Poetry: Native Soul by Roy Conboy

Native Soul

by Roy Conboy


Native soul is buried

beneath generations of forget.

“They’re the drunks 

that sleep by the river,”

my uncle said – 

“That’s not us.”

But river sang in my bones,

stronger than his bitter,

stronger even than street.

Song of the wrinkles 

on my abuela’s face,

the wrinkles in her dreams.

At ending she slept 

in mechanical bed, 

tangled in tubes,

hair never gray,

lips always moving,

time past deluding.

I touched her skin’s story

when others fled,

felt heat in the furrow,

memory in facial ravine.

Her eyes sparked,

hand dragged me back.

“Who are you?”

she cried,

voice cracking

and shrieking.

“Where is the river,

the night sky?”

Now in daylight

I suit up for tender,

drive asphalt torrent,

ride unending wireless,

never resting

from the getting.

“Who are you?”

she cries.

The corporate entangle

my secret desires

with interface and link,

like rats in the wall

mining what is mine

as if I were asleep.

“Where is the river,

the night sky?”

But under stars I run free,

paced by crow above

and wind below,

dream riverbed whispering.

“Who are you?”

she cries.

Now in shadow,

now silhouetted by stars,

Abuela walks

that shore again.

“Where is the river,

the night sky?”

Her eyes spark

and turn to me,

hand grips mine,

drags back in time.

“Who are you?”

she cries.

We sing power

together on water,

not shamed or drunk,

not gray or forgetting – 

rivers by the river,


Where is the river,
the night sky?

Roy Conboy is a Latino/Irish/Indigenous writer and teacher whose poetic plays have been seen in the struggling black boxes on the edges of the mainstream theatre in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Francisco, San Antonio, Denver, and more; and whose musical plays for young people have toured extensively in California.  His poetry has been seen in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Orphic Lute, Third Estate’s Quaranzine, and Freshwater Literary Journal.  His poetic radio drama Hue can be heard online at Barewire Theatre Company.  He recently retired from 35 years of teaching, including three decades as the head of the San Francisco State University playwrighting program, where he created multiple programs that gave thousands of students a place to find and raise their voices.


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