Thursday, August 30, 2007


a change of pace...

chapter 1, rev

The dream was about Pop.

I hadn’t seen him, or Mom, for several years more than I wanted to remember. I called them every so often, and there were always cards at Christmas and birthdays, but not much else.

My sis, Dorie, would write a couple of times a year, and there’ld always be a note from Louie, my brother-in-law, telling me about the doings around the rez or up on the ranch.

Louie’s a full-blood, lived most of his life on the rez except for the Marines and a couple of terms in junior college over in Spokane. Louie’s family were Seven Drums people: they believed in dreams; one of his grandpas and his dad both belonged to the same dreamer group that Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce band believed in....

Dorie and I are quarter-bloods, by way of Mom. Mom’s half Cherokee. Her maiden name was Swimmer: one of the great Cherokee family names. She met Dad back in Oklahoma in the late Nineteen-Thirties. History’s waves washed them up on a ranch just off the Speelyai Reservation.

Surrounded by the rez, really—one of those old shabby allotment deals that let non-Indian people buy up the best farm and ranch land. The first school we went to was the tribal elementary school. Although we were one-quarter Indian, we were from a tribe as foreign and distant as Hawaii.

Other than telling us about the Swimmer name, Mom didn’t have much to say about being Cherokee, and there sure weren’t any others around there. A smattering of Nez Perce, a few Shoshonis, some Delewares that had settled during the 1870 Indian War, even a few Sioux who had fled to Canada after the Custer fight and drifted onto the reservation in the 1880s. When we went to school, Speelyai was an unmelted melting pot. “Confederated Tribes of the Speelyai Reservation.” But no Cherokees. We weren’t quite Indians, and I stopped being anything like one about the time I went in the service.

As I said, I’d dreamed about Dad. He was turning into a skeleton, like in some horror movie. I had the dream twice in a week; both times I’d woke up like the phone had just rung in my ear, or there had been an explosion. Even loud noises in my dreams woke me up. Not as much as it had been since I’d got sober, when there came a general fading, but sometimes, my adrenal glads got turbocharged. Still.

So after the dreams, I thought more and more about my folks. I’d been running groups at the treatment center where I worked, and dreams were something I encouraged the “clients” to explore. I figured I had to take some of the medicine I’d been dishing out. But I didn’t know what to do about the dreams. Let me help you, I don’t know what’s going on with me, but let me help you instead...

The treatment center was progressive. One of the features were monthly sweat lodges. Every graduating “class” got one as part of a kind of rebirthing in sobriety. The clients were almost all wealthy Anglos, of one sort or another, but they seemed to dig it.

In the sweat lodge for May, I had a vision. Pure and simple, no arguing. Pop appeared in the darkness and beckoned to me. Just appeared in the darkness during the third round, the healing part. No voices, no blazing white light, just his image, for about five seconds.

I figured that was clear enough, but an hour after the lodge, I found myself busy thinking about bills I needed to pay, getting a haircut, and all that crap. Only the dichotomy between what I’d seen in there and the dreams, and what I was letting my mind do about it was as obvious to me as a brick wall.

I talked to Annie, one of the other counselors. She was in her late thirties and had tough. Annie had been a cop for several years. She was short and heavy and cut her own hair, bought her clothes at the Goodwill. She didn’t seem to have much bullshit in her.

We went out for coffee in some new-wave espresso bars that sprung up all over the city. It was a warm, late Spring Tuscon evening. Ugly tank-destroyer airplanes made constant circles in the salmon sky—Warthogs. Reminding us of the benefits of living in a solidly Republican state. Arizona’s mental health funding might be lower than Guam’s, but at least there were defense jobs. And skies filled with fighter planes.

“I used to fish a lake where the eagles and osprey would dive down out of the sky at the trout and snatch them out of the water,” I said.

She raised an eyebrow. “You thinking about home? I grew up in LA. You couldn’t even see the sky.”

“I spent some time where all you saw were fighter aircraft. Our own, but they could kill you just as dead as they could anybody else.”

“You’ve been thinking about going home,” she declared.

“I’ve been having dreams about it. I hate to admit to believing in dreams.” I told her about seeing Dad in the sweat lodge.

“You’re part Native American.”

“In’din,” I pronounced it the way I reembered hearing it. “Mom’s half Cherokee. My sis and I went to school with Indian kids. We’re enrolled, for whatever good that means. Weren’t any white kids until I got to high school in the county seat.”

“Go see a medicine person. Simple,” she said, as if I’d said I needed shoes and she had pointed out a shoe store.

“I don’t know any medicine men.”

“What about that old Pima guy that does the sweats?”

“He grunted at me and told me to pray for my own answers.”

“That sounds like him. I don’t know any medicine men, either. But I know a medicine woman. Come on.”

We drove to the south side of Tuscon, down where the poor Mexicans and Indians live. Where the land is so dry and sparse that the desert is always reclaiming untended ground. The sky was doing it’s usual evening color light show. It made me think of salmon barbecuing on an alder-wood fire.

Men and women sat in their front yards and chatted. Most of them seemed to have cans of beer. Black and brown teen-agers shot baskets in playgrounds. Younger children kicked around soccer balls. Every market had a cluster of people in front of it, hanging out, being social. Cops cruised the streets, hoping to put out any spot-fires that might erupt.

“First of the month,” Annie said, “Everybody’s got their checks.”

“It was like that back home, too.”

“Like that everywhere,” she said. “You got it bad. I’m going to pull into that Stop and Rob up the street so you can buy some cigarettes.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“You offer tobacco to medicine people. I thought you said you grew up with Indians?”

“I did.”

“How come you don’t know this stuff?”

“We were too busy trying to raise stock and cut firewood and get by. The Indians were living the same way. We didn’t have time for that woo-woo crap.”

“Sounds like that woo-woo crap is catching up with you.”

We drove to a funky trailer park. It was being reabsorbed by the desert, a grain of sand and a thorn of cactus at a time. All of the growth, “progress,” they call it, goes on around the fringes of the Anglo neighborhoods. When the south side land gets valuable enough, then the area will get upgraded. It’s a sort of benign neglect until then.

An old Mexican-looking woman was tending a small vegetable plot alongside a shabby trailer house. Lamps with green tin shades were strung over the yard. A brush arbor attached to the trailer served as an awning or ramada. Four old kitchen chairs and a cable spool were under the arbor.

She had a faded bandana tied over her head, like some of the women I remembered on the rez. She wore an equally faded shapeless dress with moons and stars printed on it, and on her feet were frayed Nikes. Annie introduced the old lady as Doña Maria. She didn’t have any teeth. The woman gestured to the chairs under the brush arbor. She brought us Pepsi-Colas, and she listened to me for a few minutes. She opened the pack of Marlboros I’d brought her and lit one.

“I don’t understand what your question is, nephew. I don’t think you do, either.”

“Why am I dreaming this? What’s it telling me?” What other question would I have?

Doña Maria shrugged and took another drag on the Marlboro. “You’re Indian, mestizo, mixed, aren’t you? We have dreams different than gachupines, white people, have dreams. Why don’t you go home and find out? These things don’t happen by chance.”

Annie said, “Doña Maria, this is Paul’s home. He’s lived in Tuscon for seven years.”

I wondered why she said that. Then I found out.

The old lady chuckled. “We seldom have to do things more than seven times. Home is where you were born and raised. Su Patria propia.” She nodded north toward downtown. “Fuck Tuscon. This is just a crappy television program. It’s time to turn it off. Your family needs you. Your father’s spirit needs you. He’s calling you.”

Brother this is a powerful telling. I need to read it again and again.

Thank you for telling it here.

I wish you the very best as you follow that dream to its calling and its spirit.

Peace and struggle,
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?