Poetry: Adrian C. Louis




I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I’ll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.
—Harry McClintock

In a freezing fog, I erected a stone monument beside their
crusted pile of alien weaponry. My days of putrid fear
were over &I could sleep upon our wounded earth &
laugh at the ghosts who had taunted me from the
outskirts of reason. I was free.

Like Odysseus, there was nowhere I had to be. I fell
asleep & woke to find myself white-knuckling the South
Dakota interstate in a whiteout, my frozen brain trying to
deduce how greasy, fucking Frank Sinatra had snuck into
my iPod.

Frankly, more disconcerting were the snow snakes that
blinded the dim beacon of blacktop. I skated towards
death, God-sipping & more sloshed than a man of my age
should admit, but I was free.

The diamondbacks of whipping ice were lucky I was not
younger. Once, I’d have stopped, snipped off their rattles
& submitted them as addenda to any report of my travels.

Dear Bean Counters: I am savage beyond the brittle
precincts of believers in the Book of Ice. You no longer
have any control of me.

Back in the day I could say, “Don’t Tread On Me” &
ignore my penchant for stepping so splendidly upon my
own dick.

Out of the morning snow & into McDonalds. Two vans
unload shambling, elderly folks for breakfast. Maybe
there was a time when I believed in America. I wipe the
grease from my chin & retake the road.

My impotent mind ghosts through redneck counties
glued together by Christian radio.

This nation we live in is a 600-pound man, dying in bed,
needing folks to feed his fat face & wipe his fat ass at the
same time.

Getting old is finding no freedom in driving for four days
with no destination. A child of the sixties running
towards a desire to fall far beyond the mindless bog of a
mindless nation & to finally let his rotting body rot away.

Parked in freezing fog, I scratched for meaning outside a
meth-fueled settlement where putrid cars slept upon
drought-yellowed weeds. I had come upon the truest
ghost of my life & loitered on its outskirts.

Inside my SUV, grizzled, napping, I waited for the sun to
erase my grogginess. Across the street I saw a toddler
flirt with gravity & flop out a Chevy window onto the
cold cement. I was in a B-movie.

Some drunken asshole yelled, another kicked & then
dozens were jousting with baseball bats. Skulls cracked,
men screamed like children until someone got stabbed &
the chickenshit tribal cops came with Tasers & brutal

The poor, dark people scattered, hissing loudly, scared &
moaning & ten or twelve got carted away to Heartbreak

Too many years of mourning had driven me there to sit
silently in an Explorer, sipping a warm Mickey’s &
observing, pretending that I was a witness to history or
worse, epiphany.

Dear God, that was & is me, hunkered down inside this
broke-dick report, not choosing to inhale the crazed &
mordant miasma.

The codex of self that I unlocked years ago is now
unfathomable to the gray-haired me & yet I persisted in
ghosting myself—an idiot deciphering the graffiti of
each & every bent-brain, fist-fighting life I encountered.

I knew I couldn’t just drive away though I’d seen it all
before, seen clone-feathered, young, uneducated people
fighting & hating each other.

How could I explain it & was any idea worth fighting
for? What was the relationship of caution to wisdom?
Would I join in if I were younger? Maybe, but I’d still
never know how many Crazy Horse ghosts could dance
on the tip of a bayonet.

So, I put the machine into gear & drove my old ass down
that old ass-biting road. I was free.



I slept with wings tethered
above my bed by thread.

Hanging in plastic attack was all
the chore money I’d earned.

At thirteen, I was still in love with
the Lightning, the Flying Tiger,

& the Spitfire, until one morning
the ack-ack of Onan splattered

the Stuka, ending all flights of fancy
except for angels who would spiral

& smoke through my firewater flames.

Decades later I captured an angel
& suspended her by red thread

a paycheck above poverty’s bed.
She was happy & allowed a prior

marriage to Jesus to be annulled.
& Jesus, in his fading weakness,

ate her brain & she expired
with madness on her breath.

The very tyranny of human
seed, the cock & pussy of time

has weathered & wizened
the cloud-staring boy I was.

I listen for the hushed flight
of a spirit dove, her wings

feathered beyond melodrama,
beyond the cold, cupric sweat

lubricating any skyway home.


Knife Play

The three actors who lurched
into the lounge still smelled
of horses & chicken feathers
& flaming settlers’ cabins.
Workday done, they were
looking to snag the not so fickle,
tongue-tickled white women
who frequented the LA joint.
1982 & I guess too many of us
staggered into booze caves
& tried to borrow, beg, steal
the lives of red others like us.
I ignored an actor stalking drinks,
shouting, “Buy me a drink or
I’ll scalp your fucking ass.”
The bartender didn’t & homered
his head with a Louisville Slugger.
Unconscious, the actor fell, bent
as easily as his prop rubber knife.
I shook my head & kept drinking.
Sometimes I gave, most times, no.
I jealously guarded each flaming
ounce of water floating my canoe.
Eventually I paddled away from
LA with a flaccid, rubber blade
forever stuck in my brain.
So much for history.



Sooner than later
our fat wigglers will be
wizened by the wizard
of clocks & all our memorized
conquests & conquests of memory
will unite in the bright light
of fish scales & the dark gates
of a cutbank will open into
a mundane heart thrashing
with boyhood joy & we
will laugh at thunder-snow
& sizzling pans of sweet flesh
as the sweetest blue skies leave
American lungs for the last time.


Talking About Writing: Adrian C. Louis

(Interviewer: Ashley Maser, Poetry Editor for SPACES)

Ashley: Are there any particular writers that you feel influence your work?

Adrian: Since your verb is in the present tense, my answer is no. I suppose when I was younger there were writers who were influential. That is, there were writers who influenced me to become a writer. I don’t think anyone has really influenced me stylistically. Early on I loved the poems of Stephen Crane, Emerson, Eliot, Sandburg, and though he’s not politically correct now, Vachel Lindsay. In my middle years I worshipped at the church of Robert Lowell. I had a brief flirtation with Kerouac and Ginsberg. Momaday was the first Indian writer I ever read, so he is important to me…so is Silko though she is more of a contemporary of mine. And of course I am a big fan of Sherman Alexie and Simon Ortiz.

Ashley: When did you first begin writing poetry? How do you feel your work has evolved since then?

Adrian: Holy god, I had my first poem published when I was a junior in high school, more than forty years ago. My early work featured rhyme and meter and general shallowness. I was so earnest and lost at the same time when I was young. I’m still earnest and lost, but in a much different way. So yes, my work has evolved tremendously. Much like a slug on the bottom of the sea evolving into a porcupine. Then again, any poet who does it long enough will find that his younger work was written by a stranger.

Ashley: Are you interested in other art forms? If so, does this influence your poetry?

Adrian: I used to paint and I used to play the guitar. I don’t anymore. I can appreciate other art forms, but do they influence me? No, not at all.

Ashley: Your poems never seem to shy away from difficult subject matter. Though you frequently allude to issues like sex, violence, and alcoholism, there is a freedom to your language that feels comforting. Do you specifically work toward this balance, or does this come naturally to your poetry?

Adrian: It probably comes naturally, a subconscious balancing act coupled with a consciousdrive not to make my poems so unremittingly grim. Sex, violence, and alcoholism are pillars of American life. It would be nice to think compassion and kindness rule out in the end, but for many people that does not happen. I have always been interested in broken people and how they survive.

Ashley: Do you feel that, as a writer, you have an opportunity to raise awareness about issues within the Native American community?

Adrian: Yes, of course I have that opportunity and I do it quite a bit, maybe too much, but I don’t feel it is my job. I am not a spokesman for Indians in America. I only write about what I see and what I live. If I do speak on behalf of Indians at times, I’d like to think I speak on behalf of those who have no voice, those who are completely beaten down by the system.

Ashley: On a similar note, there is a sense of frustration in a lot of your work about the treatment of Native Americans. How do you go about portraying this in your poetry?

Adrian: Again, my poetry is rooted in personal experience, so if I see something that irks me I write about it. It’s hard not to get frustrated with this country’s treatment of Indians. The Europeans came over here, stole our land, genocided entire tribes, put us on reservations, sent reservation Indians off to cities to break tribalism, etc. etc. I don’t mean to recite the victim’s litany, but all you have to do is read a history book or go to a reservation to see the end result.

Ashley: Have you ever had issue with publishing your work before because of the nature of the subject matter?

Adrian: No, not really. Sometimes editors will remove a few “shits” and “fucks.”

Ashley: What, if any, advice would you offer to young or emerging writers out there?

Ashley: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?

Adrian: I do have a new book of poems out. For info on that, as well as other books, go to Adrian-C-Louis.com


adrian louis picA half-breed Indian, Adrian C. Louis was born and raised in northern Nevada and is an enrolled member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe. From 1984-97, Louis taught at Oglala Lakota College and is currently a Professor of English in the Minnesota state university system.  His new book of poems is Savage Sunsets.

More from Adrian C. Louis 


Book Trailer for Mr. Louis’ new collection of poems, Savage Sunsets