The horse I'm on is Peso Bar. This is about 1972.

Rosie (Age 5) and German Gonzalez (Age 2), Photo: Recuerdo Del Parque Agua Azul, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, August 21, 1970.


Mira L.  Love the photo of a photo that's happening here!

Here is mine. Was going to use it as my back cover photo on my next novel (my first novel Yellowbird won the NWCA first-book award. my second novel--Dragonfly, Walking Stick just out). Cheers, Judy Smith

  "As you can see from attached photo, I also rode the range at a young age—perhaps 20 years before you did—watched over by my own Jewish mother.  Having so much in common with you, I look forward to attending your 17 Jan reading at California Historical Society, especially to hear about aspects of your life that differ from mine." - Harvey Hacker

Jacqueline Marx on the middle pony in Morristown, Tennessee - now Cantor at Temple Emanu-El in New Jersey.  She's a secret writer, folks; just wait till her book comes out!  If it's anything like what I've seen so far, it should knock your socks off.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 24: Autobiography of a Name

Autobiography of a Name

Another girl – that’s what my father said.
Five! Disgusted, he went out for a drink.
He had a crush on Debra Paget, a B list 
movie starlet.  My mom took classes with her
at Hollywood Professional High so 
she said yes, as long as we spell it right.

“Ann” came from my mother’s then-best friend.
Lived downstairs, shared cigarettes, coffee,
rides to the grocery store. Two women, camaradas
in this war called womanhood. I know how it is:
sick kids, errant husbands, secrets no one 
else knows to this day. Best friends -
till one moves away. Or runs away, 
and never comes back.

And "Miranda," well, that’s from some Spaniard
who made it across the monster-pocked Atlantic, 
sponsored a neofito, some tribeless Indian 
with a name in the Devil's tongue; saved him
at the baptismal font way down at the tip of Baja,
back when California was still an island, 
still hoarding her gold like a coquette.
From that tiny barren mission, the newly-
minted Mirandas walked all the way up the coast
to Monterey. Imagine that journey. I can’t.
Talk about tough. Tough, and fertile.
Twelve kids in fourteen years; three survived.

So I carry these names, these stories,
these people around on my body like little pebbles
picked up from all the places I’ve been. 
In one pocket, Debra’s best movies: Broken Arrow, 
Ten Commandments.  In another, Ann’s brief loyalty 
to my mother when a friend meant a hand, 
across a ravenous abyss. And that Spaniard: 
Soldier?  Colonist?  Priest? Did he leave his family 
behind, flee the Inquisition? Which ship was he on?
Did he rape Indian women? Sic dogs on children?
It is difficult to imagine a nice Conquistador
in Baja California in the 1600s. But I carry him
around, too. He is the rock in my shoe,
a sharp piece of gravel named choice,
luck, cruelty, kindness. I carry his name
like the son my father wanted.  A name
that lives on, tags us, marks us with a beacon
visible for centuries.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 13: Roxanna


I clean for her every other Tuesday.
She lives in a 2 bedroom condo
with two kids under 7 and an ageing Sheltie
named Rufus.  Her husband, stationed
in Afghanistan, exists only in a wedding portrait
hung at the top of the narrow stairs.
My first clue: Bobby’s bed-wetting,
Sara’s booger-art on the wall
of the upper bunk.  Dead guppies
on the windowsill.  Sara’s half-empty inhalers
stuffed into a Hello Kitty backpack. 

Second clue:  wading through empty bags
from every fast-food joint in Fircrest.
McDonald’s.  Burger King.  Dairy Queen,
Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s.  In some places,
the ketchup-stained wrappers and Big Gulp
cups, napkins, plastic forks and spoons,
drift up to my knees.  One bad week,
I run out of garbage bags, have to haul trash
out to the dumpster bundled in dirty towels.
By then, I know not to ask questions
about the love notes scrawled in pink lipstick
across the bathroom mirror, the plus-size
lingerie draped over chairs like spiderwebs,
the whispered, throaty phone dates
behind the locked bedroom door.

But the last clue that it is finally time to quit? 
It isn’t the time I arrive to find Rufus’s fur
coated in peanutbutter, Bobby grinning
like a bright-eyed demon.  I wash him
for Mommy!  Or when he sprays cooking oil
on all the windows, the TV, into the VCR,
the computer, beams, I do Windex!  I do shiny!
No, the day that breaks my heart comes
as I mop the kitchen floor that won’t dry.
Water pours out of the light fixture above me.  I stare:
broken pipe?  Leak from the roof?  Miracle?
No.  Bobby is upstairs in his mother’s shower,
playing Mutant Ninja Turtles while Roxanna
keeps a ‘date’ on the phone.  In the dark.
I don’t remember dropping the mop.  Don’t
remember the stairs.  Just my fist
on the bedroom door, my palm pounding,
my fist, my palm – where is your son?  where
is Bobby?  And then, the shower:  drain
plugged with a washcloth, Ninja Turtles swimming
in the warm water, water line on the glass
door approaching two feet high.  Bobby,
laughing, splashing.  Roxanna pulls open
the shower door, small tidal wave gushes
like water breaking.  She grabs her son
and screams What are you doing?

It takes every towel in the house to dry
that floor.  I throw them in the wash.  I take out
five bags of garbage.  All the time thinking, CPS.
I remember my mother’s binges, her vomit,
my dead sister, my loneliness. I remember foster care.
I remember my husband saying, If you leave me
for a woman, you’ll never see these kids again.
How many ways can mothers lose children?  
How many times can children lose their mothers?

I go home, bathe my daughter, my son.
Read them stories.  Put them to bed.  All night,
I think about Roxanna's hands
gripping Bobby's thin white arms.  Think
to myself, hang on.  Hang on.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 5: Aunt Josie’s Housekeeping, Inc.

Aunt Josie’s Housekeeping, Inc.

I clean houses.  I vacuum.  I dust all the cheap ceramic knick knacks collected over a lifetime of distractions.  I scrub the tub, the toilet, the edges of the sink, behind the faucets.  I tote a bucket full of top-notch products:  Pledge, PineSol, Comet, 409.  I wield sponges with scratchy edges.  I put away towels, mop hardwood floors with water and vinegar, sometimes on hands and knees if that’s what you like.  I wash dishes encrusted with hard scraps, throw out fast food bags and Big Gulp cups, sweep up the spilled Cheerios.  I find a corn plant growing in the soil between the edge of the linoleum and the baseboard of the kitchen sink.  Illegal.  I don’t pluck it out, leave it green, exuberant, the ribbony leaves spiraling up into the light of day. I clean houses.  $10 an hour, no benefits, no sick leave.  No union.  I pull pornography out from under the playroom sofa, dump moldy plastic containers from the fridge, kneel before the vegetable bins in soapy attention.  I feed the surviving goldfish, give the feral teddy bear hamster water, replace wet stinky cedar shavings from its cage with fresh chips.  I put on rubber gloves to empty the overflowing cat box, scrape clay pellets hardened into a layer like sedimentary rock.  I empty the garbage can in the master bedroom: used condoms and wrappers, torn pantyhose, toenail clippings.  Kleenex.  Pages ripped from a spiral notebook: “Why did I ever sleep with him?  This affair was a terrible mistake.  How could I have hurt so many people?”  I polish the locked case beside the bed, carved of dark wood, smelling of weed and patchouli.  I clean houses.  I sop up secrets.  I smooth out the wrinkles on the surface of lives for people too busy or too important to do it themselves.  I’m a dark woman with a long black braid, walking across the lawn at the end of a long week.  You don’t see me.  You won’t remember me.  Except for this poem, it’s like I was never there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 4 - Mnemonic

Not sure where this one's going, but it has some good images that I'd like to work on when I have more time.


I was born on the San Andreas Fault.  I carry
that promise of violence and destruction down
the center of my body like a zig-zag of lightning.

My father was born there, my mother too,
and all my brothers and sisters.  Sometimes I think
that’s the only thing we still have in common:

born on the edge of a rippling continent
where the sun goes down over warm waters;
born in the shadow of mountains, between

desert and sea.  Some of us got into cars
and drove north on long interstate freeways.
Some of us stayed not twenty miles

from our birthplace, bound by love or hate
or fear, unable to imagine a sunrise
without palm trees – or sun.  Some of us

died, turned to dust inside incinerators
built for human flesh; parked our ashes
in a niche at Inglewood or scattered ourselves

in the green ripples at Tuolumne.  Some
of us no longer speak to one another,
silent as rusty knives; others learn old languages

and make new songs out of loss.  A few
of us have traveled too far, can never
come back.  Others, not far enough.

Some of us travel only in the motes of dust
shining above the fractured chasms of earth. 
And some of us return only in dreams

to sacred places where our feet have not
walked in this lifetime.  Today, I wind
a string of shells around my wrist

four times, a bracelet strung so I can bear
the beauty of my homeland with me
wherever I go.  The sharp edges bite

my skin, rattle soft as pebbles when I write
these words.  Shells hang from my neck:
polished abalone, oceanic ovals of memory.

I was born on the San Andreas Fault.
I carry that rattlesnake in my spine, feel
the plates of a restless continent grind

and shift from tailbone to skull, a tectonic
rosary that keeps coming unstrung, keeps
this woman from ever losing her place.

Friday, April 1, 2011

UCLA Interview About "Bad Indians"

In 2007-2008, I was a Fellow at the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, with the Native American Studies Program. In November 2007, the Institute of American Cultures (IAC) hosted a Fall Forum and Welcome Reception in honor of the 2007-2008 Visiting Scholars, Postdoctoral, Predoctoral, & Graduate Fellows, and Research Grant Awardees.

Tritia Toyota, Ph.D., award-winning broadcast journalist & adjunct professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies, interviewed 2007-2008 IAC Visiting Scholars, Ellie Hernández, myself, and Amy Sueyoshi, about our research projects. (Dr. Winton was unable to attend the IAC Fall Forum as she was researching and teaching in Ghana)

At that point, my project was called "The Light from Carissa Plains: Reinventing California Indian Identity." It has since come to be titled "Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir." This interview gives you a good idea of the project's scope, even then, when I was still figuring it all out.

Please note: At the interview, I was so nervous that I said J.P. Harrington's consultant was named "Isabel Ramirez," confusing Isabel Meadows and Laura Ramirez. Ooops!

To view: lick on the photo below [you'll need RealPlayer]; the link takes you to the IAC website.  Once there, scroll down to the second interview. Click "view Deborah Miranda interview."  Enjoy! [I'm aware that the link hasn't been working, but IAC sent me a new link that fixes the problem.]

UCLA Interview about Bad Indians 

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