Little Mountain Woman
I feel like a squaw, the type white people imagine: a feral thing with greasy hair and nimble fingers wanting.
You have made me feel sick of myself.
I killed a ladybug and you looked at me like I was wild. I don’t think you know how poor I used to be, that my house was infested with ladybugs for so long. My brother and I went mad when they wouldn’t stop biting. We tried to swat them with brooms—red and black landed everywhere. They wouldn’t leave and mother wouldn’t come home.
I don’t think you know how poor that made me feel, a squaw child.
I kill ladybugs whenever I see them. I know that the women you’ve loved wouldn’t do that. They feel lucky. It shames me.
I never get to say the full thing. Like the ladybugs. I don’t think you know how I feel with you.
Before I went to the hospital I drove to your home at night. It was December in Mesilla. My moist hand stuck to the door.
You pulled me in and we stumbled to your couch. We sat for minutes in silence, beyond polite conversation, in the dark.
I felt like a voyeur, staring at the things in your house. I wanted them to be mine too. You wouldn’t keep a squaw. I think you wanted the other women you were seeing—whole beings.
My thighs were sweaty and your heater was buzzing. I could feel the skin on my neck parting away from itself like arid soil.
Your hands were holding themselves in your lap. You wore old clothes that stayed too long in the corners of your floor. You were dusty and I liked that.
The tips of your fingers felt like wet grapes. I wanted to bite every one. I told you that I needed help and then you asked me to leave. I feel disposable sometimes.
In the hospital they gave me a composition book. I asked for forgiveness.
Letter upon letter, and then I refined that work and what wasn’t there was the memory of my father. It was all about you because that’s how ignorant I was.
When I got out I could read the dark. I turned the lights off in my kitchen and walked across the tiles, dragging my toes. I had cleaned the place multiple times to feel more alone in the night.
I wondered if your hands were still cold. You reminded me of a broken spring rocking horse and I was all weight.
I reappeared in your life and you were still seeing other women. I feel—sick of myself.
A woman you like plays the banjo and has ethereal hands for the earth. One weekend you and I watch her dog, Rose. The dog eats gluten-free and shits on the floor. I took the feeling that I was being used to the bathroom.
When I feel like a squaw I wash my face with alcohol—toner. There’s never enough dirt to constitute the feeling.
A woman you like leaves tennis balls at your place. I searched through your phone and found pictures of her dog, whose name I don’t know. It’s a small terrier with white fur and I don’t know why she doesn’t send pictures of herself. I know that you like that.
Maybe I make myself the squaw, I think. Maybe, this whole time, I should have sent you pictures of my hands.
The things you say to these women—I want that.
I position my arms just so on your couch. I slouch and inhale shorter breaths so I don’t expand with too much air. Still, a squaw-feeling. I understand I have sacred blood. I know. They named me Little Mountain Woman. I know that I can pray correctly. I know the tenses and the syllables of every rite, and spent hours beneath women who turned soil and made medicine. I know that I’m not ornamental, but that I’ve inherited black eyes and a grand grief small women can’t own. I don’t think you know I feel this way, but maybe you should know now.
One day I went back to get my earrings from your house and saw you holding Laura in the doorway. I still knocked, not a squaw.
I still can’t believe my reserve of water—from my nose and eyes. I have dormant fluid in the body, every woman does. I wonder if I am a cavern or a river.
Once you said that I’m a geyser. A hole in the ground, bursting.
When I became pregnant, the women left. Your fingers feel less full and edible.
I had the baby remembering the women. White women make me feel inferior, but I don’t think you know how much. All you see is me killing ladybugs, how could you know the feeling. The spite of that feeling.
We compare hurt. I only feel dirty sometimes. I wash my face three or four times in the mirror and let the alcohol sting.
“I want to be pore-less,” I say.
You tell me people have pores—that they should.
I feel dormant watching you live fuller than I can. I worry I am a cavern. I’ve inherited my mother’s hollow stomach.
You tell me that my pain feels searing, that I’m missing four layers of skin. Your pain is an empty room. I agree that I’m mercurial and you can be dusty.
When we get married, the officiant says it will be hard.
In marriage—swollen and postpartum, I stare at our bed, which is held up by books. I want to fix it. I strip the bed more often than you like. We wash the sheets. I stare at the doorway where you held her and I see myself on the other side, a squaw. I wash my face again. Maybe, if you know, I’ll feel less of this.
I think you imagined I was all sharp corners and edges. We both know my heart has an extra chamber. I feel more fragile than you know, more squaw and ornamental, like a figurine. I wonder how much you can know. Can you wash me like a saint, born again? From squaw to woman with a face, pores, a body, limbs, history, large heart, older, safer. Can’t you wash me or hollow me out for good? Wash me in my own regard and pain and then let it dry out. Let me kill every ladybug and laugh when I do.