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Who Gave Your Body Back to You?” Literary and Visual Cartographies of Erotic Sovereignty in the Poetry of Qwo-Li Driskill

Naveen Minai

Abstract: US set­tler colo­nial­ism deploys metapo­lit­i­cal force against Indige­nous epis­te­molo­gies of land and body to destroy, erase, and con­tain Indige­nous sov­er­eign­ty and nation­hood. Lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars are cru­cial to these set­tler biopo­lit­i­cal and necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies -- and Indige­nous resis­tance. “Love Poems: 1838–1839” by Chero­kee Two-Spir­it poet schol­ar Qwo-Li Driskill chal­lenges a set­tler-colo­nial car­tog­ra­phy of time and space by dis­rupt­ing the visu­al gram­mars of set­tler colo­nial­ism as they man­i­fest in lit­er­ary forms and rules. Driskill resists and refus­es how set­tlers use writ­ing as a visu­al and lit­er­ary activ­i­ty both to pro­duce and repro­duce time as lin­ear and land as fun­gi­ble object. Cre­at­ing a specif­i­cal­ly Indige­nous literary/visual car­tog­ra­phy of a Sov­er­eign Erot­ic, I argue that Driskill dis­rupts set­tler het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty of writing/mapping land and body, by impress­ing an Indige­nous lit­er­ary and visu­al form onto the page. These car­togra­phies rewrite/map time and space accord­ing to Indige­nous knowl­edges and prac­tices of land and love. “Love Poems 1838–1839” is, then, a poem which is both sto­ry and map of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty as a cru­cial com­po­nent of Indige­nous nation­hood and pres­ence on the lands of the Americas.

Résumé: L’idéologie des colons améri­cains déploie une force métapoli­tique con­tre les épisté­molo­gies autochtones de lieu et de corps afin de détru­ite, d’effacer et de con­tenir la sou­veraineté et le sen­ti­ment de nation des Autochtones. Les gram­maires lit­téraires et visuelles sont essen­tielles aux tech­nolo­gies biopoli­tiques et nécrop­oli­tiques de ces colons—et à la résis­tance autochtone. “Love Poems: 1838-1839” du poète et éru­dit Qwo-Li Driskill de la nation Chero­kee Two-Spir­it, remet en cause la car­togra­phie spa­tiale et tem­porelle colo­niale des colons en per­tur­bant les gram­maires visuelles colo­nial­istes telles qu’elles se man­i­fes­tent dans les formes et les règles lit­téraires. Driskill résiste et refuse la manière dont les colons utilisent l’écriture comme une activ­ité visuelle et lit­téraire visant à pro­duire et repro­duire le temps comme un con­cept linéraire et le lieu comme un objet fon­gi­ble. En créant une car­togra­phie lit­téraire et visuelle spé­ci­fique­ment autochtone d’un Ero­tique Sou­verain, j’avance que Driskill inter­rompt l’hétéronormativité colo­niale de l’écriture et la car­togra­phie du lieu et du corps, en imposant une forme lit­téraire et visuelle indigène sur les pages. Ces car­togra­phies redécrivent et redessi­nent l’espace et le temps selon les savoirs autochtones ain­si que leurs pra­tiques du lieu et de l’amour. “Love Poems 1838-1839” est donc un poème qui racon­te et des­sine la carte de la sou­veraineté éro­tique comme une com­posante cru­ciale du sens de nation et de la présence autochtones sur le ter­ri­toire des Amériques.

When you first open Qwo-Li Driskill’s (Chero­kee) Walk­ing with Ghosts to pages 56 and 57, you don’t notice the words; you notice the spaces in between the words. This is because there are two names in dark block let­ters at the top of the page next to one another:


Just like that. Then there are words under­neath each name but you can’t read the words under each name with­out read­ing the words under the oth­er name because there isn’t that much space between the words. It’s a slim book of poetry.

Then you notice the name of the poem: “Love Poems: 1838–1839.” Yet this is sin­gu­lar poem—so what is the ‘s’ for?

Then you notice the first words under TENNESSEE and INDIAN TERRITORY across the space between them:

What was left behind? I know you were dri­ven away,
tak­en from every­thing that
taught you love

Who was dri­ven away from where and had to leave behind what? What love was this you dri­ven away from? Did this hap­pen in 1838? It’s the first date in the title after all.

In this essay, I use visu­al and lit­er­ary analy­sis to read Driskill’s poem, “Love Poems: 1838–1839.” I argue that Driskill chal­lenges a set­tler-colo­nial car­tog­ra­phy of time and space by dis­rupt­ing what Mishua­na Goe­man (Seneca) calls the visu­al gram­mars of set­tler colo­nial­ism (236) as they man­i­fest in lit­er­ary car­togra­phies of time and place. Driskill resists and refus­es how set­tlers use writ­ing as a visu­al and lit­er­ary activ­i­ty both to pro­duce and repro­duce time as lin­ear and space as land as fun­gi­ble object (Rifkin 72). Driskill asserts Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty in sev­er­al forms, which are com­po­nents of Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty and nation­hood: what Ger­ald Vizenor (Anishi­naabe) details as lit­er­ary sov­er­eign­ty (Vizenor vii-7), what Robert War­rior (Osage) defines as intel­lec­tu­al sov­er­eign­ty (1-20) and what Driskill has termed erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty (50-64) through their writ­ing as a lit­er­ary and visu­al activity.

Mishua­na Goe­man and Glen Coulthard (Dene) have demon­strat­ed that set­tler epis­te­molo­gies map time as lin­ear in order to alien­ate land from body and peo­ple, as cat­e­gories of both expe­ri­ence and nation. Land then becomes a fun­gi­ble object, and Indige­nous nations are dis­lo­cat­ed and dis­placed from both their home­lands and from time, in what Anne McClin­tock terms anachro­nis­tic space (66). Accord­ing to the lin­ear time of set­tle his­to­ri­og­ra­phy (and thus His­to­ry), Indige­nous nations are locat­ed in the tem­po­ral space of the past, which means that they are not present on their lands in both sens­es of the word: not there on the land and not there in the present and future of the new nation-state of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Land is con­vert­ed (pun intend­ed) into the fun­gi­ble object and ter­ri­to­ry of the U.S. state and civ­il soci­ety. This straight line of time also seals Indige­nous nations and their expe­ri­ences of the biopo­lit­i­cal (Fou­cault 135-159) and necrop­o­lit­i­cal (Mbe­m­be 11-40) vio­lence of set­tler colo­nial­ism in the past. The con­tin­u­ous and struc­tur­al nature of set­tler colo­nial­ism is there­fore con­cealed (Wolfe 388). As Loren­zo Veraci­ni points out, set­tler nar­ra­tives of nation­al­ism and ter­ri­to­ry are tem­po­ral ones: Indige­nous peo­ples lived here long ago but they refused moder­ni­ty and progress and there­fore no longer exist, which also means that the geno­ci­dal vio­lence that may (or may not) have been com­mit­ted against them is over (Veraci­ni 95-116).

Lin­ear time is het­ero­nor­ma­tive time (Hal­ber­stam 1-21). In Spaces Between Us: Queer Set­tler Colo­nial­ism and Indige­nous Decol­o­niza­tion, Scott Mor­gensen demon­strates that set­tler line as lin­ear time is het­ero­nor­ma­tive time (1-30). Deb­o­rah Miran­da (Ohlone-Costanoan) has shown that this is a necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy of set­tler colo­nial­ism in that het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty is a log­ic of set­tler con­quest which dic­tat­ed the geno­cide of Indige­nous nations for their non-monog­a­mous non-het­ero­sex­u­al modes and prac­tices of gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, and sex (253-284). Set­tlers marked these modes and prac­tices as both immoral accord­ing to het­ero­nor­ma­tive stan­dards and dis­cours­es of sav­age as prim­i­tive. Thus, set­tler het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty dis­lo­cates Indige­nous nations to the past with no place in the present and future of the U.S. pre­cise­ly because both are defined by het­ero­nor­ma­tive futu­ri­ty (Mor­gensen 31-54).

Writ­ing is piv­otal to this set­tler car­tog­ra­phy of time: diplo­ma­cy, law, his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, maps, lit­er­a­ture are part of what Michel Fou­cault terms regimes of truth that pro­duce lin­ear time as a mate­r­i­al and epis­temic real­i­ty. I argue that lit­er­ary form is as much part of these regimes, bor­row­ing from Jace Weaver’s (Chero­kee) def­i­n­i­tion of lit­er­ary cre­ation as fol­lows: “to impress form on the rel­a­tive form­less­ness of a life or a cul­ture, to exer­cise selec­tiv­i­ty over what is includ­ed and what exclud­ed, is an act of lit­er­ary cre­ation” (ix). Along­side, I use visu­al cul­ture to read a lit­er­ary text based on my inter­pre­ta­tion of Scott Richard Lyons’ (Leech Lake Ojib­we) work in X Marks: Native Sig­na­tures of Assent. Lyons exam­ines the Xs made by lead­ers of Indige­nous Nations on treaties with set­tler gov­ern­ments as a metaphor for dif­fer­ent posi­tions and strate­gies Indige­nous peo­ples have used to nego­ti­ate with set­tler epis­te­molo­gies and insti­tu­tions (1-34). I take up Lyons’ notion of X marks to think of writ­ing as a lit­er­ary and visu­al activ­i­ty, to think of writ­ing as marks on the page, and to think of both the marks and the page as equal­ly impor­tant com­po­nents of writ­ing. An act of lit­er­ary cre­ation includes mak­ing use of words and sym­bols as much as the space of the page.

Thus, I con­tend that along with writ­ing in terms of words, gram­mar, num­bers, the rules of lin­ear­i­ty in lit­er­ary form are also cru­cial for the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of set­tler time. Writ­ing, like car­tog­ra­phy, is both a lit­er­ary and visu­al activ­i­ty used in set­tler regimes of truth to pro­duce land as fun­gi­ble object. Writ­ing and car­tog­ra­phy both pro­duce marks on a page, and both the marks on the page and the spaces between those marks on the page con­sti­tute the mean­ing of the text—whether it is a poem or a map. Writ­ing, like map­ping, cre­ates and recre­ates set­tler modes of time, and there­fore nec­es­sar­i­ly space, on the page.

Set­tler modes of time and space are writ­ten in three impor­tant ways. First, the ver­ti­cal place­ment of poet­ic text on the page in Eng­lish repro­duces the lin­ear­i­ty of set­tler time. Sec­ond, the use of metaphor inscribes land and body in two dif­fer­ent con­cep­tu­al domains that cre­ate alien­ation and enable the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of both. Third, the use of gen­dered pro­nouns (he and she) col­laps­es sex, gen­der, and sexuality—which is itself a col­lapse of prac­tice and desire into iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as a biopo­lit­i­cal technology—within a het­ero­sex­u­al matrix (But­ler 22-34).

Driskill dis­rupts each of these biopo­lit­i­cal and necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies in set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al cul­tures in “Love Poems: 1838–1839.” They do not place the text (words, sym­bols, num­bers) ver­ti­cal­ly on the page. They do not use metaphor to write land and body. And they do not use gen­dered pro­nouns, so that the read­er can­not see and there­fore can­not read sex, gen­der, and sex­u­al­i­ty through the het­ero­sex­u­al matrix.

What Driskill doesn’t do can be read as resis­tance to set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars. I con­tend that what Driskill does is an act of lit­er­ary and erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty. To bor­row from Weaver, they impress a specif­i­cal­ly Indige­nous form onto the page to cre­ate an Indige­nous lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mar that rewrites and reshapes time and space on the page. This rewrit­ing and reshap­ing of time and space on the page is part of what Driskill calls the “sur­vival car­togra­phies” (Driskill 55), that is, writ­ten lit­er­a­tures root­ed in Indige­nous sto­ries as epis­te­molo­gies of land, body, and inti­ma­cy. These sto­ries are lit­er­ary and visu­al maps of what Jodi Byrd (Chick­a­saw) calls the “sacred geo­gra­phies that con­sti­tute Indige­nous peo­ples’ his­to­ries” (118), to which Driskill returns to artic­u­late a Sov­er­eign Erot­ic as an act of decol­o­niza­tion (Driskill 58).


First, ver­ti­cal­i­ty. The first sign of ver­ti­cal­i­ty as part of the lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mar of set­tler time is in the title of the poem: “Love Poems: 1838–1839.” The dates 1838 and 1839 indi­cate the his­tor­i­cal con­text and sub­ject of the poem: the Trail of Tears, which was the forced removal of the Chero­kee (and oth­er Nations, includ­ing the Choctaw) from their home­lands in what is cur­rent­ly Ten­nessee to what was then known as Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry (cur­rent­ly known as Oklahoma).

The dis­tinct­ness of the two columns and the imper­a­tive to order this dis­tinct­ness ver­ti­cal­ly is sig­naled by three lit­er­ary and visu­al com­po­nents. The dates indi­cate the dis­tinct­ness of the two columns because the dash marks lin­ear move­ment in both time and space: Ten­nessee (1838) to Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry (1839). The dash also indi­cates both the span of the Trail of Tears, and that the Trail of Tears is sealed in time with a begin­ning in 1838 and an end in 1839.

Along­side, the title indi­cates a plu­ral­i­ty: love poems. This is con­firmed by the colon which pre­cedes the dates. There is one poem (sin­gu­lar) but the title con­tains a plur­al (poems); fur­ther­more, there are two dates (1838 and 1839) and two names for two columns (Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry). There­fore, each col­umn could be read as a sep­a­rate poem, empha­sized by the colon’s func­tion to sig­nal a list of items.

The words, the dash, and the dates marked thus on the page delin­eate the dis­tinct­ness of the two columns, and the nature of this delin­eation: the lin­ear­i­ty of their loca­tion in his­to­ry – and there­fore, how the columns should be marked or delin­eat­ed on pages 56 and 57.

Accord­ing to set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars, Ten­nessee should be writ­ten (placed) on the first page, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry should be writ­ten (placed) on the sec­ond page because 1839 comes after 1838 in set­tler imag­i­nar­ies of time. This loca­tion of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry one after anoth­er in a ver­ti­cal order would cor­re­spond to and repro­duce lin­ear time. Ver­ti­cal­i­ty is the rec­og­niz­able and famil­iar lit­er­ary and visu­al form of time and his­to­ry. And it is time that deter­mines the order­ing of space, includ­ing move­ments: the move­ment from 1838 to 1839 dic­tates a lin­ear move­ment in time and there­fore in space, from Ten­nessee in 1838 to Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in 1839.

To bor­row from Ann Lau­ra Stol­er, this set­tler-colo­nial order of things (1-54) also dic­tates that Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry comes after Ten­nessee because lin­ear­i­ty is also sin­gu­lar­i­ty. It is again time that deter­mines loca­tion in space, which means that there is a sin­gu­lar­i­ty to who and what is in this space on the page: one expe­ri­ence, one set of words, fol­lowed by anoth­er in sin­gu­lar, lin­ear time. Set­tler log­ics of lit­er­ary and visu­al form repro­duce and rein­force these rules of lin­ear time on the poet­ic space through writ­ing and place­ment in this space.

Goe­man has demon­strat­ed that set­tler-colo­nial hier­ar­chies of forms of life and expe­ri­ence are con­struct­ed along a sin­gle straight line of Time and His­to­ry (23-34). Lin­ear time is the biopo­lit­i­cal and necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy used to con­struct nar­ra­tives of civ­i­liza­tion and moder­ni­ty. The U.S. set­tler state deploys lin­ear time as a necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy to force the Chero­kee to move from 1838 to 1839 as a straight line on a map of the Amer­i­c­as because they are marked as sav­age by set­tler time, and there­fore as dis­pens­able by set­tler metapo­lit­i­cal force (Rifkin 90). This is how a map of the Amer­i­c­as is re-marked as a map of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. This is how the Amer­i­can state and nation is ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized through the vio­lent accu­mu­la­tion of life and land. The land of the Chero­kee is remapped as Amer­i­can ter­ri­to­ry and the Chero­kee are now out of time and out of place. They are sealed in the back­ground of the ori­gin sto­ry of the Unit­ed States (Goe­man 24-26), re-locat­ed in anachro­nis­tic space.

The forced removal of the Chero­kee is about both emp­ty­ing the lands of Indige­nous Nations and about dis­rupt­ing Indige­nous epis­te­molo­gies that are root­ed in the land and in which land is a liv­ing enti­ty. The set­tler epis­temic cen­ter­ing of time and the con­struc­tion of time as lin­ear pro­duce land as dead space (Goe­man 31), or a thing that can be owned and trad­ed. In set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars, land becomes blank space which is the back­ground to the words on the page.

Driskill writes Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry side by side on these pages. This means that the read­er can­not help but see (read) both on the page in front of them. They con­sti­tute and com­plete the poem togeth­er on the space of the page, which is con­firmed by the colon vis­i­ble in the title of the poem. The colon pre­cedes the dates and sig­nals the pres­ence of both Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry on the same page, which the lin­ear­i­ty of set­tler lit­er­ary form as car­to­graph­ic form would make absent and hence sep­a­rate in both time and place. This would also sep­a­rate the nar­ra­tive in and of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry from each oth­er, which would seal each nar­ra­tive on sep­a­rate pages in a repro­duc­tion and rein­force­ment of seal­ing the effects of set­tler vio­lence on Indige­nous nations in time (Goe­man 24-26)—the page can be turned and the past is no longer vis­i­ble on the page the read­er is present­ly reading.

Here the read­er can­not read what hap­pens in each col­umn as sep­a­rat­ed by lin­ear time repro­duced and rein­forced by ver­ti­cal poet­ic form in a set­tler lit­er­ary imag­i­na­tion. Here the read­er must read Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry side by side at the same time; the read­er must read 1838 and 1839 side by side at the same time. The words of Ten­nessee and the words of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in 1838 and 1839 are both ground­ed in the same poet­ic space of the same page. There­fore, the space of this page becomes the epis­temic anchor, rather than time. As Coulthard has dis­cussed, this is a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion between Indige­nous and set­tler epis­te­molo­gies (79). This means that the white space of the page becomes more than back­ground to the black marks on the page; the white space is no longer back­ground as dis­tant from the read­er as view­er; it is no longer dead space which is only func­tion­al for the marks on the page. Rather, this space matters.

The sen­tences of each poet­ic tex­tu­al voice move into each other’s space on the page. Through both the dif­fer­ent lengths of the sen­tences and the place­ment of vers­es of each poet­ic voice, the move­ment of text on the page recalls and cre­ates the visu­al effect of a riv­er. The words move across the page, which also means that the space between the words and sen­tences and poet­ic voic­es is no longer blank where blank means dead space, space only as back­ground. The tex­tu­al space between and around Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is vital for the words and sen­tences to move. Poet­ic tex­tu­al space, then, as the writ­ing (map­ping) of land is no longer blank space as a thing, or as back­ground. It is the ground of the poet­ic voice; it is the space where the poet­ic voic­es of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as per­sons is ground­ed. The space in between and around the poet­ic tex­tu­al voic­es is the lit­er­ary and visu­al ground that anchors and makes pos­si­ble the per­son­hood of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Territory.

More­over, the read­er can­not read (see) the poet­ic tex­tu­al voic­es of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry with­out each oth­er so that there are two voic­es speak­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly as a lit­er­ary and visu­al expe­ri­ence. The read­er is there­fore caught in the poet­ic space between Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. This means that the read­er is in between time too: 1838 (Ten­nessee) and 1839 (Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry), and the read­er locat­ed in 2005 as the date of pub­li­ca­tion of Walk­ing with Ghosts. Tem­po­ral­i­ty, there­fore, is recon­fig­ured as an expe­ri­ence of space in between through poet­ic form with­in a Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy, rather tran­scen­dence through lin­ear­i­ty accord­ing to set­tler log­ics of time and space.

The cen­ter­ing of space rather than time means that the marks Ten­nessee makes on the page are no longer sealed in 1838 as the past with the turn­ing of the page, sep­a­rate from the marks Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry makes on page. Both sets of marks are formed and placed in rela­tion to each oth­er, which high­lights their rela­tion­ship: Ten­nessee is the home­land the Chero­kee were forced to leave behind and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is the name of the place des­ig­nat­ed by the U.S. set­tler state where the Chero­kee were forcibly relo­cat­ed to. The marks made on Ten­nessee, Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, and the Chero­kee by set­tler vio­lence are placed on these pages. This is Driskill’s defi­ance of set­tler epis­te­molo­gies, which deploy lin­ear­i­ty to seal set­tler vio­lence in a dis­tinct and dis­tant past that can be dis­missed and erased by the turn­ing of a page.

Both of them speak to a “you,” which I argue is Driskill locat­ed in the space on the page between Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and Ten­nessee. This is evi­dent not only through the con­text of the Trail of Tears ref­er­enced by the dates in the title. The forms of necrop­o­lit­i­cal vio­lence that the U.S. set­tler state inflicts on the Chero­kee and Ten­nessee are cat­a­logued in the poem—as is the sur­vival and resis­tance of the Chero­kee, which is ground­ed in Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. Set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars work to erase the marks of vio­lence on Indige­nous nations through lin­ear time: you can turn the page and the trau­ma of Ten­nessee will be left behind. You can use ver­ti­cal­i­ty to seal Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry on each page one after anoth­er, and seal each in 1838 and 1839.

Driskill refus­es to obey the set­tler direc­tive to for­get. Instead, they doc­u­ment the meth­ods and effects of set­tler vio­lence along­side the tech­nolo­gies deployed by the U.S. set­tler state to dis­miss and erase the trau­ma, loss, and grief of the Chero­kee. Driskill’s writ­ing serves to both name and remem­ber the marks left on Indige­nous nations by this vio­lence, and to mark these trau­mas as struc­tur­al and ongoing.

There are four vers­es in paren­the­ses under “Ten­nessee.” The first three of the four vers­es are a cat­a­logue of mech­a­nisms of set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence against the Chero­kee. The vers­es in paren­the­ses are oppo­site in con­tent, tone, and feel­ing to the vers­es not in paren­the­ses: the for­mer cat­a­logue set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence, while the lat­ter cat­a­logue Chero­kee modes of love, inti­ma­cy, and sen­su­al­i­ty in the rela­tion­ship between land and body as defined in Chero­kee epistemology.

Paren­the­ses are used to des­ig­nate asides, expla­na­tions, or after­thoughts; sen­tences are con­sid­ered com­plete with­out the thoughts expressed with­in paren­the­ses. Yet here the con­tent of the vers­es in paren­the­ses is about pre­cise­ly the attempt­ed destruc­tion of what is writ­ten in the vers­es that are not in paren­the­ses. The vers­es in paren­the­ses answer the ques­tion of why Driskill had to leave Ten­nessee behind and what was left behind. Hence the vers­es in paren­the­ses are not asides or after­thoughts; rather, they are cru­cial to the poem.

The con­tent and tone of these vers­es dis­rupts the plea­sur­able expe­ri­ence of the vers­es not in paren­the­ses for the read­er in a par­al­lel of the dis­rup­tion of the plea­sure between Ten­nessee and Driskill. Even in moments of plea­sure for the read­er, the vers­es in paren­the­ses are unfor­get­table because they are an under­cur­rent of the trau­ma endured by Ten­nessee and Driskill. In a set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mar, paren­the­ses serve to seal and con­tain the vio­lence of the U.S. set­tler state. How­ev­er, this trau­ma can­not be con­tained between the marks of the paren­the­ses on the page; rather, the effects of set­tler vio­lence and the attempts by the U.S. state to seal those effects in the past is marked indeli­bly on the page through Driskill’s per­for­ma­tive use of the marks of the paren­the­ses. Driskill marks how the U.S. set­tler state tries to con­tain these vio­lent dis­rup­tions as his­tor­i­cal asides or after­thoughts, where­as they are cen­tral to the cre­ation of the U.S. and con­sti­tute ongo­ing trau­ma for the Cherokee.

I argue that in the con­text of the gram­mat­i­cal func­tion of the paren­the­ses, one way to read the vol­ume of vers­es in paren­the­ses in this col­umn is that of a whis­per. Ten­nessee whis­pers of the vio­lence and trau­ma of forced removal from both land and sys­tems of knowl­edge and mean­ing root­ed in the land to Driskill. The vol­ume indi­cates the force with which the U.S. set­tler state has removed the Chero­kee from Ten­nessee, and the force with which the Chero­kee are com­pelled by the U.S. state to for­get their trau­ma and loss. Yet the words Ten­nessee whis­pers to Driskill are marked on the page and piv­otal to the sub­ject of the poem. This then is Tennessee’s stub­born defi­ance of the phys­i­cal and epis­temic struc­tur­al vio­lence of the U.S. set­tler state. Mem­o­ry is evi­dence and archive, and it is archived in the form of poet­ry on these pages—and mem­o­ries of Chero­kee nation­hood, epis­te­mol­o­gy, and trau­ma are hon­oured through the poet­ic marks on these pages by Driskill as a Chero­kee Two-Spir­it poet.

This is Driskill's lit­er­ary and visu­al refusal of how lin­ear set­tler time seals the struc­tur­al nature and effects of set­tler colo­nial­ism into the past, which also enables U.S. nation­hood and state­hood to rest on the refusal to acknowl­edge the con­tem­po­rary pres­ence of Indige­nous nations. Driskill sub­verts the lit­er­ary and visu­al func­tion of the paren­the­ses, trans­form­ing them through their rela­tion­ship to the oth­er marks on the page from lit­er­ary signs of con­ceal­ment to visu­al signs of disruption.

I argue that these paren­the­ses func­tion as marks of an Indige­nous archive of feel­ing (Rifkin 25-36) with­in this poem, which means that this poem func­tions as an archive of the ways in which set­tler colo­nial­ism is a struc­ture not an event (Wolfe 388). As Rifkin reminds us, one of the key biopo­lit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies of the U.S. set­tler state is to rel­e­gate the feel­ings and expe­ri­ences of Indige­nous nations to the realm of the per­son­al and the indi­vid­ual in order to con­ceal the struc­tur­al, ongo­ing, and vio­lent nature of set­tler colo­nial­ism (Rifkin 30-36). This is a deploy­ment of metapo­lit­i­cal force as sov­er­eign­ty, where­by the U.S. state asserts sov­er­eign­ty by deter­min­ing the terms and cat­e­gories for the leg­i­bil­i­ty of life. This includes lit­er­ary and visu­al forms and grammars—the form of an archive, the gram­mar of a poem, mem­o­ry as marks made on the page, and mem­o­ry as the evi­dence of his­to­ries of set­tler vio­lence. Writ­ing is cru­cial to the set­tler bina­ry between mem­o­ry and his­to­ry in which mem­o­ry is per­son­al, indi­vid­ual, and affec­tive and there­fore not pub­lic or col­lec­tive. Poet­ry as an archive of feel­ing and mem­o­ry of the land of Ten­nessee is Driskill’s chal­lenge to the metapo­lit­i­cal force deployed by the U.S. set­tler state.

The first verse in paren­the­ses index­es two forms of set­tler vio­lence against the Cherokee:“(Did you know they tried to/erase you, for­bade me to/speak your name?)”(Driskill 56). The word “erase” sig­nals the phys­i­cal forced removal of the Chero­kee from Ten­nessee, which is also the removal of the Chero­kee from Ten­nessee as the source of their knowl­edge, thought, and con­scious­ness. These sys­tems of mean­ing include the terms of leg­i­bil­i­ty for land, body, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, and rela­tion­ships, ref­er­enced here in the “love for­mu­las,” “dark syl­la­bles,” and “incan­ta­tions” (Driskill 56) that are ground­ed in the land of Tennessee.

The sov­er­eign­ty of the U.S. set­ter state is based on the destruc­tion of the Chero­kee and their sys­tems of knowl­edge and mean­ing. This is because the land of Ten­nessee must be emp­tied of the Chero­kee and their rela­tion­ships to the land in order to be trans­formed into the ter­ri­to­ry of the U.S. state and then into prop­er­ty of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. This trans­for­ma­tion piv­ots on the alien­ation of body and land; bod­ies also become com­modi­ties with­in set­tler epistemologies.

The work of fem­i­nist and queer of colour schol­ars such as Michelle Alexan­der and Grace Hong has shown that this is always already a racial­ized and gen­dered process in which cer­tain bod­ies are owned as com­modi­ties by oth­er bod­ies (Alexan­der 1-94) and cat­e­go­rized as such in legal, social, and polit­i­cal terms (Hong 31-106). White suprema­cy and het­eropa­tri­archy are both key log­ics and mech­a­nisms (Smith 66-73) through which this alien­ation of body and land and the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of both are pro­duced and repro­duced in the U.S. Thus, the U.S. set­tler state tar­gets both the phys­i­cal pres­ence of the Chero­kee, and Chero­kee log­ics of land, body, per­son­hood, and nation­hood for erasure.


Writ­ing is cen­tral to set­tler era­sure of Chero­kee log­ics of land and body and is deployed in sev­er­al ways. Set­tler frame­works of knowl­edge pri­or­i­tize writ­ing over oral­i­ty with­in a lin­ear tem­po­ral nar­ra­tive of civ­i­liza­tion and moder­ni­ty where­by oral­i­ty is seen as prim­i­tive and sav­age and writ­ing is the mark of progress and fac­tic­i­ty. Indige­nous nations are also writ­ten out of the present and future of the U.S. nation-state by being locat­ed in anachro­nis­tic space (McClin­tock 66) in Amer­i­can polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and intel­lec­tu­al struc­tures and pro­duc­tion. Mean­while, the land of the Amer­i­c­as is remade as the nation­al ter­ri­to­ry of the U.S. through the use of the map as a set­tler-colo­nial tech­nol­o­gy that pro­duces land as dead space through visu­al and lit­er­ary tax­onomies (Goe­man 236). With­in these lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars, metaphor is piv­otal for the alien­ation of body and land, as is the gen­dered bina­ry between the per­son­al and polit­i­cal, which divides labour, space, rela­tion­ships, and experiences.

Com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of bod­ies and land is under­pinned by these log­ics. This is why “the erot­ic is not the realm of per­son­al con­se­quence only” (Driskill 52), and erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty is nec­es­sary for Indige­nous nationhood.

That the U.S. set­tler state “for­bade me to speak your name” (Driskill 56) marks the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al silence the U.S. has tried to impose on the Chero­kee. This silence is imposed not only on Chero­kee vocab­u­lar­ies of land, body, and nation­hood but also on the artic­u­la­tion of the trau­ma and grief the Chero­kee have endured because of set­tler violence.

Set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars are cru­cial to the impo­si­tion of this silence. Their pres­ence is both based on and rein­forces the removal of Chero­kee lit­er­ary and visu­al forms and prac­tices. Set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al cul­tures in the U.S. locate Indige­nous nations in land­scapes of the past, and there­by con­tain them in the past through lin­ear­i­ty in cul­tur­al form, vocab­u­lary, and prac­tice. Indeed, the land of the Amer­i­c­as is trans­formed into an emp­ty land­scape through these lit­er­ary and visu­al cul­tures (Goe­man 235-265). More­over, the replace­ment of Indige­nous lit­er­ary and visu­al cul­tures with set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars through the removal of Indige­nous nations on the land of the Amer­i­c­as means that Indige­nous knowl­edge and mean­ing are not trans­mit­ted inter­gen­er­a­tional­ly. The Chero­kee can­not speak Tennessee’s name and Ten­nessee can­not be artic­u­lat­ed as lover because those for­mu­las and syl­la­bles have been erased and for­bid­den in set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al cultures.

These lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars are cru­cial to set­tler-colo­nial struc­tures because it is through these cul­tures that nar­ra­tives of the set­tler state are con­struct­ed. It is through these gram­mars that the fig­ures of the sav­age Indi­an, the adven­tur­ous pio­neer, the damsel in dis­tress, and the poor farmer are cre­at­ed against a back­ground of a land­scape of the Amer­i­c­as always already emp­tied of Indige­nous nations because they are not leg­i­ble as sov­er­eign poli­ties accord­ing to set­tler def­i­n­i­tions (Rifkin 88-92). These fig­ures are trans­formed by turn­ing the pages through and of a lin­ear his­to­ry of the Amer­i­can Dream: the pio­neer-farm­ers fight the British empire (Clark and Nagel 109-130) to become pro­to-Amer­i­can cit­i­zens (Veraci­ni 1-15; 95-116) and res­cue the damsels in dis­tress from the sav­age Indi­ans (Klopotek 251-274). The sav­age Indi­ans become trag­ic and noble (Klopotek 251-274), dis­ap­pear­ing from what is now the nation­al sov­er­eign ter­ri­to­ry of the U.S. in which the damsels in dis­tress fight for uni­ver­sal suf­frage as a mark of Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism and the Amer­i­can Dream (Mor­gensen 1-54). You turn the page and the fig­ure of the Indi­an dis­ap­pears as the fig­ure of the Amer­i­can cit­i­zen appears.

The set­tler vio­lence doc­u­ment­ed in this poem as Tennessee’s tes­ti­mo­ny in the vers­es in paren­the­ses con­tra­dicts these lit­er­ary and visu­al nar­ra­tives and their affec­tive force. The sec­ond verse in paren­the­ses is: “(After they seized you/they told me not to touch/anyone again.)” (Driskill 56). These vers­es in paren­the­ses resist the U.S. nation­al mythol­o­gy of the nature and form of con­tact between Indige­nous nations and set­tler colonists as one of civ­i­liza­tion: the word “seized” in the sec­ond verse in paren­the­ses con­notes the force with which Driskill and Ten­nessee were sep­a­rat­ed by the U.S. set­tler state, a phys­i­cal con­tact that is vio­lent and sud­den. These vers­es indict the U.S. set­tler state as a vio­lent one that deployed ille­gal force against Indige­nous nations (Rifkin 90). There is noth­ing inevitable here about the turn­ing of the page as an act of lin­ear time; instead, the mean­ing of the marks on the page and the turn­ing of it in set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars is highlighted.

Rifkin notes that Driskill’s poet­ry attends to struc­tures of feel­ing expe­ri­enced by Indige­nous peo­ples as effects of set­tler vio­lence (Rifkin 45-92). The words “any­one again” (Driskill 56) con­note a pow­er­ful under­cur­rent of lone­li­ness, iso­la­tion, and loss of plea­sure and love for Ten­nessee (and Driskill). This is high­light­ed by the imme­di­ate­ly pre­ced­ing sen­tence that paus­es at the word “touch,” and by the emphat­ic fact of this sen­tence con­tain­ing only two words. Here, the word “any­one” means nobody else, while “again” car­ries a lone­ly res­o­nance of con­tin­u­ous time. Love, plea­sure, and sex are ground­ed in the rela­tion­ship between land and body as that of lovers in Chero­kee sys­tems of mean­ing. The forced removal of Driskill from Ten­nessee is a removal from land as lover, land as home, and from land as the source of knowl­edge (Goe­man 24-34) and knowl­edge of plea­sure that sus­tains and nour­ish­es Driskill.

Feel­ings are marked as specif­i­cal­ly polit­i­cal mat­ters in this poem. Pain is indi­cat­ed in the last two lines of this verse: “My bones shriek like trains/filled with Nations!” (Driskill 56). The visu­al and aur­al sign of “bones shriek” con­veys a vis­cer­al account of pain pre­cise­ly because of how unusu­al this phrase is: this is a bone-deep (a more famil­iar turn-of-phrase) pain. How­ev­er, this is more than metaphor pre­cise­ly because through­out the poem Driskill the poet has been push­ing against the rules and bound­aries of Eng­lish as a set­tler-colo­nial lan­guage and the ways in which it has been deployed to con­tain, destroy, and erase Chero­kee log­ics and prac­tices of nationhood.

The word “seized” con­notes not only the vio­lence of forced removal but also the set­tler dic­tate to “not touch/anyone again,” that is, the set­tler pro­hi­bi­tion of Chero­kee forms of col­lec­tiv­i­ty. This includes reser­va­tions, res­i­den­tial schools, war, famine, and the destruc­tion and restric­tion of resources for sur­vival from Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties through envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion of Indige­nous spaces, vio­la­tion of treaty rights to hunt­ing and fish­ing spaces, and min­ing. In oth­er words, set­tler colo­nial­ism enforces the rule to “not touch/anyone again” (Driskill 56) by destroy­ing and restrict­ing the land which Chero­kee nation­hood is ground­ed in.

The trau­ma of set­tler vio­lence is embed­ded in Driskill’s bones, beneath skin, mus­cle, and blood. The mag­ni­tude of set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence is such that Driskill’s bones have felt and borne wit­ness to this pain and trau­ma. The expe­ri­ence of trau­ma is reem­pha­sized by Driskill’s use of the word “shriek,” which means to scream and/or a sharp, shrill cry, and the two emo­tions asso­ci­at­ed with this type of sound are ter­ror and pain. This con­structs a visu­al and aur­al expe­ri­ence for the read­er of the degree of phys­i­cal vio­lence of the forced removal of the Chero­kee from Tennessee.

The U.S. set­tler state also forces lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion on Ten­nessee as a necrop­o­lit­i­cal tool against the Chero­kee, to try and destroy the ways in which Chero­kee make home, make com­mu­ni­ty, make love. As Driskill and Sara Ahmed have argued, feel­ings are polit­i­cal mat­ters (Ahmed 1-19), and they are ground­ed in both time and space (Driskill 50-64). The lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion the Chero­kee feel is a direct con­se­quence of the forced removal from Ten­nessee, the home­land in which their frame­works, vocab­u­lar­ies, and expe­ri­ences are ground­ed. Feel­ings, then, are not just effects of set­tler vio­lence but also evi­dence of the struc­tur­al nature of set­tler colo­nial­ism (Rifkin 1-44).

Yet the words “tried to” sig­nal that the U.S. set­tler state’s deploy­ment of metapo­lit­i­cal force as necrop­o­lit­i­cal vio­lence is incom­plete and unsuc­cess­ful. This is evi­dent in the marks Driskill has made on these pages, which mark the sur­vival of Chero­kee log­ics of land and body. Driskill not only speaks Tennessee’s name, but they also name Ten­nessee as their lover in and accord­ing to Chero­kee for­mu­las, syl­la­bles, and incan­ta­tions of nation­hood in which land is a liv­ing enti­ty. Driskill refus­es set­tler colo­nial log­ics of land as thing, as prop­er­ty (Goe­man 23-33)—and in Eng­lish no less, through a sub­ver­sive deploy­ment of the rules of gram­mar and form.

Sov­er­eign­ty is also assert­ed by Driskill’s cap­i­tal­iza­tion of the word “Nations” in defi­ance of the U.S. set­tler state’s use of phys­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and intel­lec­tu­al vio­lence against Indige­nous nations. This high­lights the dif­fer­ence between nation and state here as well, defy­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of the U.S. as a nation-state in which Indige­nous nations are con­sid­ered a racial­ized minor­i­ty rather than sov­er­eign nations accord­ing to the set­tler-colo­nial epis­te­molo­gies of polit­i­cal modes of com­mu­ni­ty. Driskill does this through the rules of Eng­lish gram­mar: cap­i­tal­iza­tion is sup­posed to be used spar­ing­ly, for prop­er nouns, such as names of nations, states, and nation­al com­mu­ni­ties with citizenship—such as Amer­i­cans. Fur­ther­more, cap­i­tal­iza­tion is used to focus atten­tion on par­tic­u­lar ele­ments in terms of what dis­tin­guish­es them/that ele­ment from oth­ers. There­fore, the cap­i­tal­iza­tion of the word “Nations” here by Driskill indi­cates pre­cise­ly that the Chero­kee refuse to com­ply with the U.S. set­tler state’s exer­cise of metapo­lit­i­cal author­i­ty to cat­e­go­rize Indige­nous Nations as racial­ized minori­ties in order to both destroy and con­tain them. This is Driskill’s empha­sis on the Chero­kee as a sov­er­eign nation whose lands are occu­pied with vio­lent force by the U.S. set­tler state, and of their refusal to com­ply with set­tler-colo­nial def­i­n­i­tions of sov­er­eign­ty and nation.

The fact that Ten­nessee is tes­ti­fy­ing to set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence is evi­dence of how these attempts to con­tain and destroy the Chero­kee have failed and are incom­plete, even as they are trau­mat­ic. The last verse in paren­the­ses indi­cates this space in between trau­ma and sur­vival, between the fail­ure and mag­ni­tude of set­tler colo­nial vio­lence: “(Or was it a map, coded/to find your way back to me?)” (Driskill 57)

There is more uncer­tain­ty in this verse than the oth­er vers­es in paren­the­ses; the sec­ond verse in paren­the­ses is a state­ment, while first and third are rhetor­i­cal ques­tions indi­cat­ed by the gram­mat­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of the phrase “Did you know.” In con­trast, this last verse in paren­the­ses reads as sin­cere ques­tion, con­tain­ing uncer­tain­ty, pos­si­bil­i­ty, and hope—of Driskill find­ing their way back to Tennessee.

The map refers to the “quilt appliqued stars” (Driskill 57) in the pre­vi­ous verse not in paren­the­ses. This indi­cates Ten­nessee won­der­ing (hop­ing) if that quilt could help Driskill “remem­ber the birth of the Milky Way” (Driskill 57), remem­ber Chero­kee knowl­edge sys­tems of the uni­verse in which land is a lover who gives plea­sure and knowl­edge. The ref­er­ence to the visu­al sign of a map is impor­tant here, also con­struct­ed through the visu­al of the Milky Way in the quilt appliqued with stars. The Milky Way appears as a dim, glow­ing band arch­ing across the sky, a mytho­log­i­cal and visu­al path for Driskill to fol­low which only they can read as such—hence why it is “a map, cod­ed” (Driskill 57)—because both they and Ten­nessee are locat­ed with­in a Chero­kee epistemology.

Yet while there is hope in this ques­tion, there is also uncer­tain­ty as to whether Driskill can go back in both the lit­er­al and fig­u­ra­tive mean­ings of the word “map” here, of return­ing to Ten­nessee as both Chero­kee home­land and of remap­ping Ten­nessee accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics of sov­er­eign­ty and land. This uncer­tain­ty is high­light­ed by the fact that this verse in paren­the­ses is locat­ed between two vers­es not in paren­the­ses across the page in the col­umn titled, “Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry”: “Hush. This is home now” (Driskill 57).

While this expe­ri­ence of being caught in between can be read as an effect of struc­tur­al, hence con­tin­u­ous, set­tler vio­lence, I argue that it can also be read here as a dou­ble-woven nar­ra­tive (Driskill 73-75). Driskill pro­pos­es the use of the Chero­kee bas­ket weav­ing prac­tice of dou­ble-weav­ing as a method of sto­ry­telling, argu­ing that in a dou­ble-woven design, two con­tra­dic­to­ry nar­ra­tives and the ten­sions between them are main­tained in the cre­ation of a new nar­ra­tive. I argue that in locat­ing “you” between Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, in between 1838 and 1839, and in between 1838—1839 and 2005, Driskill has writ­ten a dou­ble-woven nar­ra­tive. The ten­sion between pain and plea­sure, the lover left behind and the lover who makes space for that loss, the loss of “every­thing that/taught you love” (Driskill 56) and rewrit­ing those Chero­kee log­ics of land and love in English—these ten­sions are held on to and root­ed in the poet­ic space (rather than time) of the page.

This is con­firmed by what Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry says to Driskill ear­li­er in the poem: “I don’t expect you to forget/only to love me as well” (Driskill 56). This sig­nals a spe­cif­ic mode of love that Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry cre­ates for Driskill in the rest of the poem, which resists the set­tler demand for Driskill to for­get and turn the page on being “dri­ven away/taken from every­thing that/taught you love.” “I know” is Indi­an Territory’s recog­ni­tion of the vio­lence Driskill has expe­ri­enced; this love has space on the page for Driskill’s grief and loss along with com­fort and plea­sure: “This is home now.” There­fore, “Hush/This is home now” is not an echo of set­tler dic­tates that the Chero­kee turn the page on Ten­nessee; rather, these vers­es are Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry ask­ing Driskill to allow and enable them­selves to grieve, heal, and make home again with Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. This is how Driskill weaves anoth­er nar­ra­tive in an act of lit­er­ary sov­er­eign­ty: this poem is a liv­ing archive of Chero­kee log­ics of land, love, and lit­er­ary cre­ation. The marks Driskill has made on the page are locat­ed with­in Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy in which space is cen­tered rather than time. Driskill does not deny the effects of set­tler vio­lence on the Chero­kee but they do not sur­ren­der to that vio­lence either; instead, they mark both grief and sur­vival through the marks on the pages of this poem.

Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry both bear wit­ness to the Trail of Tears and to Chero­kee resis­tance to set­tler colo­nial­ism, and their tes­ti­mo­ny is mem­o­ry as embod­ied expe­ri­ence. Here in a poet­ic space pro­duced through Chero­kee lit­er­ary log­ics, mem­o­ry is not cor­doned off from his­to­ry as the per­son­al cor­doned from polit­i­cal through the bina­ries of the het­ero­sex­u­al matrix (Rifkin 25-31), and the trau­ma of set­tler vio­lence is not sealed in a fin­ished past accord­ing to lin­ear time. Mem­o­ry is felt and liv­ing in the bod­ies of Ten­nessee, Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, and Driskill.


This mem­o­ry is of Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy, locat­ed in Ten­nessee and in the rela­tion­ship between the Chero­kee and Ten­nessee. This knowl­edge is of land as per­son in Chero­kee sys­tems of thought so that land is not a fun­gi­ble object or prop­er­ty or dead space upon which nation­hood and state­hood is ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized. Instead, land is a per­son with whom the Chero­kee are in a rela­tion­ship of mutu­al recog­ni­tion and respect. Chero­kee nation­hood as a col­lec­tiv­i­ty includes their home­land as a per­son rather than ter­ra nul­lius (Wolfe 147).

This is the knowl­edge that the U.S. set­tler state “tried to/erase” (Driskill 56) to enable the alien­ation and com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of body and land. This era­sure requires that Ten­nessee be silent, that is, that Ten­nessee become a thing rather than a speak­ing sub­ject. When the U.S. set­tler state “for­bade me to speak your name” (Driskill 56), this pro­hi­bi­tion is of the per­son­hood of Tennessee—the Chero­kee are for­bid­den from speak­ing Tennessee’s name as the name of a per­son in Chero­kee. This artic­u­la­tion would be an asser­tion of Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty because Chero­kee nation­hood is based in the mutu­al per­son­hood of the Chero­kee and Ten­nessee, and in the rela­tion­ship between them. These log­ics of “col­lec­tiv­i­ty and forms of sociospa­tial­i­ty” (Rifkin 23) are tar­get­ed for destruc­tion and dis­missal by the set­tler state in order to erase and replace Indige­nous nations on the land of the Amer­i­c­as and trans­form the land into a fun­gi­ble object and sov­er­eign ter­ri­to­ry of the U.S.

A key mech­a­nism by which the per­son­hood of land is denied in set­tler log­ics is metaphor as a lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mat­i­cal func­tion. Metaphor is a cru­cial com­po­nent of the epis­te­mol­o­gy and ontol­ogy of set­tler colo­nial­ism, which is pro­duced and repro­duced in and through lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars as set­tler gram­mars of place (Goe­man 235-238). Goe­man and Rifkin have argued that set­tler-colo­nial tax­onomies of time and place recon­fig­ure rela­tion­ships between body and land by enact­ing an alien­ation between them. Land and body are recon­fig­ured as prop­er­ty and com­mod­i­ty (Goe­man 24-28) while, as Rifkin argues, body as “phys­i­cal­i­ty, inter-sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is cor­doned off” (Rifkin 28) with­in the cat­e­go­ry of the per­son­al. Metaphor in Eng­lish is the liken­ing of two things locat­ed in dif­fer­ent con­cep­tu­al domains; thus it is through metaphor that set­tlers sep­a­rate land and body into two dif­fer­ent con­cep­tu­al domains so that each can then be objec­ti­fied and com­mod­i­fied accord­ing to colo­nial and cap­i­tal­ist desires and tech­nolo­gies. Metaphor is a cru­cial lit­er­ary and visu­al mech­a­nism of how set­tler struc­tures alien­ate land and body from each oth­er in order to objec­ti­fy and com­mod­i­fy both.

It is also there­fore not a coin­ci­dence that decol­o­niza­tion is used as a metaphor in the set­tler colo­nial con­text of the U.S. to erase the real­i­ties of both set­tler colo­nial­ism and decol­o­niza­tion. In “Decol­o­niza­tion is Not a Metaphor,” Eve Tuck (Unan­gax) and K. Wayne Yang show that decol­o­niza­tion is often used as a metaphor and/or a syn­onym for social jus­tice, civ­il rights, and human rights. They argue that decol­o­niza­tion is not com­men­su­rable with these goals in the set­tler-colo­nial con­text of the U.S. because decol­o­niza­tion is first and most impor­tant­ly about a repa­tri­a­tion of land to Indige­nous peo­ples. There­fore, decol­o­niza­tion is not, and can­not be, a metaphor (1-40).

This set­tler deploy­ment of metaphor is what Driskill refus­es in “Love Poems: 1838—1839” by writ­ing land and body from with­in the same con­cep­tu­al domain and cen­ter­ing land as the basis of their epis­temic frame­work (Coulthard 79-83). The sur­vival of Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy is marked in Driskill’s writ­ing because they write Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as poet­ic tex­tu­al voic­es sig­ni­fy­ing their per­son­hood. In oth­er words, Driskill writes Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as peo­ple. This is an act of lit­er­ary sov­er­eign­ty because Driskill writes the per­son­hood of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in Eng­lish by nam­ing them as the subjects—rather than objects—of the poem and as poet­ic speak­ing voices.

Let me reit­er­ate and clar­i­fy: this is not anthro­po­mor­phism where­by an object, ani­mal, or divine being is giv­en human char­ac­ter­is­tics. Rather, Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry are peo­ple: poet­ic tex­tu­al sub­jects who speak. Both speak to Driskill direct­ly through the use of the word “you” and the poem is from their point of view. Driskill cen­ters Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as sub­jects by using “I,” “who,” “me,” and “my,” which are words in Eng­lish that denote a per­son as a speak­ing sub­ject. Ten­nessee asks, “What was left behind?” (Driskill 56), and tes­ti­fies to the vio­lence of the set­tler state: “(Did you know they tried to/erase you, for­bade me to/speak your name?”). Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry asks, “Who gave your body/back to you?” (Driskill 57), and acknowl­edges Driskill’s trau­ma: “I know you were dri­ven away/taken from every­thing that/taught you love” (56). Land is a liv­ing enti­ty as much as Driskill and the Chero­kee are. The read­er must read (see) Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as peo­ple here where here is poet­ic space mapped accord­ing to Chero­kee lit­er­ary and visu­al log­ics in which land is mapped as person.

This act of lit­er­ary sov­er­eign­ty is par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant in the case of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry: “Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry” is the name of the geo­graph­ic loca­tion to which the U.S. set­tler state forcibly moved the Chero­kee dur­ing what is now known as the Trail of Tears. It is a name, there­fore, giv­en to the land by the set­tler state and the pur­pose of the name as mark­ing the prop­er­ty of the U.S. is evi­dent in the name: “Indi­an” as the fig­ure of the Indi­an who must be dis­ap­peared from the land, and “Ter­ri­to­ry” is the land as the area under the juris­dic­tion of a state. The lat­ter also denotes the injus­tice yet to come after 1839: the state­hood of Okla­homa. “Ter­ri­to­ry” is also defined as an orga­nized divi­sion of a coun­try not yet admit­ted to full rights of a state. It is no coin­ci­dence that this def­i­n­i­tion of “ter­ri­to­ry” is applic­a­ble to the U.S., Cana­da, New Zealand, or Australia—all set­tler-colo­nial states. This is because each state is found­ed upon the land mapped as ter­ri­to­ry through the geno­cide of Indige­nous nations and their mate­r­i­al and epis­temic rela­tion­ships to their homelands.

Driskill crafts their sur­vival and defi­ance as a Chero­kee Two-Spir­it per­son by writ­ing Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as per­son in Eng­lish by reject­ing the rules of Eng­lish gram­mar. Land and body are not metaphors for each oth­er in this poem, which is used to alien­ate land and body from each oth­er through “lit­er­al­iz­ing legal nar­ra­tives of land as fun­gi­ble object” (Rifkin 72). Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as a set­tler-colo­nial car­to­graph­ic inven­tion can­not con­tain who Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is and what Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry means to Driskill in Chero­kee log­ics of land, body, and subjectivity.

This per­son­hood is reaf­firmed through Driskill’s descrip­tion of the bod­ies of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. Ten­nessee reminds Driskill of their “arms, mus­cled rivers/you came to/each morn­ing,” while Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry tells Driskill to “Love the wind­ing trails to my belly/the val­leys at my ster­num” (Driskill 56). The topog­ra­phy of land is writ­ten there­fore as the topog­ra­phy of body, reaf­firm­ing both the per­son­hood of land and the def­i­n­i­tion of body and land through each oth­er, in Chero­kee log­ics. This is high­light­ed by words Driskill uses to mark the per­son­hood of land: Tennessee’s arms are not like mus­cled rivers; the skin and mus­cle of Indi­an Territory’s bel­ly are not like wind­ing trails; and their ster­num does not dip like a val­ley. There are no metaphors here. The read­er can­not see (read) Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as objects or land­scapes. Ten­nessee, Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, and Driskill are sub­jects locat­ed in the poet­ic space Driskill has remapped accord­ing to the “dark syl­la­bles” of Chero­kee log­ics of land and body.

It is in these log­ics and rela­tion­ships that Chero­kee forms of sociospa­tial­i­ty and nation­hood are locat­ed. This is why land and body are cru­cial epis­temic cat­e­gories tar­get­ed by the set­tler state for mate­r­i­al and epis­temic destruc­tion (Miran­da 253-284). The Chero­kee are forcibly removed from Ten­nessee both because the U.S. set­tler state desires the accu­mu­la­tion of land as ter­ri­to­ry and prop­er­ty, and because Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy is ground­ed in their home­lands and their rela­tion­ship with their home­land as a person.

It is there­fore in the space of these pages remapped accord­ing to Chero­kee lit­er­ary and visu­al log­ics that Driskill locates and marks their def­i­n­i­tion of land, body, and social­i­ty. The marks they make on these pages make the space mat­ter. Poet­ic space here becomes a sacred geog­ra­phy (Byrd 118) through an asser­tion of Chero­kee lit­er­ary and visu­al sov­er­eign­ty. This mat­ters because visu­al and lit­er­ary gram­mars are part of the metapo­lit­i­cal force deployed by set­tler states against Indige­nous nations to dis­place, dis­avow, and/or dis­as­sem­ble (Rifkin 23) their log­ics of land, body, and nation­hood. The dis­rup­tion of Indige­nous rela­tion­ships to land is “a pro­found epis­temic, onto­log­i­cal, cos­mo­log­i­cal vio­lence” (Tuck and Yang 5).


The rela­tion­ship between Driskill, Ten­nessee, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry that set­tler vio­lence dis­rupts is the rela­tion­ship between lovers. In oth­er words, Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry are not peo­ple who are strangers—they are lands as sub­jects or peo­ple defined as such through the frame­work of love and a lov­ing rela­tion­ship with Driskill and the Chero­kee. Thus the frame­work of Chero­kee sociospa­tial­i­ty is one of lovers which is a specif­i­cal­ly Chero­kee ethics of rela­tion­al­i­ty (Byrd 118).

This high­lights not only the nature of how Chero­kee nation­hood is root­ed in their home­lands, but also under­scores how body, eroti­cism, sex­u­al­i­ty, plea­sure, love, inti­ma­cy are all key cat­e­gories of sov­er­eign­ty. This is why the U.S. set­tler state deploys metapo­lit­i­cal force as a mat­ter of sov­er­eign­ty, that is, the force to deter­mine the terms of leg­i­bil­i­ty of life, which include eroti­cism, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, love, body, and inti­ma­cy. Chero­kee con­cepts, prac­tices, and expe­ri­ence of eroti­cism, love, plea­sure, gen­der, sex, and sex­u­al­i­ty are locat­ed in their home­lands and in their rela­tion­ship to their home­lands as the rela­tion­ship between lovers. The pow­er to deter­mine the mean­ing of these con­cepts, prac­tices, and expe­ri­ence is a mat­ter of sov­er­eign­ty. This is why what Driskill calls erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty matters.

It is these mean­ings which are tar­get­ed for destruc­tion by the U.S. set­tler state through forced removal of the Chero­kee from Ten­nessee. Ten­nessee asks, “What was left behind?” and reminds Driskill that it was “Love formulas/written in dark syllables,/whose incantation/undulated/like our tongues” (Driskill 56). The word “for­mu­la” refers to math­e­mat­i­cal rela­tion­ships expressed in sym­bols or meth­ods for doing some­thing; hence, the for­mu­las of love that Driskill was forced to leave behind are Chero­kee sym­bols and prac­tices of eroti­cism, sex, inti­ma­cy, plea­sure. This is empha­sized by Driskill’s use of the word “syl­la­ble,” which refers to units of pro­nun­ci­a­tion or the sounds of how to love—the con­struc­tion of lan­guage itself, rather than only a mat­ter of trans­la­tion. The words “for­mu­la” and “syl­la­ble” sig­nal more than dif­fer­ent words for love, sex, and inti­ma­cy; rather, they sig­nal the con­struc­tion of the sys­tems of under­stand­ing and artic­u­la­tion that cre­ate those words and how those words sound and what they mean. It is Ten­nessee as land and lover who taught Driskill love (Driskill 56).

This is why it is not just what was left behind, but also who and where: Ten­nessee. Ten­nessee is the land (where) that was left behind and the lover (who) that was left behind. Forced removal from Ten­nessee also meant leav­ing behind Chero­kee con­cepts, vocab­u­lar­ies, and prac­tices for eroti­cism, love, sex­u­al­i­ty, and plea­sure. As Tuck and Yang argue, “Geopol­i­tics and biopol­i­tics are com­plete­ly knot­ted togeth­er in a set­tler colo­nial con­text” (35) pre­cise­ly because sex­u­al­i­ty, love, and inti­ma­cy are key cat­e­gories epis­teemic and mate­r­i­al sites through which set­tler biopow­er is deployed. Sex­u­al­i­ty piv­ots on two poles: indi­vid­ual and pop­u­la­tion both defined through the cat­e­go­ry of body, that is, the body of the indi­vid­ual cit­i­zen and the body politic, which is pop­u­la­tion, which is nation (Fou­cault 135-159). The terms of leg­i­bil­i­ty for both then are mat­ters of sov­er­eign­ty as the pow­er of life and death. This is why gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, love, sex, desire, and pleasure—the erotic—are mat­ters of sov­er­eign­ty and key mech­a­nisms of set­tler biopow­er and necropower.

Driskill asserts erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty in writ­ing Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as their lovers accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics of land, body, and nation­hood and, in writ­ing both, how the U.S. set­tler state tried to destroy these log­ics and relationships.

Ten­nessee is marked as a lover first in the sec­ond verse: “Love formulas/written in dark syllables,/whose incantation/undulated/like our tongues” (Driskill 56). Since this is Ten­nessee speak­ing to Driskill here, the word “our” sig­nals con­tact between Ten­nessee and Driskill. The nature of this con­tact is defined by the visu­al Driskill cre­ates here: “undulated/like our tongues,” which is the visu­al of kiss­ing con­struct­ed through the words “undu­lat­ed” and “our tongues” in which the word “undu­late” refers to a smooth sen­su­ous move­ment, usu­al­ly in time to a rhythm. In oth­er words, this is Ten­nessee and Driskill kiss­ing sensuously.

This kiss is sen­su­ous and that sen­su­ous­ness and this inti­ma­cy also con­tains knowl­edge: along­side their tongues, the word “undu­lat­ed” is also used for the incan­ta­tion or speak­ing of the “dark syl­la­bles” of Chero­kee for­mu­las of love. Thus, speak­ing these words, artic­u­lat­ing these sounds, is like kiss­ing. As Rifkin notes, “Voice here is phys­i­cal­ized as a plea­sur­able entwin­ing with a lover” (72-73). Hence Chero­kee forms and log­ics of inti­ma­cy, plea­sure, and eroti­cism are writ­ten as both prac­tice and words, as both touch and sound. Driskill cre­ates a lit­er­ary and visu­al sen­su­al­i­ty by using the words “undu­late” and “incan­ta­tion”: the word “undu­late” implies not only kiss­ing but also a smooth and rhyth­mic move­ment of bod­ies as in danc­ing, while “incan­ta­tion” sig­nals chant­i­ng and spells in a world of mag­ic. Thus, the “dark syl­la­bles” of Chero­kee for­mu­las of love move like Ten­nessee and Driskill’s “tongues” do, a move­ment of both sound and touch, between body and land. This is how Ten­nessee taught Driskill Chero­kee sys­tems of mean­ing of Indige­nous nation­hood based in land as sto­ried space (Goe­man 24), land as a feel­ing enti­ty (Rifkin 73), and land and body imag­ined, defined, and expe­ri­enced through each oth­er (Rifkin 13-24).

Driskill’s resis­tance to set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al deploy­ment of metaphor to alien­ate body and land is reit­er­at­ed in the fourth verse. The plea­sure, eroti­cism, and love between Driskill and Ten­nessee and the reci­procity of def­i­n­i­tions of body and land in Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy that is ground­ed in that rela­tion­ship is “writ­ten in dark syl­la­bles” (Driskill 56): “My arms, mus­cled rivers/you came to/each morn­ing” (Driskill 56). This is unusu­al imagery on an ele­men­tal lev­el because rivers are liq­uid while mus­cles are solid—yet Driskill is dis­rupt­ing the basis of these ele­men­tal oppo­si­tions in Eng­lish by using this imagery to map the topog­ra­phy of the land of Ten­nessee as the body of Driskill’s lover. Ten­nessee cra­dled Driskill’s body every night; the rivers of the land are the arms of the lover, both strong in and through that rela­tion­ship between Driskill and Ten­nessee. Tennessee’s rivers are arms that cra­dle Driskill but in between the rivers is also the land in topo­graph­ic terms. There­fore, Driskill’s body is also the land of Ten­nessee, so that Ten­nessee and Driskill are defined in and through each oth­er in rec­i­p­ro­cal per­son­hood based in love. The point is pre­cise­ly that, as Lisa Tatonet­ti has argued, “the erot­ic con­se­quent­ly func­tions as body/land matrix” (xxi). Land and body are not metaphors for each oth­er here in this poet­ic space, the sov­er­eign lit­er­ary and visu­al space of the Cherokee.

Tatonetti’s argu­ment that the erot­ic is a the­o­ret­i­cal con­cept that encom­pass­es, “par­tic­u­lar­ly, the expe­ri­ence, artic­u­la­tion, and gen­er­a­tive nature of desire” (xix) is con­firmed with vivid imagery in the sixth verse, in Driskill’s expe­ri­ence of the land as a lover as a gen­er­a­tive expe­ri­ence. The sixth verse has a list of foods: corn, pump­kins, and toma­toes. The descrip­tions of these foods are sen­su­ous and cor­po­re­al: rows of corn “ears sway­ing slight­ly on their stalks” recalls the undu­la­tion of Ten­nessee and Driskill’s tongues as they kiss in an ear­li­er verse; the pump­kins are “thick with flesh” and the toma­toes are “swollen with juice” that is “so acidic/they could blis­ter your lips” (Driskill 56). These descrip­tions of both the food and the sen­sate expe­ri­ence of eat­ing them are both sen­su­al and sex­u­al, that is, erot­ic. This rein­forces the notion of land as lover beyond metaphor: the corn, pump­kins, and toma­toes giv­en to Driskill by Ten­nessee is an expe­ri­ence of desire and plea­sure, of sex­u­al inti­ma­cy, and of the erot­ic as gen­er­a­tive. The rela­tion­ship between land and body is one of sen­su­al plea­sure, pro­duced here through the sens­es of touch and taste just as touch and sound is under­lined in the sec­ond verse. Land and body inter­sect to be defined through each as more than metaphor, and this def­i­n­i­tion is of shared cor­po­re­al plea­sure between lovers.

The third verse in paren­the­ses cat­a­logues how the U.S. set­tler state forcibly removed the Chero­kee from their home­lands to use the lands as prop­er­ty and com­mod­i­ty: (“Did you know when you left/they drank every drop?”) (Driskill 57). The word “when” sig­ni­fies how the forced removal of the Chero­kee from Ten­nessee is inte­gral to the found­ing of the U.S. The land of the Amer­i­c­as was not emp­ty; rather, the ori­gin sto­ry of the U.S. is based in the trans­for­ma­tion of land into prop­er­ty and com­mod­i­ty, and the elim­i­na­tion of an ethics of rela­tion­al­i­ty which includes land as the basis of nation­hood. The Chero­kee are removed from Ten­nessee and from their rela­tion­ship to Ten­nessee so that the U.S. state can objec­ti­fy and com­mod­i­fy Ten­nessee. “They drank every drop” (Driskill 57) sig­nals how the U.S. set­tler state drained Ten­nessee of sus­te­nance and nour­ish­ment (corn, toma­toes, pump­kins, for­mu­las, syl­la­bles), which they gave to Driskill as a lover, based on rec­i­p­ro­cal respect and plea­sure between them—the erotics of sov­er­eign­ty and nationhood.

The eighth verse empha­sizes both the sen­so­ry and sen­su­al rela­tion­ship between land and body, and the cor­po­re­al­i­ty of the mem­o­ry of Ten­nessee, which is the mem­o­ry of a Sov­er­eign Erot­ic (Driskill 50-64). “A quilt appliqued with star” (Driskill 57) ref­er­ences a par­tic­u­lar kind of quilt mak­ing, appliqué. This is a needle­work tech­nique in which a pat­tern or scene are cre­at­ed by attach­ing small­er pieces of fab­ric to larg­er pieces of con­trast­ing col­or and/or tex­ture. Thus, tex­tur­al depth and sen­sa­tion is high­light­ed here in the phys­i­cal labour of mak­ing a quilt. The quilt itself is some­thing you wrap around your body. Hence, over time, your body and the appliquéd quilt are, as Ahmed says, impressed upon each oth­er (1-19) so that the sen­sa­tion of the stars appliqued onto the quilt are trans­ferred to Driskill’s body.

It is this sen­sa­tion of these stars that con­tains the mem­o­ry of “the birth of the Milky Way,” (Driskill 57), that is, of Chero­kee knowl­edge of the world. The word “birth” sig­nals the begin­ning of the Milky Way, that is, the uni­verse. Thus the “tac­tile sen­sa­tions of embod­i­ment” (Rifkin 71) present in the appliquéd quilt wrapped around Driskill’s body are embod­ied mem­o­ry of Chero­kee epis­te­molo­gies of the world and rela­tion­ships with­in that world. Mem­o­ry is knowl­edge mapped as sen­su­ous and sen­sa­tion, and is pressed through tex­ture and touch onto Driskill’s body, in the act of Driskill wrap­ping this quilt around their body. The quilt, Ten­nessee, and Driskill are all palimpses­ts of each oth­er, of “pasts and presents that flu­id­ly inter­sect, over­lap, and rearrange through the felt expe­ri­ence of his­to­ry and mem­o­ry” (Tatonet­ti 146). This expe­ri­ence is felt as sen­su­ous and sen­su­al, as erot­ic. As Tatonet­ti argues, “the erot­ic, then, when acknowl­edged, is a decolo­nial imperative—to feel, to remem­ber, to act—that is sit­u­at­ed in the body” (xx).

The cor­po­re­al­i­ty of feel­ing, mem­o­ry, and action is high­light­ed in the last ele­ment of the list of what was left behind: “And your body’s/silhouette/scratched for­ev­er into me” (Driskill 57). This is the sil­hou­ette of Driskill’s body “scratched for­ev­er into” (Driskill 57) Ten­nessee. While the word “me” rein­forces the per­son­hood of Ten­nessee, the word “scratched” indi­cates a more emphat­ic rela­tion between mem­o­ry and body than the visu­al of a quilt. Instead of an appliquéd quilt, the word “scratched” sig­nals the nee­dle used to cre­ate quilts so that this visu­al is of some­thing being sharply scratched or carved into sur­face or mate­r­i­al. As Byrd has argued, “the land both remem­bers life and its loss and serves itself as a mnemon­ic device” (118) and this mem­o­ry is cor­po­re­al through the erot­ic as “body/land matrix” (Tatonet­ti xxi). Thus, the body (politic) of the Chero­kee and the body of Driskill is carved into the body of the land of Ten­nessee: “And your body’s/silhouette/scratched for­ev­er into me” (Driskill 57).

Ten­nessee was left behind because of set­tler vio­lence, both mate­r­i­al and epis­temic, and epis­temic vio­lence made mate­r­i­al. The sec­ond verse in paren­the­ses cat­a­logues this: “(After they seized you/they told me not to touch/anyone again.).” This is Ten­nessee bear­ing wit­ness to the set­tler-colo­nial pro­hi­bi­tion of Chero­kee erotics as sov­er­eign erotics, that is, of Chero­kee knowl­edge and prac­tice of eroti­cism, plea­sure, desire. This is not about the expe­ri­ence of touch but about the abil­i­ty to touch and to be touched, the def­i­n­i­tion of the sense of touch. It is the for­mu­las and syl­la­bles of the sense of touch as eroti­cism, as inti­ma­cy, as rela­tion­ships between Ten­nessee and Driskill that the U.S. set­tler state “tried to erase” (Driskill 56).

This focus on the sense of touch is reit­er­at­ed with the com­mand the U.S. set­tler state issued to Ten­nessee after the forced removal of Driskill from Tennessee’s arms: “they told me not to touch/anyone again” (Driskill 56). The words “not to touch” is where the sen­tence paus­es and breaks, sig­nal­ing and under­lin­ing in visu­al and aur­al ways to the read­er the sen­so­ry and affec­tive force of the set­tler pro­hi­bi­tion of Chero­kee log­ics of body, land, and love. Along­side this, the word “erase” in the first verse in paren­the­ses points to both the role of writ­ing in the destruc­tion of Chero­kee nation­hood, and to the sense of touch: the era­sure of the marks of Chero­kee nation­hood from the land of Ten­nessee, the era­sure of the per­son­hood of Ten­nessee, the era­sure of Driskill’s “body’s silhouette/scratched for­ev­er into” (Driskill 57) Ten­nessee. These log­ics under­pin Chero­kee forms of life and the terms of leg­i­bil­i­ty for life. This is why they are the tar­gets of the U.S. set­tler metapo­lit­i­cal author­i­ty (Rifkin 90), that is, the sov­er­eign right to define the para­me­ters of life and touch as the terms of con­tact and ethics of rela­tion­al­i­ty between them.

I know you were dri­ven away,/taken from every­thing that/taught you love,” Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry tells Driskill, acknowl­edg­ing that they were dri­ven away from their home­land. As Driskill writes in, “Stolen from Our Bod­ies,” “I have not only been removed from my home­lands, I have also been removed from my erot­ic self and con­tin­ue a jour­ney back to my first home­land: my body” (53). As I have argued above, the body is a cru­cial site for set­tler-colo­nial biopow­er and necrop­ow­er and cat­e­gories of gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, desire, and sex are key mech­a­nisms by which a body—individual and collective—is defined. This is why def­i­n­i­tions and prac­tices of the erot­ic are, as Tatonet­ti argues, “not sim­ply tied to but actu­al­ly con­sti­tu­tive of sov­er­eign­ty and Indige­nous nation­hood” (xvi­ii).

Along­side writ­ing Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as their lovers, Driskill marks the erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty of the Chero­kee on these pages in two oth­er impor­tant ways that focus on the body as the first home­land from which the Chero­kee have been forcibly removed by the U.S. set­tler state.

Driskill does not use gen­dered pro­nouns to write Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. This means that the read­er can­not read (see) either poet­ic voice as gen­dered. This is a dis­rup­tion of the lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars of set­tler colo­nial­ism as het­eropa­tri­ar­chal gram­mars (Mor­gensen 31-54). As I have dis­cussed above, lin­ear time is key to the set­tler epis­temic alien­ation of body and land, and is deployed as a biopo­lit­i­cal and necrop­o­lit­i­cal mech­a­nism. The nature of this biopo­lit­i­cal and necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy is gen­dered and sex­u­al­ized as heteropatriarchal.

In When Did Indi­ans Become Straight? Kin­ship, the His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty, and Native Sov­er­eign­ty, Rifkin argues that het­eropa­tri­archy has been piv­otal for “insert­ing Native peo­ples into struc­tures of set­tle­ment” (29) and the destruc­tion of Native sociospa­tial­i­ty (Rifkin 5). The terms of leg­i­bil­i­ty of life in the U.S. are deter­mined through the het­ero­sex­u­al matrix, which marks land and body as objects, het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty as nor­ma­tive, gen­der as bina­ry and the orga­ni­za­tion of life as per­son­al and polit­i­cal accord­ing to that bina­ry. These log­ics under­pin the het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty of eroti­cism (Driskill 50-64) in which body and sex become objects with­in sex­u­al­i­ty as a set­tler regime of truth (Mor­gensen 1-30), and sex­u­al love, desire, and plea­sure (feel­ings) are rel­e­gat­ed to the gen­dered and racial­ized realm of the indi­vid­ual and the per­son as sep­a­rate from the col­lec­tive and the pub­lic (Driskill 50-64).

Gen­der is a key com­po­nent of set­tler use of metaphor to alien­ate land from body and objec­ti­fy them both. As McClin­tock explains, land is trans­formed into prop­er­ty through the lit­er­ary and visu­al notion of vir­gin land and/or the fem­i­nized body which is then occu­pied and owned by impe­r­i­al forces (21-74). This is not coin­ci­den­tal, for as Morgensen’s work shows, dom­i­nant Amer­i­can modes of sex­u­al­i­ty are deter­mined by set­tler colo­nial­ism, that is, sex­u­al­i­ty as a regime of truth in the U.S. is a set­tler sex­u­al­i­ty (1-30). This piv­ots on the def­i­n­i­tion of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty through the het­ero­sex­u­al matrix that cre­ates gen­der as a bina­ry and locates the two com­po­nents of that bina­ry (mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine) in oppo­site con­cep­tu­al domains in a move rem­i­nis­cent of metaphor. I argue that the deploy­ment of metaphor to alien­ate land and body is there­fore a sex­u­al and gen­dered deploy­ment from the start, and is key to how land and body are objec­ti­fied and com­mod­i­fied by set­tler-colo­nial struc­tures. The sov­er­eign­ty of the U.S. includes sex­u­al­i­ty and it is a set­tler sex­u­al­i­ty because it is defined, as Mor­gensen argues, “by attempt­ing to replace Native kin­ship, embod­i­ment, and desire” (23) with “the het­eropa­tri­ar­chal sex­u­al moder­ni­ty exem­plary of white set­tler soci­ety” (ibid).

Lit­er­ary and visu­al cul­tures are impor­tant sites and tech­nolo­gies for the con­struc­tion and deploy­ment of set­tler colo­nial epis­te­molo­gies of body and land. Miran­da demon­strates that Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors first tar­get­ed mem­bers of Indige­nous nations for vio­lent pun­ish­ment (includ­ing death) whom they could not see (read) as either men or women accord­ing to the het­ero­nor­ma­tive visu­al cul­tures of Spain (253-284). Mor­gensen points out that Span­ish, French, and British colonists used the cat­e­go­ry of “berdache” to denote Indige­nous peo­ples who did not con­form to their het­ero­nor­ma­tive forms of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty. Berdache is an Ori­en­tal­ist term that was used to “con­demn Mid­dle East­ern and Mus­lim men as racial ene­mies of Chris­t­ian civ­i­liza­tion” (Mor­gensen 36) on the basis that their sex­u­al prac­tices and desires trans­gressed sex­u­al moral­i­ty and nor­ma­tiv­i­ty, which was always already marked as het­ero­sex­u­al. This became a word in set­tler and colo­nial archives which U.S. anthro­pol­o­gists con­tin­ued using until the 1970s when the con­cern and objec­tion of Indige­nous aca­d­e­mics and activists began to be reg­is­tered on a more vis­i­ble scale (Mor­gensen 55-90). These words were used to locate Indige­nous peo­ple in anachro­nis­tic space as a tem­po­ral moment before white het­eropa­tri­ar­chal moder­ni­ty that is, as sav­age and prim­i­tive on a lin­ear line of glob­al and uni­ver­sal civ­i­liza­tion­al time (Goe­man 23-34). This jus­ti­fied set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence as a civ­i­liza­tion­al mission—the mythol­o­gy of the touch of the Unit­ed States with Indige­nous nations as the civ­il and moral con­tact between a civ­i­lized nation and a sav­age peo­ple who are there­fore exclud­ed from the cat­e­go­ry of per­son and thus of nation. Set­tler and colo­nial archives as writ­ten records were used to erase Indige­nous nations by cast­ing them as relics of a com­plet­ed Amer­i­can past and then as exot­ic inspi­ra­tion com­mod­i­fied for an excep­tion­al Amer­i­can present and future (Mor­gensen 31-54).

Driskill’s refusal to mark them­selves, Ten­nessee, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry with the cat­e­gories of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty in set­tler regimes of truth also resists the col­lapse of rela­tion­ships, acts, bod­ies desires, and prac­tices are col­lapsed into one anoth­er as cat­e­gories of sin­gu­lar (as lin­ear) iden­ti­ties in set­tler epis­te­mol­o­gy. This col­lapse is pro­duced through a visu­al gram­mar deter­mined by the het­ero­sex­u­al matrix which is always already part of a set­tler-colo­nial struc­ture. Sex­u­al and gen­der deviance is marked through the fig­ure of the Indi­an as part of the visu­al gram­mar of the U.S. set­tler state and nation. The emer­gence of this visu­al gram­mar can be his­tori­cized with­in and along­side the emer­gence of biopow­er and necropower—both of which are modes of pow­er which arise in the con­text of set­tler colo­nial­ism. This visu­al gram­mar is thus a biopo­lit­i­cal and necrop­o­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy of set­tler-colo­nial metapo­lit­i­cal force.

Driskill’s refusal to use gen­dered pro­nouns in a poem about eroti­cism, sex, desire, and love there­fore does cru­cial decol­o­niz­ing work: topog­ra­phy of land is topog­ra­phy of body as the body of a lover who touch­es Driskill: Tennessee’s “arms, mus­cled rivers/you came to/each morn­ing” (Driskill 56) and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry “com­fort­ed you/as you hugged knees to your/bruised body” (56). This is erot­ic touch and plea­sure as a decolo­nial imper­a­tive (Tatonet­ti xx) because these are def­i­n­i­tions of body and land and forms of col­lec­tiv­i­ty not deter­mined by het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty. In oth­er words, per­son­hood is not deter­mined through the het­ero­sex­u­al matrix, and land and body are not alien­at­ed through het­eropa­tri­ar­chal log­ics deployed at the inter­stices of biopow­er (Mor­gensen 1-54) and necrop­ow­er (Miran­da 253-284).

It is from the mem­o­ry of Chero­kee log­ics of the erot­ic as a prax­is and as a con­cept that denotes the “expe­ri­ence, artic­u­la­tion, and gen­er­a­tive nature of desire” (Tatonet­ti xix) that Driskill re-marks the per­son­hood of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and their rela­tion­ship to the land of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as a lover, accord­ing to the for­mu­las, syl­la­bles, and incan­ta­tions of Chero­kee log­ics of body, land, and eroti­cism which Ten­nessee taught them. Driskill rewrites (lit­er­ary) and remaps (visu­al) Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in defi­ance of how the U.S. set­tler state “tried to erase you/forbade me to/speak your name” (Driskill 56).

Ten­nessee is the lover from whom the Chero­kee were forcibly removed dur­ing the Trail of Tears, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is the lover whom the Chero­kee found. The first thing Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry tells Driskill is “I know you were dri­ven away/taken from every­thing that/taught you love” (Driskill 56). This is Indi­an Territory’s imme­di­ate and direct acknowl­edg­ment of Driskill’s trau­ma of forced removal from Ten­nessee. Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry also refus­es to obey set­tler dic­tates to for­get this loss through era­sure and silence: “I don’t expect you to for­get” (Driskill 56). Indi­an Territory—as land, as lover—has made space for Driskill’s grief and loss at the forced removal that the US set­tler state would erase and for­bid Driskill from remem­ber­ing. This space is in direct defi­ance of the U.S. set­tler state’s lit­er­ary and visu­al com­mand to turn the page on Ten­nessee through set­tler time as lin­ear time. Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry makes space for Driskill’s grief with­in their rela­tion­ship as lovers so that this acknowl­edge­ment is part of the ethics of rela­tion­al­i­ty between Driskill and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is the lover who has made space for Driskill’s trau­ma and grief so that they do not have to for­get in the land of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry where the Chero­kee have been forced to relo­cate. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant because, as I have dis­cussed ear­li­er, Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is the name giv­en to this land by the U.S. state in order to con­tain the Chero­kee. Yet Driskill as a Chero­kee Two-Spir­it poet remaps the mean­ings of this name accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics of body and land.

The read­er must read (see) the words and sen­tences by both poet­ic tex­tu­al voic­es in the same poet­ic space simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Indeed, the words spo­ken by Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry are locat­ed on the space of the page in rela­tion to each oth­er through place­ment, punc­tu­a­tion, and line breaks so that the words spo­ken by each move into the other’s space. Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry share this poet­ic space across time (1838 and 1839) and this col­lec­tiv­i­ty (nation­hood) is locat­ed in this space. This means that Ten­nessee is not for­got­ten and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is not ignored, so that both are impor­tant for the sur­vival and con­tin­u­ance of the Chero­kee. Driskill’s grief of removal from Ten­nessee is marked along­side the com­fort pro­vid­ed by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in this poet­ic space shared between the three lovers.

This is con­firmed by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry: “I don’t expect you to forget/only to love me as well” (Driskill 56). Set­tler lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars of lin­ear­i­ty and sin­gu­lar­i­ty of form of feel­ing are refused here: Driskill does not have to for­get Ten­nessee in 1838 to love Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in 1839, so that grief is present in the same poet­ic space as love. Indeed, Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry has made space for Driskill’s grief with­in the space of their love. The love between Ten­nessee, Driskill, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is there­fore not defined accord­ing to set­tler def­i­n­i­tions of love, desire, and rela­tion­ships as lin­ear as sin­gu­lar, that is, as both het­ero­sex­u­al and monog­a­mous. Their rela­tion­ship is not marked by sin­gu­lar straight line of set­tler time. Rather, it is in this poet­ic space mapped accord­ing to Chero­kee lit­er­ary and visu­al log­ics that all three poet­ic tex­tu­al pres­ences are marked here. It is the cen­ter­ing of space rather than time (Coulthard 79-83), as per Chero­kee log­ics of nation­hood, that makes these pres­ences pos­si­ble on these pages.

This non-het­ero­nor­ma­tive erot­ic as an ethics of rela­tion­al­i­ty is high­light­ed in the third and fourth vers­es. The third verse is two words: “Love me” (Driskill 56). The use of two words and a peri­od as punc­tu­a­tion sig­nals Indi­an Territory’s insis­tence on the love between them and Driskill. This is not a form and prac­tice of love that com­pels Driskill to for­get Ten­nessee through lin­ear as sin­gu­lar and het­ero­nor­ma­tive time. It is a rep­e­ti­tion of the sec­ond verse: “love me as well” (56), which high­lights sur­vival: Driskill has sur­vived set­tler vio­lence though it is not a tri­umphant sur­vival, in par­tic­u­lar because set­tler vio­lence is ongo­ing. Indeed, the ten­sion between Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is sym­bol­ized by the third vers­es each speak in this spe­cif­ic point on the page:

(Did you know they tried to/
erase you, for­bade me to
speak your name?)
Love me.

How­ev­er, this ten­sion is held onto here in this poet­ic space as Chero­kee lit­er­ary and visu­al space and Indi­an Territory’s insis­tence sym­bol­ized by rep­e­ti­tion is a mark of a defi­ant sur­vival of the Chero­kee. The two words Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry speaks to Driskill locat­ed in the space between is a request that Driskill make space for them in the col­lec­tiv­i­ty of Chero­kee nation­hood the way Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry has made space for Driskill.

This reci­procity as part of a Sov­er­eign Erot­ic as gen­er­a­tive desire which is non-het­ero­nor­ma­tive and col­lec­tive is empha­sized in the fourth verse: “Love the wind­ing trails to me/belly/the val­leys at my sternum/the way I slope towards you like/promise” (Driskill 56). These words by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry are locat­ed next to the words by Ten­nessee about the topogra­phies of their bod­ies as topogra­phies of Driskill’s lovers so that the read­er must read (see) both the “arms, mus­cled rivers” of Ten­nessee and the “wind­ing trails to my/belly/the val­leys at my ster­num” (Driskill 56) of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. This is, then, a cor­po­re­al­i­ty and sen­su­al­i­ty shared between Ten­nessee, Driskill, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry in the poet­ic space of the page. This sen­su­al­i­ty is not cor­doned off from mem­o­ry and grief and sur­vival. Rather, this sen­su­al­i­ty marks mem­o­ry, grief, and sur­vival on these pages in the bod­ies of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry mapped here as the bod­ies of Driskill’s lovers.

This mem­o­ry is felt in the res­o­nances between these topogra­phies: the poet­ic note of the way Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry moves towards Driskill in a sin­u­ous and sen­su­ous move­ment, that is, “the way I slope towards you” (Driskill 56), which recalls the undu­la­tion of Ten­nessee and Driskill’s tongues as they kissed. And as with Ten­nessee, land as lover and erot­ic touch between Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and Driskill con­tains knowl­edge: “the way I slope towards you like/promise” (56). The word “promise” has mul­ti­ple mean­ings, includ­ing “assur­ance,” “pos­si­bil­i­ty,” and “pledge.” All three mean­ings are rel­e­vant here because it is this verse that sig­nals the begin­ning of a heal­ing process for Driskill through a Sov­er­eign Erot­ic as prax­is. It is in and through the erot­ic touch and expe­ri­ence that Driskill’s will begin to heal and make a home again, pre­cise­ly because this is a Sov­er­eign Erot­ic, that is, eroti­cism as a Chero­kee log­ic of body, land, and love. In this love, there is space for grief and loss along­side plea­sure and joy, which are held onto togeth­er (Driskill 69-92).

It is these forms of feel­ing and “dimen­sions of peo­ple­hood that do not reg­is­ter in the archive of set­tler gov­er­nance” (Rifkin 71), and which the U.S. set­tler state tries con­tin­u­ous­ly to erase and for­bid through vio­lent force. This Sov­er­eign Erot­ic as memory—of Chero­kee nation­hood, of log­ics of land and body, and of the trau­ma of set­tler violence—is what the U.S. set­tler state tar­gets for era­sure and silence through the deploy­ment of lin­ear time, to “erase and bury Indige­nous con­nec­tions to place and anaes­thetize set­tler colo­nial his­to­ries” (Goe­man 24). The erot­ic encom­pass­es “genealo­gies of sen­sa­tion, var­ied for dif­fer­ent peo­ples, that trace how peo­ple­hood inheres in forms of feel­ing” (Rifkin 4).

The erot­ic as mem­o­ry and knowl­edge is empha­sized in the four vers­es spo­ken by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. These vers­es are Indi­an Territory’s promise made mate­r­i­al on these pages as marks of a form of a sen­su­ous and sen­su­al love that is not lin­ear, not sin­gu­lar, not restrict­ed and con­tained to the realm of per­son­al only (Driskill 52). Here, Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry marks both the effects of set­tler vio­lence on Driskill and Chero­kee log­ics and prac­tices of love, inti­ma­cy, and sex­u­al­i­ty, which are ground­ed in the body of land as body of lover.

The first verse is, “Who com­fort­ed you/as you hugged knees to your/bruised body?” (Driskill 56) This verse is locat­ed across from Tennessee’s tes­ti­mo­ny of the vio­lence of how the U.S. set­tler state “seized you” (Driskill 56)—and the bruis­es on Driskill’s body con­firm this vio­lence. It is this con­fir­ma­tion that the read­er must nec­es­sar­i­ly read (see) in these vers­es togeth­er as the method and effect of set­tler vio­lence. Driskill’s body is bruised with the vio­lence of the forced removal and their pos­ture indi­cates how Driskill tries to pro­tect their body dur­ing this vio­lence, but they “hugged knees to your/bruised body,” which is also a visu­al of some­one try­ing to hold them­selves togeth­er after a trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence. Set­tler vio­lence leaves bruis­es on the bod­ies of the Chero­kee that con­tain fear and sor­row along­side pain. Pain is marked on the bod­ies of the Chero­kee through the bruis­es and the trans­for­ma­tion of their bod­ies into this posi­tion of sor­row and of iso­la­tion. The iso­la­tion of this grief and loss to the realm of feel­ings through the metapo­lit­i­cal bina­ry between polit­i­cal and per­son­al is, as Rifkin and Driskill have demon­strat­ed, a biopo­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy deployed by the US set­tler state to seal both the Chero­kee, this vio­lence, and these effects, in the past as fin­ished – the turn of the page.


Along­side this pain and grief there is also plea­sure and joy in this erot­ic space made by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry for Driskill and in the rela­tion­ship between Driskill and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as lovers: the four vers­es that begin with “Who” are also a lit­er­ary and visu­al map of erot­ic touch and pleasure—including orgasm--shared by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and Driskill.

The first verse recounts not only Driskill’s pain but also how Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry touched them because they were in pain: the word “com­fort­ed” (Driskill 56) con­notes gen­tle­ness and sup­port, made mate­r­i­al in the touch of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. The sec­ond verse con­tin­ues this touch: “Who laid you down/covered you with kiss­es” (56), in which gen­tle­ness and sup­port are incor­po­rat­ed into an erot­ic touch so that Driskill expe­ri­ences the sen­sa­tion of the bruis­es along­side the sen­sa­tion of the kiss­es. Both sen­sa­tions are present in a par­al­lel to how Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry are present. Driskill’s body is marked by both bruis­es and kiss­es, and this simul­tane­ity is marked on the page in this verse:

Who laid you down, cov­ered you
        with kisses
as you cried,
“My bones shriek like trains
filled with Nations!”

The read­er must there­fore read (see) both, which means that pain and grief are not for­got­ten or erased by Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry as they lay Driskill down and cov­er them with kiss­es. That Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry cov­ers Driskill with kiss­es as erot­ic touch denotes an Indige­nous defi­ance of the U.S. set­tler state’s com­mand: “they told me not to touch/anyone again” (Driskill 56). Driskill and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry touch accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics of love, sex­u­al­i­ty, inti­ma­cy as log­ics of body and land after the Chero­kee were forced to leave Ten­nessee and their kiss­es behind.

Plea­sure is indi­cat­ed in the first two lines of this verse: “Who laid you down, cov­ered you/with kiss­es” (Driskill 56). These are the inti­mate, plea­sur­able acts of a lover; thus this visu­al rein­forces the per­son­hood of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and the rela­tion­ship between them and Driskill as defined by Chero­kee epistemology.

Pain is indi­cat­ed in the last two lines of this verse: “My bones shriek like trains/filled with Nations!” The third line of this verse is what con­nect the first two (of plea­sure) and the last two (of pain): “as you cried” (Driskill 56). This sen­tence con­notes plea­sure and pain as two nar­ra­tives being dou­ble-woven (Driskill 73-74) in this verse, specif­i­cal­ly through the words “as” and “cry”: the for­mer sig­nals the sin­gu­lar moment in which there is both plea­sure and pain, while the lat­ter can denote cries of both pain and/or plea­sure. It is pre­cise­ly in the and/or that the work of dou­ble-weav­ing of these two modes of expe­ri­ence and feel­ing is locat­ed, in this moment of erot­ic touch and sex­u­al inti­ma­cy between Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and Driskill.

This is under­scored in the sev­enth verse in which Driskill reach­es a sex­u­al climax:

Who held you as you con­vulsed “My body is an open-mouthed moan!”

This is because of the acts of erot­ic inti­ma­cy mapped in the pre­vi­ous three vers­es and the spe­cif­ic words Driskill uses here: the words “con­vulse” and “open-mouthed moan” (Driskill 57) con­note extreme plea­sure, that is, an orgasm. How­ev­er, con­vul­sions can be described as pow­er­ful, invol­un­tary con­trac­tions of mus­cles, so this can indi­cate pain as well. Both plea­sure and pain can, in oth­er words, cause the body to con­vulse. This simul­tane­ity of mean­ing is also locat­ed in the word “moan,” which denotes a low sound that can sig­ni­fy both pain and sex­u­al plea­sure. In fact, this is exact­ly what is hap­pen­ing in this verse: this is Driskill’s expe­ri­ence of the pain of set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence and the plea­sure of sex­u­al ecsta­sy with Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. In addi­tion, the phrase “My body is an open-mouthed moan!” (Driskill 57) denotes this dual­i­ty as an expe­ri­ence beyond and more than metaphor pre­cise­ly through the word “is” rather than “as is” or “like.”

I argue that Driskill has dou­ble-woven two “seem­ing­ly dis­parate” (Driskill 74) modes of feel­ing, that is, plea­sure and pain, into a new nar­ra­tive through the marks they have made on these pages. Both are held onto in this poet­ic space as is the ten­sion between them. I argue that this is an act of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty because Driskill marks both as polit­i­cal. Both sig­nal the effects of set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence, and the sur­vival of the Chero­kee through that vio­lence. Both mark the erot­ic as a source of mem­o­ry and knowl­edge of Chero­kee log­ics of land, body, and desire, which nour­ish­es Chero­kee forms of life and nation. Driskill marks his­tor­i­cal pain and sex­u­al plea­sure in the realm of the polit­i­cal by defy­ing the set­tler metapo­lit­i­cal author­i­ty that would iso­late them both in the bod­ies of the Chero­kee removed from land and removed from nation­hood and erased from the nation­al ter­ri­to­ry of the U.S. Instead, Driskill’s pain is caused by the dis­rup­tion of their rec­i­p­ro­cal and plea­sur­able rela­tion­ship with Ten­nessee. Driskill endures and their plea­sure and joy with Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is locat­ed in Indi­an Territory’s recog­ni­tion of their pain and grief. Thus, pain and plea­sure are marked here as “col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence and, by exten­sion, poten­tial­ly an expe­ri­ence of collectivity—peoplehood” (Rifkin 21).

This lit­er­ary and visu­al map of Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and Driskill hav­ing sex in this poet­ic space that is shared with Ten­nessee is Driskill’s asser­tion of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty in defi­ance of set­tler vio­lence and vio­lent metapo­lit­i­cal force. The poet­ic space of these pages becomes the grounds where Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry “laid you down, cov­ered you/with kiss­es” (Driskill 56) as the same space where Driskill “came to/each morn­ing” in Tennessee’s “arms, mus­cled rivers” (56). Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry is not a replace­ment for Ten­nessee and Ten­nessee is not for­got­ten in Driskill’s rela­tion­ship with Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry. Replace­ment and era­sure are both effects of set­tler log­ics of lin­ear­i­ty and sin­gu­lar­i­ty in lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars that pro­duce and rein­force set­tler epis­te­mol­o­gy. Rather, Driskill remem­bers the for­mu­las, syl­la­bles, and incan­ta­tions that Ten­nessee taught them about land, body, love, sex­u­al­i­ty, and nation­hood and remarks those log­ics in lit­er­ary and visu­al form. The erot­ic, then, is the realm in which Driskill the poet resists and refus­es the set­tler metapo­lit­i­cal author­i­ty (Rifkin 90).

The erot­ic is there­fore a space of plea­sure that is an expe­ri­ence of heal­ing from trau­ma and pain (Driskill 54). Eroti­cism and sex here are not apo­lit­i­cal and ahis­tor­i­cal modes of feel­ing, expe­ri­ence, or artic­u­la­tion, as set­tler-colo­nial log­ics would dic­tate. Rather, sex is defined accord­ing to Chero­kee epis­te­mol­o­gy and the erot­ic is polit­i­cal and pub­lic. The erot­ic as prax­is con­tains mem­o­ry of and space for acknowl­edg­ment of set­tler-colo­nial vio­lence and the trau­ma caused by it. It is also knowl­edge of Chero­kee for­mu­las and syl­la­bles of body, land, sex­u­al­i­ty, and inti­ma­cy. This is Driskill’s asser­tion of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty as an inte­gral com­po­nent of Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty and nationhood.

Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry asks, “Who gave your body/back to you?” (Driskill 57). The pre­vi­ous four vers­es have mapped sex­u­al inti­ma­cy between Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and Driskill. This erot­ic touch is a space of heal­ing from set­tler vio­lence, where there is plea­sure and pain both as Driskill remaps the topogra­phies of the bod­ies of the lands of Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics of land, body, and love.

The words “your body/back to you” (Driskill 57) mark Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty as erot­ic and embod­ied. This sov­er­eign­ty is ground­ed in land and in land as per­son and in land as lover. These are the for­mu­las of Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty, and Driskill marks those dark syl­la­bles in the dark ink of the words on these pages as an Indige­nous archive of mem­o­ry as knowl­edge con­sti­tut­ed by and in the lit­er­ary and visu­al form of this poet­ic space.

Driskill’s recla­ma­tion of lit­er­ary and erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty refus­es set­tler def­i­n­i­tions and car­togra­phies of land and body along with the lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars that pro­duce and repro­duce them. Chero­kee sov­er­eign­ty and nation­hood are ground­ed in their home­land and in their rela­tion­ship to those lands as the rela­tion­ship between lovers. That Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry gives Driskill’s body back to them marks Driskill’s return to their body as the return to land and as the return to Chero­kee nation­hood. This is because “geopol­i­tics and biopol­i­tics are com­plete­ly knot­ted togeth­er in a set­tler colo­nial con­text” (Tuck and Yang 35).

Driskill defines the erot­ic as a space, mode, and tool for Indige­nous sov­er­eign­ty (51-52) pre­cise­ly because set­tler metapo­lit­i­cal author­i­ty recon­fig­ures cat­e­gories and forms of life. This recon­fig­u­ra­tion is based on the alien­ation of body and land so that both can be objec­ti­fied and com­mod­i­fied through lin­ear time. It is mate­ri­al­ized through gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, sex, inti­ma­cy, and feel­ing as key sites and cat­e­gories of set­tler metapo­lit­i­cal author­i­ty as biopow­er and necropower.

Lin­ear time man­i­fests as het­eropa­tri­ar­chal log­ics of sex­u­al­i­ty, gen­der, and space. Lit­er­ary and visu­al cul­tures in set­tler soci­eties repro­duce lin­ear time as set­tler time through ver­ti­cal­i­ty of form and the pro­duc­tion of lit­er­ary and visu­al space as dead space as only back­ground for marks that are made. The erot­ic is con­sti­tu­tive of Indige­nous sov­er­eign­ty and a decolo­nial imper­a­tive pre­cise­ly because gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty are cru­cial necrop­o­lit­i­cal and biopo­lit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies of set­tler colonialism.

Driskill remaps the spaces of these pages as lit­er­ary and visu­al space accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics and nar­rates a sto­ry of decol­o­niza­tion as a sto­ry of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty in which the erot­ic is mem­o­ry and knowl­edge of Chero­kee log­ics and forms of land and body. This return to sto­ries is a return to body, is a return to land. It is in the space and desire, and space as desire, between Ten­nessee, Driskill, and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry that Driskill’s resis­tance to the lit­er­ary and visu­al gram­mars of set­tler colo­nial­ism is located.

The last thing Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry says to Driskill is “You are home./You are home” (Driskill 57). For Driskill, the jour­ney is one of forced removal from their home­lands, of vio­lence, injus­tice, and loss. It has been a jour­ney they can­not retrace to a lover they can­not go back to. The rep­e­ti­tion may be read as reas­sur­ance and comfort—but there is also a final­i­ty, indi­cat­ed by the two peri­ods used as punc­tu­a­tion for each line, which sig­nals Driskill’s loss and grief for Tennessee.

Yet the Chero­kee have sur­vived and their pres­ence is marked in this poet­ic space. Driskill is here in the space between Ten­nessee and Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry and has remapped home­lands accord­ing to Chero­kee log­ics of land, body, and nation­hood. Driskill marks these log­ics on the pages, and these marks both chal­lenge and dis­rupt set­tler log­ics of lit­er­ary and visu­al form and gram­mar. This poem is a sto­ry as a sur­vival car­tog­ra­phy in which “Scraps of stars” (Driskill 57) are marked in the dark ink and bright space of the words and sym­bols that mark this poet­ic space as home. Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry speaks gen­tly: “This is home now” (Driskill 57).

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