The following work was written on the traditional lands of the Dena’ina people. I live and write on the land of the Dena’ina. I recognize the continued impacts of colonization on Alaska’s Indigenous and Black communities. In solidarity, always.
Mouths come loose,
when their hands get in the kitchen.
Over hair grease
and salmon oil that sizzles on the stove from Joe.
Gramma’s sweet potato pie and fish cooking,
brings more truth than I was ready for.
Like Grandaddy’s real reason for leaving
and why we don’t go to church on the fifteenth anymore.
In between Mama’s “giiiirrrrrlllll’s” on the telephone
I try to adjust.
I’m tender-headed and I still somehow forget every time.
Because my sister makes getting plaits look easy.
My pain is stronger than my pride,
so Mama braids
and I cry on the stool anyway.
Sometimes it’s a room full of people, around a circle of strangers,
Like popcorn, from one person to the next, repeating names, locations, and
here we go.
You’re almost up.
Nobody sees the sweat on my hands
while I think of all the other places I could lie and say I was from—
places that would make more sense to other people.
or at least Atlanta.
Is that what they want to hear?
China would warrant a less dramatic reaction.
The worst part about introductions is when it is my turn.
The gasps, the whispers, the repetitive question.
Hi, my name is Synclaire, and I am from Anchorage, Alaska.
No matter what follows the intro to my intro,
all people hear is
And all people see is
The most polite translation of this curiosity is:
“How did your family get to Alaska?”
The most honest:
“I didn’t know they had Black people in Alaska.”
The worst comes from a white woman, perhaps the one who once vacationed in Alaska on a cruise with her family. She is usually middle-aged and confident in how “cultured” she is. So, instead of telling you how she does not, and just will not believe you are from a place as beautiful, pristine, and white as snow as Alaska. She’ll likely ask you how familiar you are with little ol’ Anchorage. She’ll ask about the schools and the restaurants she dined at, which surely you would know if you were from Alaska.
I more than know; these places were my first jobs.
This lady is not the first nor the last to question where I am from
and how on Earth a colored girl like me got there.
She cannot imagine
The caribou in my belly
wishes to speak,
Show this woman
what I am made of.
Let her see
in my blood.
See the mountains
in my body.
has climbed mountains
to find berries
for my family,
making sure to leave the ones nearest the bottom
to our elders
and our mothers.
To us, Alaskans.
I wear this knowledge,
like I wear my skin.
and the Earth engulfs me.
Thoughts and memories of Neketla
have become my nourishment.
My company is kept by others, seeking
stillness only the sea can bring.
I’ve seen the mothers carry their children to witness my body—
I am known as the Sleeping Lady.
I almost hear my dear calling
like a whisper.
Is it the wind?
Am I dreaming?
Snow has settled
And I am still longing
to touch the lips of my lover.
Men marveling at the shore tell legends of my love:
The woman who sleeps under the quilted ice waiting for the love of her life.