Four Hinterland Abstractions

Ray Young Bear

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

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.

To See as Far as the Grandfather World

The photograph. On this particular March day
in 1961, Theodore Facepaint, who was nine
years old, agreed to do a parody. With hand
balanced on hip and the left leg slightly
in front of the right, my newly found friend
positioned himself on Sand Hill before turning
to face the hazy afternoon sun. This was a pose
we had become familiar with:
                                           the caricature
of a proud American Indian, looking out
toward the vast prairie expanse, with one hand
shielding the bronze eyes. When I projected
the image of the color 35 mm slide onto
the wall last week I remembered the sense
of mirth in which it was taken. Yet somewhere
slightly north of where we were clowning around,
Grandmother was uprooting medicinal roots
                              from the sandy soil
and placing them inside her flower-patterned
apron pockets to thaw out.

Twenty-nine years later, if I look long enough,
existential symbols are almost detectable.
The direction of the fiery sun in descent, for example,
is considered the Black Eagle Child Hereafter.
Could I be seeing too much? Past the west
and into the Grandfather World? Twice
                              I’ve caught myself asking:
Was Ted’s pose portentous? When I look
closely at the background of the Indian Dam
below—the horizontal line of water that runs
through the trees and behind Ted—I also know
that Liquid Lake with its boxcar-hopping
                              light is nearby.
For Ted and his Well-Off Man Church,
the comets landed on the crescent-shaped
beach and lined themselves up for a ritualistic
presentation. For Jane Ribbon, a mute healer,
a seal haunted this area. But further upriver
is where the ancient deer hunter was offered
immortality by three goddesses. While
the latter story of our geographic genesis
is fragmented, obscuring and revealing
itself as a verisimilitude, it is important.
Ted and I often debated what we would
have done had we been whisked through
a mystical doorway to a subterranean enclave.
Ted, unlike the ancient hunter who turned
down paradise, would have accepted—
and the tribe never would have flexed
its newborn spotted wings. In the hunter’s
denial we were thus assigned as Keepers
of Importance. But the question being asked
today is, Have we kept anything?

Our history, like the earth with its
abundant medicines, Grandmother used
to say, is unfused with ethereality. Yet in
the same breath she’d openly exclaim
that with modernity comes a cultural toll.

            In me, in Ted, and everyone.
Stories then, like people, are subject to change.
More so under adverse conditions. They
are also indicators of our faithfulness. Since
the goddesses’ doorway was sealed shut by
                      our own transgressions,
Grandmother espoused that unbounded
youth would render tribal language
and religion inept, that each lavish
novelty brought into our homes would
make us weaker until there was nothing.
                      No lexicon. No tenets.
Zero divine intervention. She was also
attuned to the fact that for generations
our grandparents had wept unexpectedly
for those of us caught in the blinding
stars of the future.

Mythology, in any tribal-oriented society,
is a crucial element. Without it, all else
is jeopardized with becoming untrue. While
the acreages beneath Ted’s feet and mine
offered relative comfort back then,
we are probably more accountable now
                      to ourselves—and others.
Prophecy decrees it. Most fabled among
the warnings is the one that forecasts
the advent of our land-keeping failures.
Many felt this began last summer when
a whirlwind abruptly ended a tribal
celebration. From the north in the shape
of an angry seagull it swept up dust.
corn leaves, and assorted debris,
as it headed toward the audacious
“income-generating architecture,”
the gambling hall. At the last second
the whirlwind changed direction, going
toward the tribal recreation complex.
Imperiled, the people within the circus tent-
like structure could only watch as the panels
flapped crazily. A week later, my family said
the destruction was attributable to the gambling
hall, which was the actual point of weakness
of the tribe itself.

Which is to say the hill where a bronze-eyed
Ted once stood is under threat of impermanence.
By allowing people who were not created
by the Holy Grandfather to lead us we may
cease to own what Ted saw on the long-ago day.
From Rolling Head Valley to Runner’s Bluff
                      and over the two rivers
our hold is gradually being unfastened by
false leaders. They have forgotten that their
own grandparents arrived here under a Sacred
Chieftain. This geography is theirs nonetheless.
and it shall be as long as the first gifts given
are intact. In spite of everything that we are
not, this crown of hills resembles lone islands
amid an ocean of corn, soybean fields,
and low-lying fog. Invisibly clustered on
the Black Eagle Child Settlement’s slopes
are the remaining Earthlodge clans.
                      The western edge of this
woodland terrain overlooks the southern
lowlands of the Iowa and Swanroot Rivers,
while the eastern edge splits widely into several
valleys, where the Settlement’s main road winds
through. It is on this road where Ted and I walked.
It is on this road where Ted met a pack
of predators.

Along the color slide’s paper edge the year
1961 is imprinted. Ted and I were fourth
graders at Weeping Willow Elementary.
Nine years later, in 1970, a passenger train
took us to Southern California for college.
It proved to be a lonely place where winter
                              appeared high atop
the San Gabriel Mountains on clear days.
Spanish-influenced building styles, upper-middle-
class proclivities, and the arid climate had a subtle
asphyxiating effect. Instead of chopping firewood
            for father’s nonexistent blizzard,
I began my evenings in Frary Dining Hall
where Orozco’s giant mural with erased privates
called Prometheus loomed above. My supper
would consist of tamales and cold shrimp salad
instead of boiled squirrel with flour dumplings.
Through  mountain forest fires the Santa Ana
winds showered the campus with sparks and ashes.
In a wide valley where a smoke- and smog-darkened
night came early, the family album possessed its
own shimmery light. Pages were turned. A visual
record of family and childhood friends. Time.
                            Ted and I transforming,
separating. During the first Christmas break
in which we headed back to the Black Eagle
Child Settlement, Ted froze me in celluloid:
against a backdrop of snow-laden pine trees
a former self wears a windswept topcoat,
Levi bell-bottoms, cowboy boots, and tinted
glasses. Ted and I, like statues, are held
captive in photographic moments.
                As the earth spins, however,
the concrete mold disintegrates,
exposing the vulnerable wire
foundation of who we are not.