Shaylena, age seven, of Hot Pink Coat and Perfect Scrambled Eggs,
presses her velcroed boot against wire
of ice and barbs, opens the fence that keeps us
from the river.
She tells me what she heard about the Sacred Objects,
returned by the country after the raid,
hand-fringed hide of the chanupa bags,
deer-given skin of the drums,
stained yellow with the piss of police.
I crawl through the passage,
past the cottonwood choking
with leafless vine, the abandoned
nest of the snow bunting,
preserved in its sheath of ice.
She speaks of these handmade objects
and I think of what we are trying
to build, this idea we call a school.
I think of a friend who said:
Native tradition created beauty
in every object—a reminder
to care for what you have.
I’ve spent years with the disposable
test booklets, the tiny eyes
of each multiple choice, classrooms with four
reliable walls. Years believing
I could know what was best.
Shaylena of Six Sisters, Tantrums in the Porta-Potty,
of Telling Adults to Stop Screaming about Cops
and Scaring the Kids,
leads me down a sandy slope,
away from the road that spins
with pick-up trucks packed with lumber, ladders, tent poles:
these fragments that will rebuild
the homes that were taken last week,
rebuild homes we all know
may be taken again.
We dip to a slim cuticle of bank, frozen,
freckled today with trash.
Months ago, the kids built
a ramshackle bridge here, the driftwood glittering
jade with algae, the splintering damp
in the sun. They climbed to the edge, unbothered
that the bridge reached no certain bank,
scrambled on scraped hands and knees
and trusted the rotting of the wood,
or maybe trusted, even, the fall.
The first time somebody mentioned staying the winter,
among the horse games and giveaways of August,
I laughed—the story of my skin made me
believe we’d win history
quickly, go home. How will I know how
to name this, for the kids,
for myself, if we fail?
Shaylena digs in the cold sand,
unearths a Skittles wrapper,
the rainbow mud-fossiled into brittle bird.
I am about to warn her to stay away
from the water’s cold edge, when she slips the trash
gently into my hand, says sa,
next, hands me a crinkled Lay’s bag, zi,
a ramen wrapper, sazi,
a water-logged flyer, ska.
She hands me each Lakota color,
picks up each piece
one-by-one, as if we’d never heard
the ambulances screech
from the road, as if the helicopters
didn’t sing their mosquito song
against our skin.
She names each item as if
there was no other sound in the world
for what we held in our hands.
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH