Shackled by Fear, Amongst Other Things

(Auto)biography of Mad was quite possibly the most intriguing poem I have ever read. I shake my head now, to think I initially scrolled by it thinking it was references for the introduction, or for some reason, creatively placed footnotes. The entirety of the selected poems held me with a feeling of intense interest and strangely captivating sorrow, as if I was mourning heavily the loss of someone I never knew, but what drew my eyes so closely to (Auto)biography of Mad was its manipulation of form. The choice by Driskill to formulate a poem around something so sterile and unforgiving seemed contrary to the very goals of poetics itself, so the ingenuity pleased as much as it confused me. As I began to read the poem, I thought that perhaps it was engineered to be ignored, scrolled past without care, as many of the issues it describes are when they take place in native communities. But it was impossible to look away from a particular section, one about fear-


of being watched, 4, 14,

26, 28;

of bleach, 4, 14, 26-28;

of body, 109;

of fireworks, 1997, 1999;

of flat people who hide under bathtubs, 135;

of hairs on the backs of

hands, 14;

of loud noises, 19-28;

of men, 4, 14,46, 128;

of pencils, ix, 4, 14, 26-28;

of people hiding in

laundry piles, 3-28;

of police, 52, 98;

of snakes, 198;

of spit, 63;

of sudden movements, 19-28;

of unlocked doors, 571

The repetition of ‘of’ at the beginning of each line describing either a feared item, or a moment of fear itself, and how frequent some of the fictitious page numbers occurred for different items illustrated to me that the fear for native people (and perhaps more predominantly two-spirited native people) is ever-present and unchanging. Additionally, the poem on first glance seems akin to the pages found in the back of a textbook, which have possibly been the largest offender concerning the misrepresentation of native issues, cultures, and diversity.

The fears themselves, “of sudden movements, of flat people who hide under bathtubs, of people hiding in laundry piles, of unlocked doors, of loud noises” portray someone living in a constant state of hiding, fearing discovery more than anything else. The impossible nature of “flat people who hide under bathtubs/of people hiding in laundry piles” is crushing to contemplate, as two-spirited people and native people in general are not only living in fear during their public daily life, but cannot escape this paranoia in their private and most intimate spaces. Considering that fear is the most elaborated entry in the poem, it suggests that is it’s the most chronic and withstanding issue to the native community, an issue only heightened to native people who are gender fluid or defy heteronormative expression in any way. Whether this fear of being watched relates to the eyes of the government, the eyes of the ethnic majority, the eyes of their own people, or even the eyes of their partner, we will never truly know, but by placing fear alongside chronic mental illnesses and events of historical trauma, Driskill begs us to elevate fear to being an equally destructive force.

3 thoughts on “Shackled by Fear, Amongst Other Things”

  1. The author’s choice to write the poem in the style of an index entry perplexed me to the point of overlooking this work entirely. Fortunately, your attention to word repetition was similar to how I analyzed one of Walt Whitman’s poems. This allowed me to understand the author’s intentions in a more clear way than before. Repeating words, whether in this poem or in any other poem, is a sure way to find the author’s intentions. The author of this work’s style reminds me of Walt Whitman’s style for that very reason. I feel that they have a similar goal: to elicit emotion and empathy in their readers. As you pointed out, the contrast between the theme and the style of an index further drives the emotion in because it is unexpected.

  2. Your post is really insightful! I didn’t realize this was a poem either at first, not until we discussed it in class. I agree that Driskill chose this format because they wanted the readers to look over it at first; these issues are literally spelled out on the page, and the reader still turns a blind eye to them. One piece of the fear section I think reflected a central theme of the poem was the line, “of body.” This can mean a multitude of things, but as seen throughout the poem, in the repeated phrases, “forced sterilization,” and “physical and sexual abuse,” the bodily autonomy of Native Americans has been taken away and abused for centuries.

  3. I also didn’t really acknowledge the poem at first, thinking it was an index of sorts. I thought the fears listed were extremely relatable as some of them are fears that we conjure as children that stick with us as well as ones that we face when we are adults. The flat people under bath tubs is one that stuck out to me since it’s something you fear as a child because you know of nothing scarier. But we all know that as we get older we still rip the shower curtain, fearing there is someone who magically materializes just to murder us while we brush our teeth. Other fears are some that you come to find later in life when you actually have to face them. As a Native American, there must be a specific subset of fears that White Americans could never know. I would be intrigued to know more about them. I thought your post was super insightful and represented a lot of my thoughts too!

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