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Eric Gansworth, an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, was born and raised at the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Western New York. He is a Professor of English and Lowery Writer in Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.
Gansworth began his creative work as a visual artist, and eventually expanded to narrative as a way of furthering the storytelling he had developed visually. His first solo exhibit, titled "Nickel Eclipse: Iroquois Moon,"opened in 1999 at the Olean Public Library and an expanded show opened at the Castellani Museum in 2000. His work has been in shows across New York State, including "Revisiting Turtle Island,"at the Niagara Arts and Culture Center, "Native Vision: Art through Haudenosaunee Eyes,"at the Fanette-Goldman Gallery, "Art Creations from Tuscarora," at Neto Hatinakwe Ohnkwehowe, the "Keepers of the Western Door" Exhibit, co-sponsored by CEPA Gallery and the World University Games, and in a follow-up exhibit "In the Shadow of the Eagle," at the Castellani Museum. He participated in the "Teaching Metaphors" exhibit at the Niagara County Community College. His work was also included in "Sharing the Visions," at Hartwick College in Oneonta. One of his paintings was the cover of Sherman Alexie's book First Indian on the Moon. Others have been included in the history text As Long as the Grass Shall Grow and Rivers Flow (Harcourt Brace) the Iroquois Voices, Iroquois Visions anthology (Bright Hill), and the journal, The Cream City Review. Presently, he serves on the Board of Directors of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. He has also served terms on panels for the Arts Council of Buffalo and Erie County and the New York State Council on the Arts Literature Panel, and on the Artists Advisory Committee for the New York Foundation for the Arts. He was also an artist in the Herd About Buffalo Project.
Gansworth's work is a commentary on the oral tradition existing within Haudenosaunee culture and its fluid nature. He uses iconography recognizable in the context of the mythic Haudenosaunee world, yet alters it to reflect issues relevant to a more contemporary Haudenosaunee existence, as well.
State University College at Buffalo, Master of Arts: English (Literature), 1990.
State University College at Buffalo, Bachelor of Arts: English (Literature), 1989.
Niagara County Community College, Associate of Applied Science:
Electroencephalography, 1986 G.P.A. 3.0
Eric was a visiting writer-in-residence at the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities in October 2004. He was invited to write the entry for American Indian Literature in New York State, in The Encyclopedia of New York State. He received a writer-in-residency award from the just buffalo literary center in 1999. His novel, Indian Summers, chosen for the Readers and Writers on the Air program on North Country Public Radio, October 1999 and was selected for the College Libraries' America Reads 2000 project.
Black Leather Jacket © Eric Gansworth
You dangled unaware
on your hook
as I remembered
her mentioning you
quietly one night
over her gritty coffee,
embrace the end
to my sore-footed search
into a front pocket
maybe reaching for smokes
or perhaps ready to reveal
a brilliant set of keys,
saying "It's about time."
December twenty-third brought
me to you
the question mark carved
into my greasy brow
a little different
from those other
from minds that have
forgotten the last time
they said "I love you,"
to the women in their lives
and really meant it.
As I bathed in household
appliances she'd never have
the inclination to learn
knowing she preferred over any
food processor the scarred
paring knife which has tasted
pints of her blood by now,
I could hear her already:
"You lose touch
if you don't feel the work."
If I dragged running
water, a commode, a septic system
to her home, slipping them in
through one of the gaping holes
where the wreck refused
to continue masquerading
as a house
Would she turn her back
wash herself clean
of my city influence
and throw me out the back door
with her dirty water?
Her dignity was beyond my
meager success, anyway
But the $129.99 price
tag before me was not.
Your sultry, gleaming
skin called to me.
I longed to trace
the floral growth
etched into your tasteful
patches of rough skin,
resembling the rose bushes
she had grown
when she'd had the time
to keep the thorns
from taking over.
"Roses don't put food
on the table," she'd said
when, at twelve, I asked
about her robust thorn bushes.
"Mrs. DeBartellomeo gives
twenty-five a day,
just for a once a week cleaning,
No rose bush
is gonna give that kind
of wage," she said
chasing me out the door
so she could cook
for my brothers
I presented you to her
and she rubbed your skin
following the same patterns
I had at the store,
trying you on
and snatching glances
of you and her together
in the mirror
before telling me
to return you.
As I drove you back
to the store defeated
I heard her voice instead
of the quad sound system
in my fast car.
"I wouldn't recognize myself,"
"And besides, where
would I wear it?
Emptying the pot?
Burning the garbage?
Save your money.
Save your money.
Save your money."
Nickel Eclipse © Eric Gansworth
Did I tell you my brother is the Man
in the Moon? You wonder how I know
this? I have seen many things
others miss in the flip of a coin.
For example, have you seen
the Monticello nickel?
The spread-eagle quarter?
The flaming torch dime?
Even when the embossed moon presented itself riding
the sky of the silver dollar we ignored
it in favor of a balding man whose corruption will be
acknowledged someday, just a matter of time. It will be
a feature story in a back section of the Sunday
Times, no headlines necessary, why humiliate
the family, I mean, the man's dead and gone, right?
But the moon never fucked with anybody, except
maybe those driven wild in the fullness
of the month, when my brother does not smile
down on them, and leaves them to their own
animal desires, as the tides shift.
I read the Sunday Supplement every week
because Lord knows we need something
to supplement most Sundays and I see
him, between the ads for painless hair
removal systems and those for easy tanning
methods (almost everything coming
in a bottle these days), my brother.
He has the sort of face reservation Indian men
will buy a beer for.
He has the sort of face reservation Indian women
will break and enter for.
He has the sort of face city Indian men
will grow their hair back for.
He has the sort of face city Indian women
will come home to the dark roads for.
He has the sort of face reservation white men
know their wives do not long for.
He has the sort of face reservation white women
hope their men will conceive children for.
He has the sort of face city white women
are willing to pick up a hitchhiker for.
He has the sort of face city white men
Are willing to waste the beer in a shattered bottle for.
Maybe you've seen him--though he was born to our mother
in the winter of 1953, after she had fallen
down a flight of stairs escaping the first of her
two housefires while our father made change
with strangers at some bar until his pockets refused
to jingle, the U.S. Treasury knew my brother
was the Man in the Moon, foresaw his coming
earlier in the century, where before Jefferson
and his Greek revival home asserted their dominance
he graced the dully glowing face of
the country's five cent piece.
Sharp and angular, stamped
onto the flat disc, his eyes
squint so hard as to be
nearly sightless, looking straight
ahead, oblivious to that word hanging
elusively just out of his range:
They must have known what I know, now
what the Sunday throw away paper tells me,
that my brother was to grace the wrong side of
what would become the only coin
in U.S. history to be identified
by its ass end, that the nearly extinct
animal would push its way through a national
consciousness that did not want to see that Indian man
on the face of the coin, a national consciousness
that preferred E Pluribus Unum and The United States
of America to Liberty . . . and justice for all.
The paper tells me I can
for a limited time purchase twenty Buffalo
Nickels at five dollars, and honor
the noble beast so nearly endangered, no dealers
please, only one order per household.
And I run the miles of reservation roads
passing out five dollar bills at every household
in exchange for promises I know will be kept
to place orders before midnight tonight,
and when the packages arrive, we will sit
and wait for that night we all know
is coming when the full moon rises and my brother
finally smiles down on us, as he emerges
from the buffalo's shadow, while we flip
coins relentlessly into the night, watching and waiting
for the tides to shift again under his influence.