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  • Writer's pictureKim Ports Parsons

"Indigenous Physics: The Element Colonizatium": The Mastery in Deborah A. Miranda's Poem

Monday the 11th was Indigenous Peoples' Day. Joy Harjo and the Library of Congress launched an astounding gift of a website, Living Nations, Living Words, a treasury of poetry, witness, and inspiration.

Click on any map marker, such as in Carmel, CA, and this gift of a poem and its story opens: the poem, in this case, is "Indigenous Physics: The Element Colonizatium," by Deborah A. Miranda, enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay Area and of Chumash ancestry and professor at Washington and Lee University.

In this poem in four parts, Miranda adopts the voice of a careful college lecturer, or perhaps a future indigenous scholar, using the language of the traditional academy, but then, as Miranda explains in her commentary, "infus[es] that language with indigenous passion and empathy and anger."

from part II of the poem--

The element Colonizatium is much like nuclear waste:

an unequal mixture of toxic events

with wildly different half-lives.

Start with invasion, war, starvation, rape, murder—

Indian boarding schools, reservations, outlawed religions,


Include an on-going bombardment of toxic events

over a period of decades:

termination, adopting-out, domestic violence, poverty,

substance addiction, incarceration rates, diabetes,

blood quantum debates, history books, mascots,

white shamanism, fake ndns, police brutality,


A periodic table of traumatic elements.

Miranda powerfully lays bare the toxicities of colonization, and builds a formula for healing: she explains in her commentary on the poem: "here is our future: the tools of story, of dance, of song, and of dreaming, these are the seeds of the future."

Miranda's masterful poem teaches me so much, about surviving colonization, about craft, about writing as resilience and future-building. I will be seeking out more work by this poet.

For further reading:

Deborah A. Miranda's page on The Poetry Foundation site:

on the Academy of American Poets site:

Her newest collection, Altar for Broken Things (BkMk 2020):

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