Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features gradual recovery from injury, cultural differences, nightmares following trauma, triggers, Mick touches Kenzie the wrong way and gets kicked flat, Kenzie feels awful despite everyone assuring him it was not his fault, meltdown with flight response, discussion of counseling options, poverty, emotional issues, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"A Healing Force"
Two weeks after the incident,
Kenzie was mostly recovered,
at least on the physical side.
His skin was still snug and tender
in a few places, but all the scabs had
fallen off. He had to be a bit careful with
bending and stretching, or he got twinges,
but it no longer hurt just to move around.
He had most of his energy back, and
only felt tired after doing some work.
He had learned his way around
the roundhouse and was starting
to feel like the lovely little bedroom
actually belonged to him now.
On the other hand, now Kenzie
couldn't sleep well. He kept
waking up with nightmares.
He was yawning when he got up
and ambled into the dining room
to discover that someone had
put out salad for breakfast
beside the Birchbark cereal.
Poking in the basket, he found
fireweed, dandelion, chickweed,
and water speedwell along with
other leaves he didn't recognize.
"Just try some and see if you
like it," Ida Starblanket said
as she set down a basket full
of unfamiliar berries. "These
are thimbleberries, by the way,
the grandchildren brought them."
"Okay," Kenzie said. He put
some salad on a small plate
and topped it with berries before
getting himself a bowl of cereal.
It was so not was he was
used to eating for breakfast,
and it didn't taste anything like
what he bought at Salad Palace,
but it was surprisingly good --
a bit like mesclun, maybe.
The thimbleberries added
a hint of sweetness, milder than
the red raspberries they resembled,
and Kenzie decided he liked them.
He was happier with the Birchbark,
though, because even though the flavor
was different, at least it was cereal
and that was familiar to him.
Ben and Henry slid into place
on either side of him, already
engaged in a deep discussion
about a dream that Ben had.
Without hesitation, Ida chimed in.
"You saw a dark squirrel? Could
it have been a Douglas squirrel?"
"Yeah, that sounds about right,"
Ben said. "Dark with a red belly."
"Those only live on the coast,"
Ida said. "Perhaps you will have
a visitor or a message from the west."
"Ah, that could be it," Ben said,
and having settled that point, they
all went after Henry's dream next.
Kenzie listened with half an ear
as he ate his breakfast, until Ron
showed up and asked, "What about
you, Kenzie, what have you dreamed?"
"Mostly getting thrown from the truck,"
Kenzie muttered, hunching over his bowl.
"Trauma nightmares can be hard, but
they're quite common," Ron said. "Once
your body recovers, your mind has to deal
with what happened. It leaves you open
to all kinds of problems with sleep."
"Yeah, I had awful dreams for weeks
after I got trampled as a boy," said Henry.
"I was fine until a few nights ago, and
then bam! Nightmares," Kenzie said.
"That can happen," Ron said. "Some folks
have nightmares immediately after a trauma,
but others don't until some time later when
they feel safe enough to process it."
"I do feel safe here," Kenzie realized.
"But now, how do I deal with the dreams?
I can't keep losing sleep like that, it makes me
tired all day and it's bad for anyone's health."
"You might have to work at it," Henry said.
"My mother had to call a shaman to show me
how to change my dreams from bad to good."
"You can do that?" Kenzie said, startled.
"Sure," Henry said. "It takes practice,
and you have to talk about your dreams
a lot, but you should be doing that anyway.
Spirits can be subtle, and your sleeping self
isn't easy to figure out either. A shaman is
trained for that kind of work, and it helps."
"I don't know," Kenzie said. "I don't
want to turn into the crashing bore who
talks about his dreams at a party and
makes everyone want to flee the room."
They all looked at him funny, and then
Ida said, "How unbelievably rude."
"It's bad luck to walk away from anyone
telling you a dream story," Ben said.
"Yes," Ron agreed. "The spirits might
take offense and thus turn their backs
on you for not listening properly."
"We'll be happy to help you
work through your dreams,
Kenzie, even if the people
you knew before would not
help with that," Ida said firmly.
"Okay," Kenzie said, desperate
to fit in with his new family.
"I guess I'm open to it."
"That's the spirit," Henry said,
patting Kenzie on the shoulder.
"If you face your nightmares, then
you'll get through them sooner."
After breakfast, Kenzie helped
to clear the table and dry the dishes,
grateful that he could join in chores now.
"Thank you, dear, that's very helpful,"
Ida said as she closed the last cabinet.
"Why don't you take a break and
read your book for a while?"
She was still maybe coddling him
just a little, and Kenzie didn't have
the heart to tell her to quit it.
Even though he didn't want
to become a layabout, he liked
the fact that somebody cared.
"I finished it yesterday," Kenzie said.
"I'm kind of sad, because Torn Heart was
fantastic, even if it got pretty bleak in places."
"Later on we'll see if the Art Gallery has
a copy of They Dream Tomorrow," Ida said.
"It's about several teens on a reservation sharing
similar dreams, and how they solve the problems
they're seeing. If you liked Torn Heart, then
you will probably like this one as well."
"Yeah, I would really like to have
a new book to read," Kenzie admitted.
"Meanwhile, let's rack out in the living room
and watch cartoons," Henry said. "Have
you ever seen Kagagi: The Raven?"
"Doesn't ring a bell," Kenzie said,
"but I'm open to something new.
What kind of cartoon is it?"
"Algonquin," said Henry.
"Some of the dialog is even
in Anishinàbemiwin. I don't
speak much of that tongue, but
I looked it up as best I could."
"Oh, so did I," Ron said.
"That's a favorite cartoon,
and I enjoy the comics too."
"I can understand more of it
without the translation," Blair said,
coming into the room with Mick and
Joseph at her side. "It's related to
Cree and Chippewa, and I speak
Nēhiyawēwin or Plains Cree."
"Sure, put on the cartoon,"
Kenzie said as he grabbed
a seat on the couch that
ran under the big window.
Blair sat down beside him,
while Henry went over
to turn on the television.
Ben and Ron sat next to them,
Joseph and Ida found chairs, while
Henry and Mick sat on the floor.
Kagagi was like nothing
Kenzie had ever seen before.
Oh, the artwork was a little familiar,
crisp and stylized in a way popular for
teen shows, but there the similarity ended.
Something about the imagery looked different,
as if the artist looked at the same world as
Kenzie but saw something else entirely.
It was the music, though, that made him
feel like he'd stepped into a different world,
even though the story was just about a kid
manifesting ancestral superpowers.
The pounding drums and yelping voices
combined to give the show a driving urgency that
set it apart from the usual action soundtracks.
The dream sequence at the beginning
reminded Kenzie a little of his own past --
he had dreamed about foxes for a while
before the first time he turned into one.
Certainly he had problems with people
picking on him at school, too, even though
the racism was a different issue than he had.
All the spirit stuff was totally new to Kenzie,
and he loved it, although he could tell that
everyone else knew enough of the story to get
more meaning out of it. Blair's translation of
the Anishinàbemiwin scenes helped, too.
"What did you think?" Henry asked
at the end of the first episode.
"That was amazing!" Kenzie said.
"I can hardly wait to see more."
"Later," Joseph said firmly.
"You don't need to lounge on
the couch all day watching cartoons."
"I wouldn't," Kenzie said. "I can
earn my keep. I just thought that
it would be nice to watch more later."
"Watching an episode a day is
perfectly reasonable," Ida said.
"Yeah," Kenzie said. "I'd like that."
"Meanwhile, you lot can sweep
the floor," Ida said. "Someone
has been tracking in mud."
The roundhouse had floors of
smooth cob in the public areas,
decorated with tile or stone in
some of the individual rooms.
Kenzie's little bedroom was
done in brick herringbone.
"I'll take the doormat out to
the fence and beat it," Ben said.
Kenzie winced. He didn't want
to listen to the sound of anything
getting pounded. It was too soon.
"I can sweep," he said hastily,
hoping to escape the job of
beating any throw rugs.
"Brooms are in the small closet
at the edge of the dining room,"
Ida said, helpfully pointing the way.
"Use whichever kind you like."
When Kenzie opened the door,
he could see why -- there were
round and flat whisk brooms,
a long-handled round broom,
a decorated flat broom with
its bristles dyed in red ochre,
and some cheap flat brooms.
He took one of the latter and
started to close the door.
Then someone grabbed
his shoulder and the broom at
the same time, and Kenzie lost it.
He lashed backwards with one foot,
desperate to get away from the threat,
and heard a pained yelp from his attacker.
When Kenzie came back to himself,
he was holding the broom crosswise as if
to block a blow, and Mick was on the floor
clutching his right knee and groaning.
"Idiot," Ron said, pushing past him.
Kenzie flinched. "I didn't mean --
I was only -- it just happened."
"Oh, not you, Kenzie, I'm sorry,"
Ron said. "Of course this wasn't
your fault. I meant Mick was an idiot."
"But I'm the one who kicked him,"
Kenzie said miserably. He hadn't
intended it, hadn't even thought
about it. The horse in him had just
reacted to someone coming up
behind and pulling at him.
Kenzie had too many memories
of how wrong that could go.
"Doesn't matter," Joseph said.
"Mick damn well knows better than
to tease a trauma survivor like that."
"Well, at least it was Kenzie and
not Many Tongues," said Ida.
"Yeah, on a bad day Many Tongues
probably would've broken Mick's arm,"
Blair said. "It could've been worse."
"Ron, how badly is Mick hurt?"
Joseph asked, looking at them.
Mick had gotten to his feet but was
limping -- he couldn't seem to put
much weight on the injured knee.
"I can't feel any breaks, and it's
not dislocated, but he probably
ripped something," Ron said.
"It would be a good idea for
Mick to visit the clinic."
"Blair, grab the keys to
the pickup and drive him,"
said Ida. "Mick shouldn't
ride a bike in this shape."
Mick was grumbling and
trying to convince everyone
that he was just fine, which
did no good whatsoever
since he still couldn't put
his foot flat on the floor.
All of a sudden, it was
too much and Kenzie
dodged around everyone
and bolted out the side door.
He headed away from
the roundhouse and wound up
following a line of raised beds
and buckets full of gardening tools.
Out of the corner of his eye,
Kenzie noticed Ben abandon
the doormat and follow him, but
the big man kept his distance
and didn't crowd Kenzie.
Just being outdoors helped.
It was easier to breathe; Kenzie
could see and hear everything
around him, so he didn't feel as
penned in as he did indoors.
He didn't trust himself to weed
the garden in this state, so he
just doubled over and braced
his hands on his thighs, panting.
"Heya," Ben said softly. "Would
you mind if I sit down for a while?"
"Suit yourself," Kenzie said,
tossing his head at the brick bench
that stood under the big pine tree.
Ben sat down, the wooden seat of
the bench creaking under his weight,
but the brick base held steady.
He didn't say anything, but
his silent presence helped a little.
Eventually, Kenzie drifted over
and sat beside Ben, comforted
by the warm solid bulk of him.
Just as Kenzie was starting
to calm down, Ron and Henry
came out of the roundhouse.
Kenzie tensed up again.
"Do you want me to shoo them
away?" Ben asked, looking at him.
"I really don't want to talk about
what happened right now," Kenzie said.
"But this is their home, I can't just ..."
"It's your home too," Ben said. He held up
his right hand and flipped it over, and then
held it near his mouth and moved it outward.
The other men came over and sat down
without saying more than "Hi" to Kenzie.
Henry took the far end of the bench, and
Ron flipped over a bucket to sit on.
Nobody seemed inclined to pester
Kenzie about what had happened.
After a few minutes, he began
to relax between Ben and Henry.
Then Joseph came out.
"What is this, a party?"
Kenzie snapped, glaring.
"We want to make sure that
you're not badly hurt and you
have someone with you in case
you need anything," Joseph said.
"Henry, go inside and tell Ida that
Kenzie doesn't want to be bothered."
At once Henry trotted to the house.
Ben repeated the same signs
that he had made before.
"Mmm," Joseph said.
He flipped over a bucket
and sat down with them.
Ron's fingers drummed softly
on the side of his bucket.
Ben hummed, a low deep sound
that vibrated through Kenzie's body
and helped his muscles unwind.
Henry came back, listened for
a moment, then turned over
another bucket and set it
down in front of Ron.
Joseph rummaged in
a bucket of garden tools
and found a loose handle,
which he passed to Ron.
Makeshift drumstick in hand,
Ron began thumping out a rhythm.
Joseph found another handle,
and then a sturdy stick. He and
Ben joined in, following Ron's lead,
all of them somehow drumming together.
Ben began to sing, very softly, and
after a few lines the others joined in.
Kenzie didn't know what they were
singing about, but it sounded beautiful.
His cheeks felt cold, and then he
realized that he was crying.
He felt so broken open.
Henry reached out and
very lightly touched
leaned into him.
Henry wrapped an arm
around Kenzie and
just let him cry.
It helped to be with
someone who had gone
through trauma too, even
if it was a different kind.
The chant wound over
and around itself, repeating
the same verses, then
slowly faded away.
Kenzie sniffled. "Thanks,"
he said. "What was that?"
"It's a song for healing
or thanksgiving," Ben said.
"Some of it has vocables that
just sound nice, and the main part
talks about how the Spirit Bear is
coming to love us. In most tribes,
bears represent love and healing."
"It sounds nice," Kenzie said, recalling
how Ida had drummed for him before.
"You people seem to sing a lot."
"Music is a healing force –
all living spirits sing," said Ben.
"It's who we are," Joseph added.
"When we're sad, we pick up a drum
and sing so we feel better. When we're
bored, we drum and sing to remind
ourselves of our strengths. When
we're happy, we do it to celebrate."
"Yeah, if you put a bunch of Indians
with something that can be hit like a drum,
we'll drum on it," Henry said. "I mean,
sure it's nice to have a real one,
but anything will do in a pinch."
"I really like it," Kenzie said.
"This makes me feel less alone."
"You don't have to be alone,"
Henry said. "I can sleep over
if you want someone with you
in case you have nightmares."
"Thanks. I'll think about it. Maybe
that would help," Kenzie said.
Then he sighed. "I suppose
I should go back in now."
"When you're ready," Ron said.
"Don't push yourself too hard."
"I know, but Ida worries, and I don't
want to do that to her," Kenzie said,
heading back to the roundhouse.
Henry put the buckets back where
they had been, and then everyone
followed along behind Kenzie.
Ida wasn't waiting around
worrying, though. She was
in the kitchen picking through
a colander full of dried beans.
"Did you have a nice walk?"
she said, looking up at Kenzie.
"Um ... more of a meltdown,"
he admitted. "The guys came out
and sat with me. They drummed
on a bucket and Ben sang. That
kinda helped, but I'm still a mess."
"It is good to listen to the Drum
and songs of healing," Ida said.
"You could hear it?" Kenzie said.
"A little through the windows," Ida said.
"These cob walls are almost soundproof,
but the glass isn't, and I know most of
the songs that the Iron Horses like."
"That must be nice, to have songs
that everybody knows, so you feel like
you belong somewhere," Kenzie said.
"That's what they're for," Ida said.
"I really didn't mean to hurt Mick,"
said Kenzie. "I didn't even realize
that it was him -- just somebody was
crowding behind me, and that's bad."
Ida nodded, pouring the beans into
a bowl and covering them with water.
"Most people feel jumpy after
a bad beating," she said. "I've
seen it often enough to know.
Sometimes it helps to talk out
how you feel and what you
can do to recover from it."
"I don't have a therapist or
anything right now," Kenzie said.
"I don't want to impose on you,
that's too much weight to carry."
Ida clucked her tongue at him.
"You let me decide how much
I can carry, young man!" she said.
"Have you tried therapy, though?
Does that tend to work for you?"
"Sometimes," Kenzie said. "When
my superpowers first came in, I found
a counselor at this youth center who
was just ... amazing. He helped a lot."
"Anyone else besides him?" Ida said,
setting the bowl of beans on the counter.
"I've tried a few others since then,
and it's okay for little stuff, but I haven't
found anyone else for the deep work,"
Kenzie said. "I kind of miss that."
"Listening to you, it sounds like
you have some damage that goes
a lot farther back than those hooligans
throwing you into a fence," Ida said.
"If you have the patience for deep work,
then you might be able to fix some things."
"Yeah, if I had an endless budget and
a good therapist," Kenzie said, then
shrugged. "I don't see that happening."
"Well, you have a few options here,"
Ida said. "I think you'd like Pretty Ears,
she's a psychiatrist. Her husband Chayton
is a peer counselor if you prefer something
more casual. You've already met our shaman,
Sounding Shell. Of course, Blazing Grass also
does some spirit healing, but he's father away."
"That's nice, I guess, but I don't think
I could afford any of that, and you
shouldn't have to," Kenzie said.
"First of all, you're family now,
and family means taking care of
each other," Ida said. "Understand?"
"I want to," Kenzie said. "I'm
trying to. It's just new to me."
"That's a start," Ida said. "Second,
there is no need for anyone to be
'poor' on the reservation. That's what
tribal currency is for, so that everyone
who wants to work can earn a living.
You're healed enough to do that."
"Yeah, I'd like to think about that,"
Kenzie said. "I appreciate you
taking care of me, I just feel like
I should pull my own weight."
"Everyone likes a hard worker,"
Ida agreed. "Do you want
to try counseling again?"
"I trust your judgment,"
Kenzie said softly. "If you
think I should try Pretty Ears,
then I'm open to that. I know
that I could use some help here."
"Then I'll call her and explain what's
going on with you, and we can find
time for an appointment," Ida said.
"Thanks," Kenzie said. "Do you think ...
could we maybe do more music later?"
"Of course," Ron said, and Kenzie
startled a bit. The others had been
so quiet that he forgot about them.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to spook you."
"I'm just jumpy," Kenzie said.
"The music helped, earlier."
"Music heals, even those hurts
that leave no physical scar," Ron said.
"The Iron Horses know this, Kenzie."
"I'll go get my drum," Ida said.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately. See the character, location, and content notes.