Author's Note: Born and raised in New Mexcio, I spent several years as a child living on the Navajo Reservation at a small trading post called Sheep Springs. Then later, after I had married, I lived and worked at a trading post in Arizona, a place called Sawmill. What I learned from those two periods in my life is that Native Americans are survivors. There are so many stories I could tell, but I will let these two long poems speak for me.
grass was taller
sheep springs is clearly in the middle of nowhere not four-corners qualified or capitol of anything it boasts only the trading post a small cafe and the chapter house mandated by tribal headquarters for local... in reservation terms that would mean something between 50 and 100 square miles of sand and sagebrush interspersed with dry washes arroyos that can fill and kill in an instant when rain on distant mountains comes too much too fast and finding it cannot seep down into the earthy womb that opened for the first kachinas and the afterbirth of navajo mythology flees the hills and rushes dirty red down the previously mentioned dry washes without warning across highways where dips instead of bridges surprise unwary tourists ...meetings and events of grave importance like the theft of hosteen's saddle the one his father gave him u.s. cavalry insignia still deeply embossed... hosteen recounts again how the soldier with the sad eyes had no other apology after the infamous long walk simply took the saddle from his horse set it at father's feet and rode away bareback shoulders slumped with the burden of turning warriors into shepherds because the telling of the story is a vital page in their book of remembering ...which the tribal police duly noted and will watch for at the fair at window rock the rodeo at shiprock though everyone knows there is little hope the saddle will be found while hosteen slowly shakes his head at the loss of this piece of his past his face shows no emotion for that is not the navajo way instead he talks of days when the now dry reservation grew green with grass that reached the stirrups of the saddle that is gone the drought that took it all away days when he could leave things atop his corral and they would stay it is not right he says that the honor of our people has dried up like that grass
Originally published in The Other Side of Sleep Arachne Press
her loom is handmade sheep handraised wool handsheared handcleaned and handcarded plants for dyes she handpicked with her cousin when the color of the evening sky behind the starkness of spider-woman rock hung hazy muted lavender like russian thistle blossoms dried and steeped for hours the water waiting only the yarn of what would be for her another labor of need need to pay a bill feed a family grandchildren too young to be of any help children gone here and there some to work some to drink one to california the pattern grows row by row mind to hand to thread it was a full winter ago this thread was spun when the snow was too deep for even their horse to challenge the snows had caught them unprepared and except for emergency food and hay helicoptered in they would have grown very thin but would not have complained would not have dared offend the earth, the gods, the elements by seeming ungrateful for life however harsh she never draws her patterns simply conceives them and weaves them into something she hopes will please the trader she pauses thinking ahead how they will bargain politely (she taught him the art) and she will feel she has won if she takes home an extra bag of flour the twenty-five-pound bluebird brand and cash enough for gasoline doesn't worry past that or wonder who will own her latest work and will they understand the "ch'iindi" trail the purposeful imperfect line woven in to let her spirit out today she wonders only why the child in california is so silent
Originally published in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine
©2020 Jim Lewis
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