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Hypatia 18.2 (2003) 1-2

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Disruption, Spring 1997

Steve Russell

One of the editors knows the story behind this poem, and she has asked me to tell it briefly. I was leaving a meeting in Albuquerque and somebody had left a newspaper on the airplane. A story caught my eye from which I took the first lines.

Because I am a lawyer, I am aware that a school wishing to ban expressive activity must use the magic word "disruption."

Because I am Indian, I am aware of how few of our children get to walk the stage at graduation.

Because I am a human being, I become outraged at the meanness it took to enforce this rule and I started imagining what form the disruption might take.

By the time I got to El Paso, the first draft was written on the back of a Southwest Airlines napkin.

Disruption, Spring 1997

"An Albuquerque school board has refused to allow an Indian girl to graduate in a traditional shawl handmade by her grandmother, citing 'disruption' of the ceremonies . . ."
The speakers droned on in English
and her mind wandered.

She caressed the bundle absentmindedly
as if to stroke one last time
the cloth she had labored over for so many nights
after cleaning the rooms at the motel. [End Page 1]

She smiled at her cleverness.
She had taken the silver concho belt
that had belonged to her man and his father before.
Having no male children or grandchildren,
she let the trader
cut it to fit a woman's waist,
leaving some room
for the fullness to come in the years beyond eighteen.

Her man had been large,
from a clan of large men,
and the excess silver from his belt
bought the fine cloth and bright threads
and her fingers did the rest.

It was not her tribal custom
to speak the names of the dead,
but she saw in her mind's eye
his smiling face
shining with pride in his granddaughter
and pride in his wife.

Jolted to attention
by the calling of her granddaughter's English name,
she moved like a dark shadow
through the white throng
clutching the contraband to her chest with both hands,
and as the dark-eyed Indian girl stepped from the stage
the grandmother—greatly daring—
opened the shawl with the bright colors
and the thousands of tiny stitches
and the perfect fringe
and threw it over the shoulders of the girl who stood,
first in her family,
holding her diploma.

The police were called
and order was quickly restored.


© by Steve Russell

Steve Russell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a retired Texas trial court judge and is currently Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Indiana University at Bloomington.



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pp. 1-2
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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