I am, i suppose, an eighth Choctaw. But I feel like a Ninth Pea, that Pea that reverts back.
It began when I was very young, in perhaps my fourth year. I had a little brother who died . . . of spinal meningitis—we lived then in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He was then a year and a half old
and he must have been much younger, possibly nearer a year old. I remember Dad holding him. I don’t remember him walking or sitting in a seat alone.
Dad had taken us to a Theatre there in Jonesboro—he and Mama. And an Indian performed. He danced on the stage and then he came down the aisle. It is one of those indelible things, marked on the mind. And Dad said: “You, too, are Indian.” I was bonded forever . . . with all the imagination of the earth.
I have written of all this, in poem. We went nback to Jonesboro a few years ago. They paid me $400 for a day, reading, meeting with classes, etcettera, etcettera. I had never been back! And before we were to go, here I dreamed . . . i dreamed Dad told me what street we lived on
well, what i was told in the dream . . . did have connection, from somewhere in my mind . . . and it didn’t matter. But strangely i did go to the house. Dad had worked in a box factory, and there was only one wooden box factory left. I was staying with Norman Lavers! The box factory was on the road back to town . . . and we went there.
We stopped and i told Roy to just drive on slowly. We came to a street and i said to turn . . . left. We drove on a few blocks and ahead . . . i saw the house, or what i thought was the house. Only difference was . . . there had been a larger house on the corner, but nobody had lived there when we were there . . . i remember a garden, or what had been a garden, and a covered high well . . .
Later, we went to find the old Theatre. It is torn down now! In this Theatre we also went to see “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe.
The baby died. He was sick for six weeks, kept in the front bedroom . . . and my mother stayed with him. Once, the door to the living room was slightly open, or i mean the door to the bedroom from the living room—Mama was holding him in a way i happened to see . . . his back was bent inward, only a few days before he died. We took the body back by train, to Greenwood and to the Hills of Mississippi. I had a doll and in the station in Memphis i dropped the doll and broke it’s head. I cried and cried! Not for the doll, i think. An uncle who had met us went out and bought me another, and still i cried.
Roy and I drove out of Jonesboro and turned East, toward the River. . . i went back through everything, including what a cousin of mine (slightly older) could then remember, and from it wrote a sequence of poems . . . I haven’t looked at since, though i think i know where they are.
The Indian reference my father made was concerned with my mother, though an Aunt told me that they, the Moores, also had Indian blood. Enough that after the Civil War they could have been helped by the government, but none asked for it or brought it up.
The Emmons story is also as sheltered. Except for one part of the family. My mother’s father was a preacher . . . my father knew him, an old preacher (not old then) out there in the country
and he had several sons. He tried to whip one of them in the cow lot and . . . i don’t know what happened, but the older boys stopped it and beat him and ran him off. He came back to Arkansas. And some time after that the Mother died. Mama stayed with one of the older sons and his wife for awhile—then Everett took her to Greenwood. He put her in school there and they lived in a boarding house . . . but he married Aunt Hettie and she had a son slightly older than Mama. The whole influence of my life has come from two directions, the country in the hills there and the Greenwood house. Aunt Hettie is even responsible for my name! I should be named for my two grandmothers, she said . . . and from the beginning for her i was Bess Miller. The Miller was there because an old man made a cradle for my grandmother on the Moore side . . . imagine, always explaining that “Miller” like i was a foster child or something or something. Or . . . the passport, that for i suppose the name my mother first gave me: Gladys Louis (my father had registered me, however—and he spelled the first name Gladis)!
I finally got all that straight. Went back to Cleveland, in the county where i’d been born and a cousin helped . . . also, my mother had written out a statement before she died and an aunt on my father’s side wrote out another statement. I went to France, shortly after the war, and i went with the Gladis Louise passport, got mixed up in Rotterdam, gone to Le Hague, came back a late train, couldn’t find where i’d been staying . . . I was supposed to have gone on to Paris . . . left my baggage at the train station. I spent that night in what had been the Nazi headquarters during the war. Such blunders one can never forget, but also it wasn’t a blunder. A man kept trying to pick me up in a taxi (no busses running) and i turned in where there was a light, a telegraph office. And a boy on a bicycle took me where those lost went. I stayed up all night! Next morning i stayed where others came (I had two sausages bought in Le Hague) and people ate . . . we were given black coffee and bread and i don’t know what else. A couple, very thin, and they had a little boy . . . they gave all their food to the child and i gave them my food and sausages
I appear to be rambling, but “it’s all in the mind,” somebody said . . . and people did talk with me; they told me many things that one could never have gotten by straight deliberation, lies or truth. The fear, later, waiting to get on an American ship in Rouen, thinking about Bovary . . . and i learn later that American troops had been in Rouen—women with children, huddling with their children, afraid when i was going to pass
shades drawn if you pass a window—what made such fear? I think of Balzac, his books, a re-jammed civilization. i think of many things. Would it ever be four? And at last i had some change made into French coins (to bring home) and the comments—I was American, i could change for coins like trinkets. Do I give the money back? There would be no understanding of that either. And that night . . . lavish meals on the US Freighter. Leaving the harbor, going up the Seine. We are all white and free and we’ve never had writers like the French and we never will and i think of the crew on the St Malo, somewhere on the sea; they’d wanted to go home, had been sent straight back into the Iodine ocean . . . back for white cargo, and where were they now. We took the easy route, made it in days, not weeks. Everything passing, easy as water. not North into the storms.
We were masters of the world with the atomic bomb; and there would never again be any peace anywhere. Thus i came home, French change for trinkets. And i’d find someone who had all the Balzac books, and i’d read them cover to cover. And finally . . . not a very long time (we’d spent three weeks crossing over), we’ve come straight and we’re in the harbor, and i’m waiting for a train to take me across this great flat world, and i walk and walk into the City
fifty blocks to cash a check. Waiting for four again, when the train will go like a flying boat across the continent. The beautiful City of God, i thought. It wasn’t even the fifties, then. But i’d come back, we’d all come back, and one day we’d leave her, also, riding the train across the earth to some strange place—but the world was simple then. And there were other voyages to make.
First we’d go South, in an old car; we’d go all over Mexico and Central America, and to Nicaragua—to Bluefields, Pearl Lagoon. Wherever the wheels of love could take us, there we’d be . . . till time destroyed it.
Dreams. We were to live on dreams till the end of the book, until the last page was folded.
And how did I get to be Indian? You, too, are Indian, my father said. And one of us died, and one lived.
The Emmons who was Indian. One of the sons came to Arkansas and his children were born and raised near to the grandfather, also the grandfather’s sister: Aunt Fannie Minyard (she married a Minyard).
About possibly 1840, an Indian named Elisha Emmons came into Greenwood. He camped across the Yazoo river and he had with him 100 slaves. He bought supplied for all those with him and “he knew where he was going.” Nobody knows exactly where he did go
but about 1850 or 52 he crossed the river at Natchez by ferry in a wagon. His wife was with him and he had a son and a daughter; also they brought with them a cow. They followed up the river past Greenville. He had a trunk with him with the Indian head-dress and other Indian things, which he kept all his life. (I found out much of this from the descendants of Aunt Fannie, also from a cousin—one of the sons of my mother’s brother John Emmons.) He died not long after telling me these things, and I do not know what happened to the (his) papers.
The only thing that one can suppose is that, as a child, the Indian boy was taken by a man named Emmons . . . somewhere in the upper south-east of this country—that the boy grew up and the boy married and perhaps he married into the family that raised him: also possibly this man started them out with the slaves and he and the girl came back to the lower Mississippi delta. lived there somewhat brief time until the Indians were being expunged from the state. Aunt Fannie, of course, was my grand-father’s sister. She lived both in Arkansas and in Mississippi. My grandfather died about 1923, i think. I remember my mother finally wrote to him. Another uncle, just above Mama in age (uncle Bud we all called him), died shortly before this, also here in Arkansas (1922 or 23 ... nearer 22, i think), and Mama at last wrote a letter to her father and received an answer. All this was shortly before we left the Delta and moved to South Texas, the Rio Grande valley—which was 1924. My younger brother Kenneth was born in 1925.
What the original Emmons in my line did with the one hundred slaves, nobody knows. Since he left with only a wagon and a cow . . . can it be supposed that he freed the slaves? Or did he sell them? The Indians at that time were being driven out with a cruelty that can be compared only to slavery of the blacks, or colored, as people in the South called them. He seems to have lived his life out quietly, as the son did (my grandfather), all separate from ... those also of my family who have tortured themselves in a search for a white Emmons source. I some ways they have succeeded! They have found an Emmons to claim and he lives in the right place and terrain—or did; he or someone of the Emmons name was an officer in the Civil war. Or so i understand it. I see no reason not to believe what came straight from Aunt Fannie and her descendants, also from Clyde Emmons, who grew up near to my grandfather or to Aunt Fannie, my grandfather’s sister.
There are Emmons, or there was one—as I remember, listed among the early people in the early Choctaw nation data in the Choctaw area over here not too far in Oklahoma. We went there once briefly and i found the name in some of the old material being put out of their Choctaw Nation history.
One minor explanation. People I correspond with! I marked the three and they happen to men. Well, this is coincidence!
One is Forrest Cogan, of Teatro Internacional, who had interest in the Yaqui work: GAMES FOR AN EASTER CHILD, in poem, the complete work from the Yaqui Pascua.
Simply, at Christmas certain people seem always to send a card or letter or some communication, and I write a letter to them afterward. This last year . . . was rather damnable. I’d lost weight down to 90—and now i am back at 100, it was cold and the house not well heated . . . i don’t know, i guess all think i’m dead
at this moment . . . damn, the cold came.
Yesterday we switched everything around in the house, as we do or have to do with the change of seasons, and this morning we are to put the heaters (we keep the bedroom side closed generally in winter, or don’t heat it there). And we have three litters of cats (kittens) . . . little dolls. We give them away! have to. do it most carefully!!
The place is full of books. All has to be protected from ants. But now we do this with moth balls or boric acid powder. In the shelves now we use heavy wrapping paper, folded, under where the books stand up or are stacked. In closed shelves i just put in the moth balls, also into boxes where books are kept in shelves, etcettera. Thus the problem has diminished!!
Well, we can’t talk on the phone! We have three mother cats and so far two sets of three litters per year. We have much rain at times and storms and limbs fall . . . and i don’t send out much work anymore. It is all here. I don’t know the answer to much of this. For so long i just wrote and put away.
It began, we were coming out of Chiapas. I had finished a long poem “Yaqui Deer” there and i’d written to Meg Randall in Mexico City. But I forgot that i’d written her! We stopped in a town to pick up mail (i’d write ahead to my parents and whomsoever, designate where we would stop, etcettera) and here was a letter from Meg. She invited us to come by and see them—and we changed our route and did.
I’d been writing for a long time, even then. As strangers, we arrived . . . and they (Meg and Sergio) asked what i did. I write. Holy damn. Roy went back to the Carry-All, looked in the trunk where we carried manuscripts, and brought out the Yaqui Deer. And I read it to them. Meg wanted it for Corno Emplumada! And I said i wasn’t sure i wanted to be published. She made some beautiful lemon pies, she had friends coming for the evening, and we spent the night.
Next morning Sergio came down. “Writing is reaching,” he said. “And you are already reaching.” In leaving, Meg said she still wanted the poem—the Deer—if i decided to return it.
Further in the route we were called home (a telegram waited in Guadalajara), my father had “fallen-out” in the little town of Horatio. It seemed that nobody thought of anything except to send for us!! We drove day and night to get home. It was just as well. He would hemorrhage at the nose. a blood vessel break or something (he’d been in the hospital with it, but the problem continued). I could quiet him. I could get him to just sit in his big chair and i could stop the bleeding. He trusted me.
We lived in a converted chicken shack (someone else made it livable), put up an iron heater when the cold came, and thus began a long long sequence
i sent the long poem back to Meg and she published it—it was my first acceptance. HEAVED FROM THE EARTH, published by
Knopf, came out before either of my parents died—the year, i think, that my father died
but he saw it. I may be mistaken. I do know he died after the book came out, in the Nursing Home . . . Dickinson’s, in De Queen.
It was a long tangle, out trying to care for them and somehow make a living, managing on a low level to stay and be with them. And finally . . . well, i know of no place similar to Dickinson’s
AGONY DANCE: Death of the Dancing Dolls, the first little book, is from Dickinson’s Nursing Home. Now closed. Now torn down.
I do not know if any of this is pertinent to your research. It would explain, in some way, how we live. If you do not have copies of either the Knopf book or the AGONY DANCE, i can send these to you. I am only happy that . . . well, they could know that these things had been published, accepted, something i could give to them
and when it all became just a big clutter, i think i myself withdrew. I still write poems. I find them stuck in papers. There is an abundance of it!! A whole writing cabinet full. And there has been some good publications, but nothing recent. I cannot explain all this. Yet, in some ways i feel at peace with it. I’ve gone over many things and, as a whole, most is as i’d want to see them (or as i’d want them to be seen).
Roy is about to put up a stove in here! It will be a great joy, i think, to both us and the cats, the nine little babies scurrying around. Shut in, it will be a fine winter.
route #1, box 292
So much is of Indian work!
I have a friend here . . . she is black mixed with Choctaw and i’m the reverse, but we get along beautifully. When our daughter Heloise (named for the Heloise with Abelard), was here, she made a picture of the two of us together. I can, perhaps have her send you a copy!