Excuse Me

as I tip into this room of paneled windows
and hushed esteem, sidle silent into a seat,

the talk already begun, some arms crossed,
pens brandished, not a tear or clenched jaw

as the speaker describes the men
who marched into a corn field

at harvest’s cusp and seized it
all: seed, stalk, root, and earth;

how tribes now search in the must of vaults
for the kernels of robbed souls—

not seeds, but lineage—she says,
this is how we rematriate.

Afterwards, the same men speak
as always, the philosopher who asks,

what is the legal basis
for your claims?

I wish the speaker had worn her big bold earrings,
the ones with the photo of Sacheen Littlefeather

and in large letters:
EXCUSE ME.

Well, excuse me, I want her to say too,
excuse you.

I think: let us learn the uses of anger—
but Lorde knows sometimes

there is only the undetonated device,
the dry silence of a pent storm,

purple bruised and swollen
clouds bottling some flat horizon.

I think of the women in Taos pueblo
crying for the squash seeds’ return,

their gourd baby, its seed song
mothering the broken soil,

this soil that holds everything lost,
all the stories and all the bones.


Grace H. Zhou is a poet and cultural anthropologist living in Oakland, California. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Kweli, Forum, Icarus Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a PhD candidate at Stanford University, where she also teaches courses on gender, race, power, and ethnography.