The Sunday Poem: Don McIver...Suite: Matrilineal Apologia

Good morning to you, Albuquerque! Rich here, still plugging away at existence and poetry and performing and work and blood pressure and work and poetry and existence and getting up at this time of the morning on a Sunday and whoa and have you had your coffee yet and BOY HOWDY. I feel a little wistful and all International Tea Commercial to think that we're approaching the end of August, and the end of my temporary custody of the Ditch Rider. Will you all email Jon and let him know - honestly - what you thought of how I did? And also, how are you liking the local poetry news items? I hope that everyone who reads this column will be honest and give Jon a full report - that would mean the world to me. Listen up, it's time for a poem...

...So, I love this poem by Don McIver. I love the experiment of this, and how Don explores complicated, emotionally-risky issues by both saying things and by leaving things unsaid in an examination that employs poetry and music, the hard-to-take lullaby. I love the fact that this beautiful, honest poem is FOOTNOTED. How the hell often do we get FOOTNOTED POEMS?! I love that this poem approaches the notions of private and public pasts, and what it means to examine the events and actions in the history of one's family. I love the meditative, thoughtful, confiding voice of this poem. I love that Don closes this poem so succinctly and neatly, and yet the line he closes this poem with encourages the reader to think not of an ending, but instead about beginnings. Of new searches and discoveries. Shouldn't a poem do at least this much? I asked Don to tell me what he loves the most about Albuquerque, and this is what he had to say: "My love for ABQ is not unrequited. Albuquerque has been very good to me and embraced a lot of the crazy endeavors through the years with openness, acceptance, and compassion. I love ABQ because it is home, it feeds me artistically, socially, and literally.  I also love ABQ because it sits in the middle of New Mexico, one hidden geographic jewel in America with its blue skies, mountains, cold rivers, sublime deserts, and history, lots and lots of history." And such a beautiful history book to thumb through, too. 

Don, the mic is yours...

Suite:  Matrilineal Apologia


1.  An Apology to and for my Ancestors

A title, deed, certificate of ownership,

has my grandmother's maiden name.

There's a history, a geography of roots

that almost makes it so.

Missouri, a slave state,

compromised into existence

and that's where we landed before the Civil War.


How do you honor your ancestors

                                                                        and not apologize for their mistakes?


There's an open space with my name on it,

a space that once belonged to all,

to the people,

to the earth itself.

Montana, Texas, Colorado,

we're just living where we land

and landed with a thud.


2.  Hagar's Lullaby[i]


I keep waiting for the song to call me,

but I either drift off to sleep or lose focus for a bit

and snap to when I realize I've missed it once again.

Maybe this is what a lullaby is supposed to do?

So rest easy Hagar,

never mind that you, so it's said, were split from your family,

found yourself bound to a family

and your kids split off too.

Rest easy.

Hagar rest easy for a spell.


I keep waiting for the news,

the coming clean,

the ironclad google shot that says,

maybe not


maybe not


maybe not

Missouri compromise,

middle class family,

British blood with an oddly familiar name.

Traitor, Loyalist, turn coat, on whatever side he felt would win.

Arnold, a footnote in a history book.

Surely they owned slaves?

Surely they took land that wasn't theirs?


You don't have to dig very deep to come up with dirt.

[i] "Hagar's Lullaby" is the 11th track on Charles Lloyd & Jason Moran's CD entitled Hagar's Song.  In an interview, Lloyd said Hagar was his great-great grandmother, who was a slave.

[ii] Wat is the nickname of my great grandfather, Congressman Samuel W. Arnold.

[iii] Dot is the nickname of my grandmother (Wat's daughter), Dorothy Arnold Brown.


Basic Human Needs Award winning poet, Don McIver is a four time member of the ABQ slam team, a host/producer of KUNM’s Spoken Word Hour, the author of The Blank PageThe Noisy Pen, and editor of A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Poetry Slam Scene. He’s performed all over the United States including the Colorado Performance Poetry Festival, Tucson Poetry Festival, the 3SidedWhole, and the 2011 & 2012 Solofest.  He’s produced, curated, and hosted poetry events big and small including the 2005 National Poetry Slam, and been published in numerous magazines and anthologies.  He curates the poetry section for the New Mexico Mercury, and wrangles the poets for Sunday-Chatter.  He’s the Co-Executive Director for the Local Poets Guild, a board member of New Mexico Literary Arts and West End Press, a former Albuquerque Slam master, and a member of the Executive Council of PSi from 2006-08.  

Poetry submissions are welcome.  Email

Local Poetry Event News: Hosted by local poet and activist Carlos Contreras, the “I’ll Drink To That – Spoken Word, Music and More” show has been gaining a good and very impressive head of steam over the last few months, and on Sunday, August 18 at 4 pm, yet another installment of this spectacular series comes to the Tractor Brewing Company (118 Tulane SE). This morning's Ditch Rider poet Don McIver will be performing at this event and here's what's more: Albuquerque illustrator, muralist and belt buckle designer Nikki Zabicki will share the stage with Albuquerque poet/educator Bill Nevins, who will share the stage with Albuquerque comedian Richard Wolfson, who will share the stage with the musician Summon of local music enterprise Skull Control Records, who will share the stage with local barber JC Resendiz, who will share the stage with visual artists Rene Palomares 'n Cookie, who will share the stage with Albuquerque poet/As Us Editor  Tanaya Winder, who will share the stage with Albuquerque poet Susana Rinderle. As I understand it, more acts are to be announced as of this time. More acts? How much do you WANT in a show? In addition to all of the incentive above, it's my understanding that something called "Hair Art" will be taking place at this event, too - aren't you the least bit curious? You gotta go to this.

Views: 161

Comment by Margaret Randall on August 11, 2013 at 8:25am

For me--and I realize we all have our personal likes and dislikes--this poem moves far beyond most that are published on this or any other page. McIver captures the big issues in intimate images, many of them still wandering around in my head. Thanks Don. Thanks Rich. And readers, McIver will be reading his own work here in the city at Bookworks on August 27th. I for one plan on being there.

Comment by Dee Cohen on August 11, 2013 at 10:01am

Good poem- we all have dirt, don't we? Don't get me started on guilt. Thanks, Dee

Comment by Merimee Moffitt on August 11, 2013 at 10:28am

here's a question, before I re-read the poem.  Does the definition of "apologia" really fit your title?  just askin.  I don't want any flip outs against "academics." I'm just askin.

apologia |ˌapəˈlōj(ē)ə|
a formal written defense of one's opinions or conduct: an apologia for book banning.
ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from Latin (see apology) .  now I will read it again. 

Comment by Merimee Moffitt on August 11, 2013 at 10:37am

Yes, the dirt of the West--bodies piled high, buried shallow, wagon tracks on top, qand many of us landed, plop.  I love the lullaby that puts you to sleep as its function.  The horror of slavery, Hagar, the horror of women being owned in general until we got the vote, we are all matrilineal indeed. . . very nice work. 

Comment by Teresa Gallion on August 11, 2013 at 12:37pm

Well said, thoughtful reminder. All humanity has baggage.



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