In the First Place of My Life

Ray Young Bear

In the first place of my life
something which comes before all others
there is the sacred and holylike
recurring memory of an old teethless
bushy white-haired man
gesturing with his wrinkled hands
and squinty eyes for me to walk to him
sitting on the edge of his wooden
summer bed

being supported and guided along
like a newborn spotted fawn
who rises to the cool and minty wind
i kept looking at his yellow
and cracked fingernails
they moved back and forth against the stove
and they shined against the kerosene-
                                                   darkened
kitchen and bedroom walls

i floated over the floor towards him
and he smiled as he lifted me up to the
                                                cardboard
ceiling and on there were symbols i later read
as that of emily
her scratched-in name alongside the face
of a lonely softball plater

remembrance two: it was shortly after he
                                                      held me
or else it was a day
or a couple of months
or a couple of years later when i saw him next
the bodies of three young men leaned against him
as he staggered out towards the night

i never knew what closed him
why i never saw him again
he was on the floor with a blanket
over his still and quiet body
above me there was a mouth moving
it was the face of a woman who had opened
the door for the three young men
she pointed to his body
this is your grandfather

and then i remember the daylight
with the bald-headed man in overalls
he too mentioned the absence
of my grandfather
i understood them both

i picture the appletree and its shade
as he was talking to me i saw a group
of people on the green grass
on the ground were table and linen cloths
with bowls and dishes of fruits and meats

the bald-headed man in overalls stood
in the brilliance of the summer daylight
his eyebrows made his face look concerned
or worried

later he stood on the same grass
he had been chosen to fill my grandfather’s
empty place

the new colored blankets around his waist
and chest glistened with fresh
fibrous wool
the beads reflected the good weather
the earth and its people stood and danced
with the beautifully clothed man
who was my grandfather
standing in between time
watching the daylight pass through
his eyes

from then on i only saw him occasionally
he would stand on his tractor
waving to each passing car on the road
as he drove home from
the soybean fields
or else he would converse with my two uncles
that the blood which ran through their
                                                     father’s veins
and theirs was unlike the rest of the tribe
in that it came from the beginnings
unlike ours

More by Ray Young Bear

Our Bird Aegis

An immature black eagle walks assuredly
across a prairie meadow. He pauses in mid-step
with one talon over the wet snow to turn
around and see.

Imprinted in the tall grass behind him
are the shadows of his tracks,
claws instead of talons, the kind
that belongs to a massive bear.
And he goes by that name:
Ma kwi so ta.

And so this aegis looms against the last
spring blizzard. We discover he’s concerned
and the white feathers of his spotted hat
flicker, signaling this.

With outstretched wings he tests the sutures.
Even he is subject to physical wounds and human
tragedy, he tells us.

The eyes of the Bear-King radiate through
the thick, falling snow. He meditates on the loss
of my younger brother—and by custom
suppresses his emotions.

The Aura of the Blue Flower That is a Goddess

Immediately after the two brothers entered 
The Seafood Shoppe with their wide-eyed wives 
and extra-brown complexioned stepchildren, 
the shrimp scampi sauce suddenly altered 
its taste to bitter dishsoap. It took a moment 
to realize the notorious twosome were "carrying"
medicines, and that I was most likely the next 
target in the supernatural shooting gallery. 
It was yet another stab at my precious 
shadow, ne no ke we ni, the one who 
always Stands First, wildly unafraid 
but vulnerable.

This placement of time, this chance meeting 
at Long John Silver's had already been discussed 
over the burning flower clusters, approved, 
and scheduled for a divine assassination.
What an ideal place to invisibly send forth 
a petraglyph thorn to the sensitive 
and unsuspecting instep I thought.
Out of fear I had to spit out the masticated 
crustacean into the folded Dutch bandana. 
I signalled Selene with my eyes:
something is terribly wrong here.

Even in the old stories, ke ta-a ji mo na ni, 
my grandmother recited there was always 
disagreement, jealousy, and animosity 
between supernatural deities. That 
actuality for humans, me to se na ni wa ki, 
however was everpresent. It didn't conclude 
as an impasse that gave us the weather, 
the four seasons, the stars, sun, and moon. 
Everything that was held together.

                    Unfortunately,
there could only be one re-creation 
of earth. If it was requested in the aura 
of the blue flower that I die, 
the aura would make sure I die. . .

Later, the invisible thorn--when removed by 
resident-physicians (paying back their medical 
loans)--would transform into some unidentifiable 
protoplasm and continue to hide in the more 
sensitive, cancer-attracting parts of the fish-
eater.

In the mythical darkness that would follow 
the stories the luminescent mantle of the kerosene 
lamp would aptly remind me of stars who cooled 
down in pre-arranged peace--to quietly wait 
and glow.

Four Hinterland Abstractions

1.

today a truck
carrying a Tomahawk
missile reportedly tipped
over on the interstate
                somewhere
labelled an “unarmed warhead”
its fabulous smoke had to be
placated with priestlike
words being murmured by
                yucca-wielding
authorities & while covering
the dormant but cross entity
with tarps that had paintings
of blue mountaintop lakes
                they affirmed
their presence with nudges
& reminders this valley
was sculpted by the once lovely
wings of a vulture & here
                is where
you will quietly attend to
the disorder we heard plainly
over the traffic’s ubiquitous
din & before a smoldering
                star’s song

2.

from one winter night
an inquisitive firefly has directed
itself toward my three children
& through its testament
                of cold light
floral patterns appear over
their snowy tracks replacing
shadows with light that’s detailed
& compelling us to place ourselves
                beside the weeping
willow grandfather to ask him
please behold the witness
                witness

3.

previously as a winsome
ghost that’s awash in green
& yellow pulsating colors
it taunted the blue heeler
                named
Simon simon ese who lunged
thereafter fishlike into the night
arcing its scaled torso in order
to bite the protoplasmic wings
                so make note
of this psychically attuned
defender i scratched on
the frosted car window
without looking around

4.

on a hot windy afternoon in
downtown why cheer he walked
across the street from where
the dime store used to be
                pointing
to a remnant column he said
ke me kwe ne ta ayo a be i yo e te ki?
do you recall what used to be here?
having just arrived from
                overseas
& wearing boots covered
with ochre grains of distant
battlefields he reached down
& crushed several into small
                clouds
that sped over the sidewalk
as i nodded yes