Home

Synclaire Butler

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.

Home I.

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.

I wince,

she laughs.

My pain is stronger than my pride,

so Mama braids

and I cry on the stool anyway.

 

Home II.

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.

Africa,

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

Alaska.

And all people see is

Black.

 

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

three generations

before me

in Alaska.

The caribou in my belly

wishes to speak,

unfurl inside.

Show this woman

what I am made of.

Let her see

the salmon

in my blood.

See the mountains

in my body.

 

This 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.

This respect

is bred

and born

and known.

To us, Alaskans.

I wear this knowledge,

like I wear my skin.

 

Home III.

I wait,

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—

now mountain,

now monument.

Now

I am known as the Sleeping Lady.

 

“Susitna”

 

I almost hear my dear calling

like a whisper.

Is it the wind?

Am I dreaming?

Snow has settled

over days,

over me,

over years.

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.

 

Dghelishla.

 

Synclaire Butler

Alaska

Synclaire Butler is a womanist, sister, daughter, pleasure practitioner, creator, theorist, seeker, unicorn, and wanderer. She was born, writes, and lives on Dena’Ina land. Synclaire is the founder of Pleasure Hauz, an independent magazine with the mission of creating spaces for Black folks to consume, create, and conceptualize pleasure. She dreams of a world where Black joy is consumed and conceptualized more than Black trauma.