Who Goes Missing, Who Gets Found
Fifty years ago, my cousin hitchhiked off the reservation and disappeared. Sometimes, over the decades, I've searched for his face among the Indian strangers I see on the streets. Rumors used to place him in Seattle, Portland, Montana, and as far away as Minneapolis. Those rumors kept him present. I think of him often these days as the country finally pays attention to all the Indians who go missing and never return. My cousin is gone. He won't be back. I know this mystery won't be solved. But I still ask questions. I still interrogate the world. Did he die from violence? Or mental illness? Or accident? Is he buried in an unmarked grave? Yes, of course, he's buried in an unmarked grave. It hurts to write that. He's an Indian buried in an unmarked grave— another Indian, another Indian buried in an unmarked grave. This is our Native American history—a history of unmarked graves. My cousin's name was Samuel. He was named for the prophet venerated in Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam. So, please, let this poem venerate our Samuel. Let us remember him. He was hilarious and handsome. He and his brothers slept in the attic of our one-bedroom house on the reservation while ten of us other members slept downstairs. I remember, or think I remember, those Indian boys making boyish noise as all we tried to sleep, as they fought against sleep. Dear Samuel, you're awake and alive only in our memories. But you are alive. You are alive. And, yes, it's a contradiction but, fifty years after you disappeared, you're alive, alive in the family stories we tell about all of the Indians who went away, who didn't survive.
Bravo. May there be another fifty years for all of the world's Samuels to come alive and walk our paths and drink in our waters and embrace all of the kindness previously unknown.
The stories we tell about those of us in the margins. How we are only known by our people, our lives, our history...