Layli Long Soldier (Video)

  • Hello everyone, I'm Julie Qiu,
  • senior program coordinator
  • at the Newcomb Institute here
  • at Tulane University.
  • For National Poetry Month,
  • I want to share with you
  • the work of poet and activist,
  • Layli Long Soldier.
  • Layli Long Soldier
  • is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota nation
  • and a lifetime advocate
  • for indigenous populations.
  • Her 2017 debut book, Whereas,
  • won the National Book Critics Award
  • and was a finalist
  • for the National Book Award for Poetry.
  • In it, she realizes the complexities
  • of language to intimately explore
  • notions of personal
  • and national narratives and identity.
  • It's really a fascinating read.
  • I highly recommend it
  • to anyone who's interested.
  • The Newcomb Institute has the honor
  • and privilege of hosting
  • Layli Long Soldier
  • as the 2020-2021 Arons Poet.
  • She will be on campus next academic year
  • for a reading and a workshop.
  • We really hope that you can join us
  • for this truly special time,
  • not only to listen
  • to an exceptionally
  • talented poet show her work,
  • but for all of us
  • to enjoy the opportunity
  • to finally gather together
  • and celebrate together
  • with members of the Tulane community.
  • A few shared moments like this
  • are really beacons of light
  • during these dark times.
  • Today, I am going
  • to recite for you
  • an excerpt from Whereas,
  • which was penned as a response
  • to the United States
  • government's official apology
  • to native peoples.
  • Whereas a string-bean
  • blue-eyed man leans
  • back into a swig of beer
  • work-weary lips at the dark bottle
  • keeping cool in short
  • sleeves and khakis
  • he enters the discussion;
  • Whereas his wrist loose
  • at the bottleneck
  • to come across as candid
  • "Well at least was an Apology
  • that's all I can say"
  • he offers to the circle
  • each of them scholarly;
  • Whereas under starlight
  • the fireflies wink across
  • East Coast grass
  • and me I sit there painful in my silence
  • glued to a bench
  • in the midst of the American casual;
  • Whereas a subtle electricity
  • in that low purple light
  • I felt their eyes on my face
  • gauging a reaction
  • and someone’s discomfort leaks out in a
  • well-stated “Hmmm”;
  • Whereas like a bird
  • darting from an oncoming semi
  • my mind races to the Apology’s assertion
  • “While the establishment of permanent
  • European settlements
  • in North America
  • did stir conflict
  • with nearby Indian tribes, peaceful
  • and mutually beneficial interactions
  • also took place”;
  • Whereas I cross my arms
  • and raise a curled hand to my mouth
  • as if thinking as if  taking it in
  • I allow a static quiet
  • then choose to stand up excusing myself 
  • I leave them to unease;
  • Whereas I drive down the road
  • replaying the get-together
  • how the man and his beer bottle
  • stated their piece
  • and I reel at what
  • I could have said or done better;
  • Whereas I could’ve
  • but didn’t broach
  • the subject of “genocide”
  • the absence of this term from the Apology
  • and its rephrasing
  • as “conflict” for example;
  • Whereas since the moment had passed
  • I accept what’s done
  • and the knife of
  • my conscience pierces
  • with bone-clean self-honesty;
  • Whereas in a stirred
  • conflict between settlers
  • and an Indian that night in a circle;
  • Whereas I struggle
  • to confess that I didn’t
  • want to explain anything;
  • Whereas truthfully
  • I wished most to kick
  • the legs of that man’s
  • chair out from under him;
  • Whereas to watch him
  • fall backward legs flailing
  • beer stench across his chest;
  • Whereas I pictured it
  • happening in cinematic
  • slow-motion delightful;
  • Whereas the curled hand
  • I raised to my mouth
  • was a sign of indecision;
  • Whereas I could’ve done it but I didn’t;
  • Whereas I admit that
  • this also took place, yes, at least;