Pray for all those who believe
our DNA is forever tainted
by the cosmic, brilliant truth
that we have been here
forever, maybe longer.
-Adrian C. Louis, Sunset at the Indian Cemetery
It’s the first springtime since you left us here, Mr. Louie.
I curl my lips into a warm smile. I raise my eyebrows high—my dimpled chin just a touch—to say these words aloud so you’ll know we’re still here after another weird tough winter.
Some say you can’t see or read no more. Even so, I do still smile and write.
Ilumun, the ones left behind are told that the ones from before will always keep looking around to see
that we’re still here carrying on the principles they taught, teach us still.
The ones from before—now you—check to make sure we remember
we alone cannot send ice to sea nor do we return home alone.
Come home, they say.
In the Jesus of Nazareth hymn sort of way, some say
ye who are weary, come hoo
It’s the first springtime in Alaska since you left us here.
Banditries of chickadees flit and flock feed as pussies willow.
Clusters of bleeding hearts rise up, fiddleheads curl, already yellow dandelions and iris shoots peek through even as heavy, clinging snow reblankets the mid-south of this north.
Birch peel and bud.
Alder and spruce join willow to stretch and branch out among rogue Maydays.
In this season of renewal, most still know we are never meant to be European Bird Cherry trees. Help me, ACL, to flow steady with changes surrounding us.
Off Pacific coasts, thousands of salmon—tissitsaanek neqaraat— maneuver through garbage’d saltwater as we too ready ourselves to return to fresh water flows of our true being.
Listen to admonishments to remember: like salmon, we are presupposed to return to the source.
Like salmon, trust an innate sense of direction and smell and remain ready to thrash to make it home.
Not that long ago a single Mayday squeezed in along an imaginary southern (backyard fence) line and began pushing up and out.
Each spring that lonely chokecherry tree bud, flowered, then dropped clusters of fragrant white blossoms and spread those blooms across crumpling literary pages of schooling histories.
Some folks called them—still call them—lovely. Take their turn praising each other’s fifty-buck worded obtuse mimicry.
Now we hear echoes of twittered mayday calls to fringes. Hurry, chop out spreading invasives and keep those invaders out.
Just east of Valley of the Moon bordering Chester Creek if we keep listening you could hear runoff flowing steady with plastic debris into a manmade lagoon before dumping into the inlet re-named on maps and monuments for yet another explorer who wandered in at the eve of slaughter.
In your last spring here, a hoard of expat and mimicking volunteer ghosts with secondhand memories called out to eager social media’d to witness a culling of towering ornamentals in the name of making the native woods less welcome to an unkindness of (unwanted thieving overripe) camper making it their own way just past the best part: a huge dog lovers park installed to crowd out another kind of mongrel and guard against unsolved serial murder.
Looking down, one could see spreading congresses making home in tents, under strung up and fraying blue tarps and blurry repurposed visqueen, on soggying sleeping bags or stiffening and flattened cardboard and castoff clothes. Looking up, one could see both steadying and twinkling bright lights marking the now-gated luxury hillsides of our being. Looking forward, one could see me parking an imported sedan before running up the hill to catch my granddaughters’ laughter as they climb to the top of a rocket ship painted primary colors to send amplified messages to my awaiting ears on the steady ground. Look, granny, look!
A rainbow coalition of all-season all-generation all-nation campers scatter around (un)taxed cities amid
town-based and rotating extractors of ancient (arctic,) earthly, wet, heavy, light, or shiny things, hipster environmentalists sporting stickered and podded Subarus,
unionized compulsory school educators, disorganizing academics, premium pay health care providers,
active duty and retired-in-place military redoubling cost of living allowances by shopping for imported
consumer goods inside patrolled gates of their very own subsidized base exchanges,
militarized police patrolling for black lettered courage to make a difference,
bored wage slaves escaping into ravaging fantasies born in generations of crafty man camps, likewise, all manners of clergy (and too few theologians),
the demented, disabled, misdiagnosed, and aged warehoused in licensed assisted living facilities
staffed by minimum wage refugees escaping some other horror,
progressive non-profiteers and social pseudo-scientists galore,
cycles of in- and out-migrating rural poor from the bush, the islands, the Lower 48, the waters
gentrifying exotic adventure seekers and the occasional artist and indigene,
fishers, cabbies, drink pourers, and other fly-ins,
sex workers and politicians, dealers, researchers and the researched, and other in-betweeners.
Some try—but we cannot—settle in together on this stretch of stolen homeland mislabeled The Last Frontier (of red state tax credited monopolizing capitalism).
A chunk of yellow fat,
the winter sun is circled
by gaunt prairie crows.
Pray for the crows.
The day before a steady snow marked another Good Friday morning, at a towering main public library among toddlers, young children, parents, and well-clad generously retired or newly unemployed or disheveled chronically unemployed, thick-skinned folks escape the slushy cold, sneak a nap, wash with lathering warm running water, google and flip pages of local newspapers, stare blankly into space, charge a flip phone or laptop or smart phone or tablet. Some look up and smile briefly to return my outstretched handshake.
Outside Loussac’s double front doors, a raised monument of a confidently strolling William Seward is positioned to commemorate the paltry check proffered to claim our stolen homeland. Inside there’s no Bone and Juice. No Ancient Acid Flashes Back. No Ceremonies of the Damned. No Wild Indians and Other Creatures. No Vortex of Indian Favors. No Bloodthirsty Savages. No Skins (but a single worn out DVD). No Poetry and Fiction Reading. No Random Exorcisms…
Those proving a valid address receive a borrowing card to place books on hold and continue the wait.
M’aider, mayday. Eventually your help will arrive.
This spring, just west, a sord of overwintering mallards alit from a park named for a banker family. Reaching open water, they nose in, remembering to feed themselves again.
A colony of greedy gulls dive with competing manic screeches for bits of soggy white bread thrown in for whose selfie entertainment?
The moon pulls sewage plant treated inlet water out as a gaggle of geese skirts low along emerging mudflats to feed before continuing north and west to nest and rest.
A lone bald eagle overlooks a pale globed man sporting xtra tuffs as a first of this season wades out of rushing runoff to untangle fluorescent monofilament fishing line — a new chokehold twisting around still tender shoreline alders.
Does he see the signs? At least try read the ones ADF&G tacked up: Closed to Salmon Fishing signs are sandwiched there between the dug in faint-white signs with fading green lettering that once declared Habitat Restoration in Progress. Please Keep off?
This spring— so early—crystalizing Kusquqvak river-ice thinned as it rotted. This now unfamiliar early thaw of needle ice surrounding open holes claimed more good folks.
Faltering good folks didn’t mean to escape into the shallow drink to call more good folks onto perilous ice to crawl with lifelines to drag each other out and return ourselves home.
Gasping. Almost—but so far not quite yet—speechless.
Ma says try find the reports on your computer or cellaphone. Since I have no service at home, we listen to delayed local news to learn nothing more than to comment on the parasitic proliferating power of haphazard, flat, and distorted reportage by this generation of parachuters and certain carelessly primping award-winning go-to informants.
In town, worn down computerized smashers are unplugged to be reconditioned. I am among those re-rescheduled to rejoin a parade of the mammogram’d.
As I drive toward our fancy art-filled IHS-funded facility colonized on every level, I keep an eye out at the corner Holiday where the flaccid pale globed Ted Stevens International Airport air traffic controller rapist prowled.
Brown men big gulping Steel Reserve 211 (High Gravity) sit sentinel on musty folds of soiled cardboard. One stands silently staring down at his marksalot’d sign. A couple feign to ignore staring passersby. One or two try smile and wave. The rest, if they look up, slant-cock a barely face-shifting nod. I raise my eyebrows and chin and giggle so they can see me again if they want.
Soon I see a familiar gangly brown waif in combat boots and mud streaked bellowing khaki cargo pants.
She is sashaying down the south side of 36th, past Spenard towards Arctic.
She quick stops, sing-shouting to the sky and maybe for the unintended benefit of passersby craning to get a better look at another local madwoman.
As I smile and wave, I notice her once long matted dark hair is chopped short.
The next afternoon, she is stepping down from the curb onto Benson, then back up, down and up, up and down. ACL, seems like you knew dearest women are tested against what rots conspicuous womanhood.
We adapt and become whole again.
ACL, I fail to claim to be in a reservation of anyone’s mind.
Once I did drive by Brown near a house moved and a monument raised to honor an English language namesake’s ancestor.
I never did settle around Hopkins.
Our declaration of independence was in being raised and taught far away to be and say as river and tundra people are. To keep going and talking even as men prowl like that time we arrived for more paper learning and that shit happened again in the high desert and at the AWP near where you once taught English.
The red that could’ve been seen and read wasn’t yet inked. It was said:
Not one of the red seeds
planted will ever sprout.
Pray for them.
Some quietly or noisily stepped into the sunshine or shade or into the shadows to keep creating as a murder of cleverly self-appointed crows enjoined to try out-silence nervous whispers and pinched and disjointed outrage created a sideshow by repeating too-loud twittering crimsoned soundbites of (some growing portion of) a mischaracterized community outside the mainstream (now) verbally committed to (the power of) an Indian student-centered approach through which so many (more) artists are (to be) helped. Then a takedown and its accompanying re-enforced radio silence.
Pray into the lung-
shocking, cold wind
shrieking freakishly into
those boundless yucca hills.
The blood of too many brows and pinched swollen lips dries and is wiped away. A natural blooded blush remains.
I bite my lips against contriving a moneyed bloodied pulpit to claim anything more than what bears repeating: The well-being of real children, women, and men and our quickly or painfully slowly muttered or mumbled or muted or unsprouted or silent or scream-sung words still matter.
In dreams I wait for the ghost brain to devour the broken & become whole again. M’aider. Mayday. Help us taste our hearts anew.
ACL, that you might see or read then smile at my dance of tears is enough.
We dream of dancing as wildly as your most outrageously breathless and crazy candid rifts naming the series of more sudden twisting motions of this life and complications floating in the flood of pain medicine prescribed to relieve reconstructed (hip and) knee surgeries as we swim—legless—upstream like the first slug of kings gathering to come into the mouth of our river to return home to us.
Visiting home I gaze across river ice melting on another spring morning of my being and remember I could easily get a running start, hold air in to glide to the other side.
I went home to a place where—pinch me—I was revisited by a towering thick yummy man, assured and clear-eyed, strong and mindful, direct and caring, a steady impatient working man whose eyes and hands and feet spoke more than open lips, a quietly loud discretion.
After inhaling I nodded a laughing uh-hm, okay, ya, yes, that will be fun to his offer to smart phone next month to share a meal.
This sputter of delight after he rushed into worded declarations. He would be leaving soon thereafter to reunite with the high desert where he cooks for himself and collects firewood with his family, where his child’s talents will be well-educated, provided and cared for, where familiar trees rise up between spiderwebs of highways, where he makes plans and collects materials to build a home with clean inside running water, beside which he will plant more trees for just-right shade, bring in art to mark his travels, maybe plant corn and raise meat.
ACL, when—if—we ever do share a meal, I will extend his welcome to visit me in my good life here as I will visit him in the place of his being and longing if it his wish to pick red drama, the joyous pain of it all.
M’aider. Mayday. Help us taste our hearts anew.
ACL, I choose to live in life-affirming philosophies our talk contains and force myself to learn a standardizing orthography.
In Yupik country and our diaspora when someone leaves us in any month, in your case, in the fall month of moose hunts, we still say:
Tangerciqamken cam ilini.
This is not the end. I will see you again sometime.
Remain as you are.
And until then and for now—Quyana— please accept this wordful thanks for your volumed reminders to remain as we are meant to be: at home in this good place of forever, maybe longer.
First published in a slightly different form in Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought, Spring 2019.
© Copyright Alice Rose Crow~Maar’aq. All rights reserved.
Alice Rose Crow~Maar’aq, was born for and raised on the Kusquqvak in southwest Alaska. She nests in Spenard, a southcentral Alaska westwardly neighborhood near water and take offs and landings. Ali is a momma, granny, lover, ilung, relative, and friend. She completed an Institute of American *Indigenous Arts MFA in Creative Writing under the guidance of Chip Livingston and Elissa Washuta. Her longer works remain underway. In them she explores dynamics of holding steady and moving forward in these times of rapid change and anomie. For whatever it might be worth, Ali is a member of the Orutsararmuit Native Council and is an original ANCSA Calista and Bethel Native Corporation shareholder.