Teaching the Riff in Being Tuned to the Rez Blues


Tanaya Winder

Mamas put in Davis during children’s naps
time to let the miles of music unfold into sleeping ears.
Mamas fear this world where babies are born

already confined, waiting in lines of funeral processions,
the patient air reinforces lessons of Indians playing along
to historically provided scores, the notes read: broken

livers, diseased hearts, and distended bellies
in newspapers or television. So babies need the music,
the rhythm and blues teach improvisation, the realization:

life is making and creating. Embedded in the call and
response of crying shames reside voracious
cold trains, bodies freighted with ache.

Mamas wanna teach children the riff between
what goes on outside these man-made borders,
the ‘real’ world where cars are named after Indians:

Navajo, Cherokee, and Tacoma; they know
the consequences of the American Dream. Reality:
just like those cars they too will end up buried

in graveyards; if they’re not careful sooner than expected
So Mamas pray their children dream blues like cracked cups.
Broken may not be good luck but reminds us

of survival, an object lesson: if you leave, leave blaring
like trumpet, dented in all the places to sound your instrument
loud for the trail of knowing behind you. History’s riffs

may be blinding but babies need reminding
when arms are strong enough to unravel muddy
waters still needing to be crossed they are ready to embrace

the splitting open like saxophone howling into the white
space or ocean all to empty the darkness inside
or to fill it with their own middle ground between

the milestones and giant steps they’ll want to make in life.
So whenever they think blues can be tasted with hands
wrapped around a bottle until they’re wasted

they’ll remember their Mama’s ingrained into their hearts
unexpected deviations, their internal drums will beat
louder than the drunken syncopations as they fall

into no longer sweet grass laying flat on backs
looking up at the Indian in the moon,
in their sweat drenched sourness loving

and wondering what’s so damn
wonderful about a world where we
are whole notes unraveling.