Another entry for Mish’s prompt to write poems about the Southwest inspired by her photographs. I did a haibun for this based on an experience during university, years ago. Mish’s photo reminds me of the Badlands.
Names Under the Stars
“Come home with me after we finish here. Come meet my mom, my people.” We had left the campsite along with another student and carefully climbing, made our way to the kiva we had explored earlier that day. Cold black night lit only by the galaxy of stars and the huge full moon. We sat in the bottom, smell of fresh soil and mold around us. Griff smelled as he always did of amber and patchouli. Beth moved closer to him for warmth as did I. But he was speaking to me. “This is a night that calls for smoke.” And so he pulled out a small pipe and charged with fragrant sensemilla buds. Long and slow he drew in the smoke as he held the match over a now glowing bed of red. “In the smoke, there can be only truth.” Nakota Sioux, Griff took this seriously. He held in the smoke long and then passed the small pipe to me. And then I to Beth, who choked before giving the pipe back to him.
The unsilence around us hummed: bats, the slither of lizards or a snake, the tiny chirp of a searching desert mouse, a slough of wind through the caves. Above, the stars glowed. The Milky Way in its endless swirl, the light finally reaching us on its ages old journey. Griff put his arm around my shoulders, “Come with me home to Pine River Reservation. Come and have a breakfast of fry bread and honey from my uncle’s bees, toast made from government cheese and government dried milk in our coffee.” The words were bitter but his voice was calm. “We all of us ranged this land. Until we were cheated and murdered and driven onto useless lands. I am a child of the Badlands.” I shivered and looked again up at the ancient stars who had witness all the evils of the earth. And had witnessed good. I pulled my wooden flute from the small pack I carried. “I’ll go. We’ll read the names on the memorial. We’ll clean up trash.”. He laughed. “Yes we will. You know, my real name? Have I told you? I’m named after Number 75 – Strong Fox.” I began to play a soft tune for the stars above me who knew all of those whose names were on the memorial. All one hundred and eighty-five.
The names are those of
Families – men women children –
Frozen in death in harsh snow.