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Poem: "What Keeps Us Happy" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "What Keeps Us Happy"
This poem came out of the December 5, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] peoriapeoriawhereart, [personal profile] readera, [personal profile] mama_kestrel, [personal profile] daisiesrockalot, [personal profile] wyld_dandelyon, [personal profile] mdlbear, and Anonymous. It also fills the "Relative Values: Families" square in my 12-3-17 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem was sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth[personal profile] technoshaman, and others.  It belongs to the Iron Horses thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some sensitive issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Kenzie is still recovering from his injuries, and overdoes it a bit. There is some pushing of physical limits, a family gathering, food theft, minor medical details involving a popped stitch, wearing out early, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"What Keeps Us Happy"


A few days after Blazing Grass
approved light work, Kenzie started
hiking down the driveway to fetch
the mail, usually with one of
the Iron Horses tailing him.

Ida thanked him and put him
to work cubing butternut squash
for a Three Sisters casserole while
she made the cornbread topping.

That seemed to be a signal,
because instead of passing things
to whichever family member happened
to be out and about, people began
dropping by the roundhouse.

Every one of them brought something.

Big Chipmunk, the reservation's first redhead,
showed up with her rust-streaked hair, a grin,
and a huge bowl of Three Sisters salad.
"Here, we made this to share," she said.

Beside her, Corsen Aufroy's hair was
a penny-copper-red almost as bright as
Kenzie's own. "I'm really pleased to meet
you, Kenzie," she said. "Now Big Chipmunk
and I won't be the only two redheads on the rez!"

"Nice to meet you too," Kenzie said, recognizing
both of them from descriptions. It seemed
that everyone now knew the reservation
had exactly three people with red hair.

Ida evidently decided that yet more food
was needed, and brought out a big tub
of peanut butter cookies from the freezer.

Nobody seemed inclined to wait for
them to thaw, so Kenzie grabbed some
quick as he could before they disappeared.

"That's the spirit," Mick said, laughing.

Many Tongues came to the door next,
briskly rolling up in his wheelchair with
a different Three Sisters casserole
balanced capably in his lap.

Kenzie noted that this one had
zucchini and summer squash in
some kind of creamy white sauce.

He listened to the new introductions
with half an ear while angling for
position to dip his spoon in the dish.

Nobody seemed to care about
swapping spit here. It was like
eating with theater majors, people
just grabbed what they could while
it lasted. Kenzie loved that.

Romero Jackrabbit was tall,
dark, and sultry -- an effect
somewhat undermined by
his steaming basket of
fried rabbit covered with
a ridiculous pink bandanna.

Kenzie nabbed the first piece,
only to have Mick snitch it.

"Hey!" Kenzie protested.
"Quit stealing my food."

"Coyote," Mick laughed, and
darted away, prize in hand.

"He is no end of trouble,"
Romero said, shouldering
through the small, lively crowd.
"Here, Kenzie, get some more."

Everyone made way for an old woman
introduced as Sounding Shell, whose energy
made Kenzie's skin fizz. She put out a basket
of bannock baked full of huckleberries.

Kenzie helped himself to one of them,
then broke the round bread in quarters,
handing part of it Ben who had just
come up behind him, and another
to Blair, and one to a little girl
whose name he hadn't caught.

"Oh, these are my favorite!"
Blair said, biting into hers.

The part Kenzie kept for himself
was delicious, still warm from
the oven and sweet with berries.

It wasn't even just the folks here
in Rocky Boy's Reservation, either.
Someone from clear over to Fort Peck
had sent a quart jar of buffalo berry syrup.

Of course that meant that Ida had to go
throw on a batch of frybread atop the stove
while her casserole baked in the oven.

The smell of fresh-cooked food filled
the busy air and made Kenzie think that
what used to be home to him was nothing
like this ... and nowhere near as good.

Even if it was a little embarrassing
to have everyone fussing over him
when Kenzie hadn't done anything
other than helping in the kitchen,
he liked being part of this family,
big and boisterous and beautiful.

Now and then, a cricket chirped
on the hearth, but as soon as
it did, someone would move
and make it fall silent again.

Someone had spread a blanket
that folks were putting things on and
taking them back off again, not quite
a formal giveaway but apparently
something they did at whim.

"Now I know who I made this for,"
Corsen said, draping a shawl over
Kenzie's shoulders. It was turquoise
with two pairs of eagle feathers and
a row of fox tracks along the bottom.
"It started as an assignment in class."

"Thank you," Kenzie said. "It's beautiful.
People encouraged him to take things,
even though he didn't have anything
of his own to put down in return.

He didn't have much, period.

Tomson came in with a big box
full of books, which the children
promptly swarmed over looking for
anything new in a heritage language,
from what Kenzie could tell of their chatter.

There was a bundle of two books tied
together with a ribbon of red calico:
Little Bird and the Language Nest
and The Language Nest Handbook.

As the children untied the bow,
Kenzie saw that the smaller book
was about a little girl named Binessi
who was learning to speak Ojibwe,
with the text in Ojibwe and English
under the bright watercolor pictures.

"This is more your speed," Tomson said,
offering Kenzie a paperback. "Torn Heart is
a coming-of-age book about a two-spirit boy
who feels caught between two worlds and
between two genders. It's a favorite."

"Okay," Kenzie said, accepting it.
"I look forward to reading this."

Just then, Sounding Shell
reached for a white scarf painted
with brown-and-turquoise flowers
that slithered onto the floor.

"I'll get that, Grandmother,"
Kenzie said, swooping down
to pick up the wayward scarf.

A sharp point of pain pierced
his back, making him bite his lip.
Maybe he wasn't quite as recovered
as he had thought that he was.

Kenzie handed off the scarf
and tried to push the pain away,
but it felt like a spark burning
right through his skin.

"Come with me," Ben said,
gently herding him around
the curve of the house from
the living room to where
some altar niches faced
the guest bathroom.

"I'm fine," Kenzie said,
although his back still hurt.

"You're spotting blood through
your shirt," Ben said quietly.
"Here, lean against the wall
and let me take a look."

"Okay," Kenzie said,
tugging the hem loose.

There was nothing left
of the bandages except
for a couple turns of gauze
to keep his clothes from rubbing.

Ben moved the gauze aside
and then said, "Popped a stitch,
right here by the fork." A fingertip
underlined the spot. "The skin tore
a little, but it's nothing to worry about."

"No wonder it stings," Kenzie said.

"You'll be okay," Ben said. "In fact,
the rest of these look ready to come out."
He nudged Kenzie. "Go in the bathroom
and I'll take care of these for you."

"But the party's still going,"
Kenzie protested, looking back
the way they had just come.

"I know, but I think you've had
enough excitement for now," Ben said.
"Let's quit while we're ahead."

When he thought about it,
Kenzie realized that he was
stuffed, stiff and sore, and
starting to get sleepy.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming,"
he said, and let Ben steer him
into the guest bathroom.

"Lean over the steps to the tub,"
Ben suggested as he gathered
supplies and washed his hands.

Kenzie shrugged his shirt up
to his shoulders and crawled
up the steps until he found
a comfortable place to lie.

"I'll do the broken one first,"
Ben said, dabbing at it gently.

The first contact hurt a little,
but then it stopped, and Kenzie
recognized the mellower smell
of the numbing antiseptic.

Then Ben cleaned the last row
of stitches, cut them one by one,
and carefully picked out the threads.

Kenzie couldn't feel anything more
than the faint tug and tickle, but
then the itching started up.

"Fffff," he said, hissing through
his teeth. "Hurry up, it itches!"

"Last stitch," Ben said, smoothing
his hand over Kenzie's shoulder.
Another quick twitch and it was
done. "All finished. Let me get
something to put over that."

The scent of sage and arnica
bloomed in the air, and then Ben was
rubbing it over Kenzie's skin, his fingers
gentle on the healing scabs, the lotion
already warm from his body heat.

The itching finally died down,
and Kenzie sighed with relief.

Ben wrapped gauze over the area
to protect the tender skin, then said,
"Take off that shirt and I'll soak it."

"I don't have anything else to --"
Kenzie began, only for a soft bundle
of cloth to nudge against his shoulder.

"Ida keeps t-shirts and sleep pants
in the linen cabinet for times like this,"
Bear explained as he handed Kenzie
a green top and held out his hand.

Kenzie obediently peeled off
the calico top he was wearing,
intensely grateful that now he
could undress himself again,
as long as he was careful.

Getting into the new t-shirt
took a little longer, but Kenzie
managed that too, and it gave him
a ridiculous sense of pride.

"Thanks for taking care of me,"
he said, watching Ben put the calico
into a sink full of cold water.

"No trouble at all," Ben said.
"Come to bed now, you're still
healing and that drains energy."

"Okay," Kenzie said. It was
kind of a relief to slip back into
the beautiful little room that was
starting to feel like his, and
lie down on the bed.

"There you go. Relax and
take a nap if you need to,"
Ben said. "I'll let folks know
that you need some quiet time."

"Sorry I kind of ruined the party,"
Kenzie said with a sigh.

"You didn't," Ben assured him.
"It'll probably run for hours.
People got to see you, and
that's what matters. They'll
understand if you're tired."

"Yeah, I kind of am,"
Kenzie admitted. "But I
like being part of this whole ..."
He waved a hand to encompass
everyone still partying behind them.

"Family is what keeps us happy,"
Ben said. "Being together and helping
one another out is what family is all about."

His words squeezed Kenzie's heart
like a bear hug, warm and tight and
just on the edge of pain without
ever crossing into too much.

"I like the sound of that,"
Kenzie said with a smile.

He liked, too, the distant sounds
of people talking and laughing as
Ben let himself out of the room.

It didn't feel like being ignored
or excluded, but like Kenzie was
simply off in a different corner of
the family relaxing for a while.

He wrapped himself in that feeling
like a quilt and fell asleep.

* * *

Notes:

Big Chipmunk -- She has tawny-copper skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair that bleaches dramatically in the sun so that it develops streaks of bright rust-red and golden-blonde. She is short and plump, with a high sweet voice. Her heritage is half Chippewa and half Cherokee. She speaks both of her heritage languages, along with English. Big Chipmunk is married to a Chippewa-Cree man and they have two small children, a daughter and a son. They live in St. Pierre on Rocky Boy's Reservation in Montana. Big Chipmunk runs the business office of the Albert Lee Ferris Art Gallery. She is unusually adept at balancing the tribal and mainstream aspects of her life, something the Iron Horses envy.
Qualities: Good (+2) Balanced Between Both Worlds, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Office Manager, Good (+2) Singer, Good (+2) Traditional Cooking
Poor (-2) Out of Shape

Corsen Aufroy -- She has fair skin, hazel eyes, and long auburn hair with just a little wave. Her heritage includes Welsh and French. She was a graduate student majoring in linguistics at the University of Montana before the money ran out. Then she moved to Rocky Boy's Reservation to earn her way through Stone Child College. Her strong work ethic and deft computer skills have made her very popular on the reservation.
Qualities: Good (+2) Beautiful, Good (+2) Computer Skills, Good (+2) Linguist, Good (+2) Linguistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Work Ethic
Poor (-2) Impoverished Background

Many Tongues (Theoren "Theo" Greyeyes) -- He has fair skin, gray eyes, and dark hair trimmed into a short mohawk. His heritage includes Cree, Chippewa, and British. He wears glasses. Many Tongues is a disabled Army veteran, paralyzed from the waist down, who uses a wheelchair. Because of this, he needs help with some everyday tasks.
Many Tongues works at the Rocky Boy's Early Headstart language immersion program. He speaks A'ananin (Gros Ventre), Dakota (Sioux), English, French, Lipan Apache, Nakoda (Assiniboine), Nēhiyawēwin ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ or Plains Cree, Ojibwemowin (Chippewa or Ojibwa), Oji-Cree (another dialect of Ojibwa), Plains Indian Sign, Salish, and Siksika (Blackfeet). He is currently struggling to learn Diné (Navajo). He has chosen a mix of widely-spoken tribal languages and very rare ones.
Qualities: Master (+6) Tribal Languages, Expert (+4) Âniskô-kiskinwahamâkêwin, Good (+2) Army Veteran, Good (+2) Dark Humor, Good (+2) Endurance
Poor (-2) Activities of Daily Living

Âniskô-kiskinwahamâkêwin means passing on teachings.


Romero Jackrabbit -- He has copper skin, black eyes, and long black hair with just a little wave. He is pure Chippewa of the Stone clan, living on the Rocky Boy's Reservation. He was born to a Chippewa father and a Hispanic mother via fertility treatments because she could not produce healthy eggs, so they took advantage of the opportunity to preserve the tribe's genetic heritage by using donated Chippewa eggs. Romero grew up loving his body and what he could do with it; he explored track & field, acting, and dancing in school. In high school, all the girls went after him, and he enjoyed making out, but he sucked at maintaining relationships. Eventually he realized that he is aromantic heterosexual. Although masculine and heterosexual, he has many friends among the two-spirits due to his unconventional family life, including Blair Her Road Goes Both Ways.
As an adult, Romero started making erotic movies for a living. He decided that since he wasn't going to raise a family, he could give back to the tribe by making a sperm donation to the Midwest Center for Reproductive Health, PA in Great Falls, Montana where his parents had gone. They soon discovered that his success rate was much higher than average. As a result, Romero now has several dozen children running around Rocky Boy's and Little Shell in Montana, Leech Lake and White Earth in Minnesota, Mole Lake in Wisconsin, plus File Hills, Lac La Ronge, and Saulteaux in Saskatchewan, Canada among other places.
Qualities: Master (+6) Fertility, Expert (+4) Speed, Good (+2) Bachelor Skills, Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence, Good (+2) Sexy
Poor (-2) Sustaining Relationships

Sounding Shell (Georgianna Baie) -- She has light copper skin, brown eyes, and straight gray hair past her shoulders. The shaman of Rocky Boy's Reservation, an old woman. She is Cree from Ontario and married a Cree man from Rocky Boy's Reservation. It annoys her when people ignore her visions, and she has a habit of saying, "I told you so," when those come true anyway.
Origin: When Georgianna was twelve, she got her first period. She stayed in a special tent for four days and four nights, secluded with the older women of her family. She prayed for a way to help her people move into the future. She developed superpowers, and when she emerged, there was a great feast at which a shaman gave her the name Sounding Shell.
Uniform: Most of the time, she wears comfortable, outdoorsy women's clothes. She favors dark colors, although for ceremonial use she often chooses brighter ones.
Qualities: Master (+6) Shaman, Master (+6) Wisdom, Expert (+4) Birchbark Crafts, Expert (+4) Grandmother, Good (+2) Horsewoman, Good (+2) Stamina, Good (+2) Wildcrafting
Poor (-2) I Told You So
Powers: Good (+2) Foresight
Sometimes the spirits give her visions of the future. These are rarely large or complete scenes. Instead she gets practical tidbits. People don't always want to listen, because the ideas are seemingly unconnected to anything else at that point in time, but she is consistently right.
Motivation: To help her people move into the future.

Many tribes have a womanhood ceremony, although the details vary. Here are some examples from Cree and Yankton Sioux cultures.

* * *

"Family is what keeps us happy! Being together, helping one another out is what family is all about."
"óma óta ka-mámawítisáníhitowak éyako ka-miyowatamak, ta-wicihitowak ékosi isi wítisánítiwin ka-miyowátakahk."
Vital Daniels, Sturgeon Lake First Nation

"The true Indian sets no price upon either his property or his labor. His generosity is limited only by his strength and ability. He regards it as an honor to be selected for difficult or dangerous service and would think it shameful to ask for any reward, saying rather: "Let the person I serve express his thanks according to his own bringing up and his sense of honor. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!. What is Silence? It is the Great Mystery! The Holy Silence is His voice!"
Charles Alexander Eastman, The Soul of the Indian

See a map of the Montana reservations.

The Starblanket family roundhouse is made of cob with a grass roof. It has three bedrooms and a den/playroom. In this floor plan, the main entrance comes through the laundry room. In a traditional home, the place of honor was opposite the entrance, in this case roughly the great room and the master bedroom. The kitchen occupies the central area where the hearth once resided. The back side of the kitchen facing the master bedroom has altar niches. The library runs along the wall beside the back door and wraps around to the door of the master bedroom. The dining table tucks against a bench along the outer wall. The living room has a built-in couch and a woodstove. The sitting room has a built-in couch, chairs, and bookcases. The den / playroom has a fireplace, a built-in couch, and several pieces of loose furniture. There is also a niche with a desk and chair behind the fireplace. Toys are kept in baskets or shelves inset into the walls. The laundry room has a sink and cabinets in addition to the washer and dryer. The kitchen includes a refrigerator, chest freezer, stove, and sink. The back side of the kitchen facing the master bedroom has altar niches. The master bedroom has a queen-size bed. The master bathroom is decorated with tile mosaics of sea creatures. It has a wooden shelf unit attached to the wall. The guest bedroom has a full-size bed with a desk and chair behind the headboard. A huge planter lines the wall above the window, above which hangs a ceiling fan with grow lights. The planter and nearby shelves hold a variety of succulents, other houseplants, and even a banana tree. The bunkroom holds one pair of twin-size bunks along with a windowseat. The guest bathroom is decorated with turquoise tiles and small planters full of water-loving flowers. This is the porch of the Starblanket family roundhouse.

Here is the Albert Lee Ferris Art Gallery. This building includes an art gallery for shows, and rooms selling traditional arts and crafts. They have books, baskets and quilts, jewelry, paintings, and more. Priority for including items goes first to tribal members living in Rocky Boy's Reservation, then to nontribal residents and members of other tribes, and finally to those who are neither residents nor members of any tribe. Here is the cash register. The second floor holds the office, accessible through a spiral staircase. The woman is Big Chipmunk, who is half Chippewa and half Cherokee. A ladder in the second-floor office leads to the cupola above. The cupola on the third floor is available for meditation or creative space. The building is named after Albert Lee Ferris, sculptor, painter, 1939–1986.

Native American home etiquette varies from tribe to tribe, but has a lot of common ground.

Generosity and sharing are essential virtues in most tribes, such as the Cree. Food sharing is intimate and strengthens ties between people. Both the Canadian and American governments banned it for many years as a way of destroying tribal cultures. That continues today: Coles County in Illinois first restricted food vendors at events to those who have a restaurant, driving out the powwow; and more recently banned potlucks at events open to the public, with further negative effects.

The Three Sisters are corn, squash, and beans. They are traditionally grown together in the garden. They are also served together in many recipes such as this one for Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping.

Peanut Butter Cookies are among the best for freezing well.

Commodity foods are distributed by the American government on reservations. They are notorious for bad nutrition, causing poor health to the point of genocide.

As a result, some tribes are trying to recover their traditional foodways. This cookbook has a recipe for bannock. Huckleberries are wild berries that grow along much of the western coast and mountain areas. Buffalo berries make a delicious syrup. Rabbit is among the traditional meats.

T-America has more positive books about Native American culture. Little Bird and the Language Nest is a children's book about a little girl learning Ojibwe. Torn Heart is a coming-of-age book about a two-spirit boy who feels caught between two worlds and between two genders.

A language nest is a way of teaching children to speak a heritage language. Here is an online toolkit. There are examples in Ojibwe and Cree. Binessi means "little bird," or more particularly, "partridge."

See Kenzie's two-feather shawl and Sounding Shell's Ojibway floral scarf.

Removing stitches is fairly straightforward. Most people prefer to have a medic do this, but it can be done at home if necessary. The most common issues with stitches are tearing them by moving too vigorously while the injury is fresh, which can break it open again; popping one shortly before they're removed; or waiting too long to remove them, in which case they stick to the surrounding skin.

Healing skin often itches, especially after stitches come out, and it really is imperative not to scratch to avoid reinjuring delicate new tissue. The body modification subculture has learned all how to how stop itching. A light lotion such as Turquoise Sage Mountain Arnica Body Lotion can help.

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