Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Keeper of His Identity"

This poem is spillover from the September 18, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] redsixwing. It also fills the "native" square in my 9-30-18 card for the Fall Bingo fest. This poem was sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] lone_cat, [personal profile] bairnsidhe, and [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Big One and Iron Horses threads of the Polychrome Heroics series. It follows "The Hearts They Leave Behind" and "A Sacredness in Tears," so read those first or this won't make much sense.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes rebuilding after an earthquake, Joseph discovering that his sister is alive and feeling flattened with shock, sudden unplanned travel, emotionally fraught conversations, finding out that She Walks in Mist can't simply leave Yellowstone, surprise new boyfriend, language differences, and other challenges. If there are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.

"The Keeper of His Identity"

[Friday, July 1, 2016]

Joseph Elkdog put his back into it
and hauled another load of lumber
down toward the edge of the lake.

The Graton Reservation had taken
moderate damage from an earthquake
clocking in at 6.5 on the moment scale.

The main house had been built in 2001
with good seismic design, so it only took
a little damage, mostly to the garage.

When the Iron Horses traveled there
to help Ben's relatives, they started by
handing out supplies and repairing
the main house before turning
their attention elsewhere.

The pergola and dock by the lake
had been completely destroyed,
and the canoe parking damaged.

This week, the work crew had
re-dug the terraces for the landing
and put in fresh timbers to hold canoes.

Today they were starting on the dock,
so they needed a lot of lumber.

Joseph was stacking boards
near the top of the terraces when
Kyle High Wolf came running at
top speed, yelling for him.

"What's wrong?" Joseph said.

"It's your sister," Kyle said.
"Somebody's seen her!"

Joseph reeled at the news.
"They said she was dead!"

"Everyone thought she was, since
she stepped into the hot pool and never
came back out," Kyle said. "But now Haiwee
is on the phone with Ron, saying some kids
saw She Walks in Mist at the pool. You
need to go talk with Ron and Haiwee."

Joseph was stunned. His sister
might still be alive somehow?

"Come on, man," said Kyle.
He threw Joseph's arm over
his shoulders and started
pulling him up the steep hill.

That finally shook Joseph
into awareness, and he
picked up the pace.

They had to circle around
the side of the house, since
the long staircase made of
red sandstone had been
damaged in the quake and
couldn't be repaired until
some new blocks arrived.

Joseph and Kyle found Ron
in the family room, pacing
across the tile floor as he
talked with Haiwee.

As soon as Ron saw
Joseph, though, he
handed over the phone.

Joseph's hand shook,
making the plastic case
slippery to hold. "Haiwee?
I'm here, what's going on?"

"A couple of weeks ago,
David and Cliff went back to
the Shoshone Geyser Basin,"
said Haiwee. "They both saw
and felt some odd things."

"Like what?" Joseph said.

"Columns of steam dancing
over the pools, but moving in
different ways than the steam
in other places," Haiwee said.
"They told me that the place
felt strange, but they couldn't
pin down exactly why."

"I know how that goes,"
Joseph said. "What does
this have to do with my sister?"

"I'm getting to that," Haiwee said.
"Kimama and Briar went back today,
and they saw She Walks in Mist appear
in the hot pool. She's asking for you."

"I -- I'm in California," Joseph said,
his voice breaking. "We came out
to help Ben's relatives. They had,
um, 6.5 at the Graton Reservation
and it messed up some buildings.
We have horses, but there's not
much transportation around here."

Ben touched Joseph's shoulder.
"Where do you need to be and when?"

"The Shoshone Geyser Basin,"
Joseph said, "five minutes ago!"

"I'll call our friends in Omaha and
ask for a favor," Ben said. "They
know more teleporters than we do."

That was how they'd gotten out
to California in the first place, so
hopefully it would work again.

"We'll try to find a quick lift to
the park," Joseph told Haiwee.
"Someone can let you know --"

He couldn't keep going, and
pushed the phone at Ron.

Joseph staggered outside
and leaned against the wall of
the big house, gasping for air.

She Walks in Mist was
the keeper of his identity,
the only person with the keys
to his unfettered, fundamental self.

Going on without her had been
complete and utter hell.

If she was still alive,
if he could get her back --

Ben wrapped an arm
around Joseph. "Okay, I
made the arrangements,"
he said. "Let's go pack a bag
of essentials in case you need
to stay in Yellowstone for a while."

Joseph nodded, and followed
him out to their campsite
to stuff things into a bag.

Ben did most of the packing
because Joseph couldn't
concentrate on anything
but seeing his sister again.

"We're sending Ron with you
because he's lighter than me,"
Ben said, handing Joseph the pack.
"You need someone for company."

Because otherwise he'd step in
a hole or something. Joseph
couldn't argue with that one.

He barely felt the weight of the bag
over his shoulder, and paid no mind
to the teleporter who took them away.

Yellowstone was sunny and warm, with
a soft breeze stirring vivid green grass.

"This is as close as I could get on
wide, solid ground," the teleporter said.
"You'll have to hike out to the hot spot --
the crust there can be iffy, and there
are marshes around here too."

"We know the area, and so
it's no trouble," Ron said.
"Thanks for bringing us."

Joseph was already tugging him
toward the plumes of steam that
he could see in the distance.

The wind whispered in the mist,
sometimes sounding like sighs,
other times almost giggling.

He spared little mind for
the beautiful scenery, thinking
only of his sister and hoping
that he could find her here.

Fortunately, the college students
had left behind a trail marker,
a small circle of stones.

Joseph stopped in front
of it and then called out,
"She Walks in Mist?"

His sister rose from the pool
looking just as she always had,
except she was smiling.

"Joseph!" she said.
"I'm so glad you came!"

"You called me, I came,"
he said, taking a step forward.

"Don't come any closer,"
she warned, holding up
a hand. "It's not safe."

Joseph looked down at
where his feet touched
the chalky ground. "Why?"

"The crust gets thinner,
closer to the pools," she said.
"I told the kids to put a marker
where it's still mostly safe."

"Good idea," Ron said.

"Yeah," Joseph agreed,
still regretting the need.
He stepped back behind
the little circle of stones.
"What happened here?"

"I had no idea at first,"
said She Walks in Mist.
"There was a little quake,
then suddenly the caldera
started boiling over."

"That's what Haiwee
told us," Ron said,
and Joseph nodded.

"Anyway, I could feel
how dangerous it was, so I
stepped into the pool to try
and calm it down," she said.

"That worked," Joseph said.
"According to Haiwee, it stopped
boiling over just after you went in."

"Yes, and she told me that
the whole West Coast fell apart,"
said She Walks in Mist. "That
sounded even worse than here."

"It was," Joseph said. "We've
been out in California, helping
Ben's relatives to rebuild. But
once you solved the problem,
why didn't you come back?"

"I can't," she said sadly.
"Well, I could, but it would
be bad. If I let go, this place
will start acting up again."

"So you're stuck here?"
Joseph squawked. "How long?"

"I don't know," she said.
"Maybe a very long time."
For some reason that
made her smile again.
"Then again, give it a while
to settle down and I might
be able to come out some."

"What makes you think it'd
take so long?" Joseph said.

She Walks in Mist tucked
her chin against her chest.

Was she actually blushing?
It was hard to tell through
the steam, but he thought so.

"There's someone I want you
to meet," She Walks in Mist said,
and then held out her hand.

Another column of steam
rose up, then thickened
around a shadowy core,
slowly gaining color.

The man who appeared
had long black hair and
copper skin, his arms
ringed with metal bands.

He wore a leather vest
with lines of white beads
and a leather breechclout
with long swaying fringes.

Rabbit fur wrapped his braids,
and he wore a necklace with
many strands of white beads.

"This is my new boyfriend, Pakateh.
His name means Lake, and he's
very old," said She Walks in Mist.

Joseph was suddenly reminded
of the strange noises that the wind
had been making -- noises much
like those of a courting couple
snuggling underneath a blanket.

"I'm pleased to meet you,"
Joseph said, and meant it.
Ron echoed his greeting.

She Walks in Mist was
no easy catch, despite being
chased by many young men.

Joseph had thought that he
would never see her smile again,
or hear her laugh, and now she
was taken with this fellow.

Pakateh moved his hands.
Good morning, brother.

Joseph had gotten
a few lessons in hand talk,
like most kids who grew up on
the reservation, but it was rusty.

He managed to return the greeting,
but he couldn't go beyond that.
Well, that was embarrassing.

"Pakateh doesn't speak English,
and I don't speak Shoshone either,"
said She Walks in Mist. "I've been
getting a crash course in hand talk,
though, and we're getting by."

"That's good," Joseph said,
and added the sign for it.

She Walks in Mist grinned
and said, "I'm glad you like him,
because he wants permission
to court me. Please say yes."

Of course, she didn't need
his permission, but Joseph knew
she'd prefer it, and her boyfriend
was doubtless even more traditional.

"You make my sister happy,"
Joseph said to Pakateh,
following through with signs.
"That's enough for me."

Pakateh's smile was
like a slow sunrise.

He signed his thanks,
then wrapped an arm
around She Walks in Mist.

"So you saved the day and
met a handsome stranger,"
Joseph said. "I'm impressed."

"Oh, good," his sister said.
"I was afraid you'd be mad."

"I was heartbroken when I
thought that you had died,"
said Joseph. "Now I know that
you're okay, there's very little
you could do to anger me."

"Even though I can't come
home with you?" she said.

Joseph sighed. "That makes
me sad, not angry," he said.
"I don't want the valley to erupt,
though, so I'll deal with it. I'm
glad you found someone, too --
you never seemed impressed
by anyone at powwows."

She Walks in Mist wrinkled
her nose. "That's because
they weren't very impressive."

Pakateh certainly was. Joseph
could feel the power rolling off him.

"Well, you sure showed them,"
Joseph said. "Good for you."

Ron chuckled. "It looks like you
found the one man that nobody
can claim isn't Indian enough."

"I did, didn't I?" she said.

"Yeah," said Joseph. "I wish
that you could come home, but
for now, I'll visit as often as I can."

"We can't talk too often, or
too long," his sister warned.
"I think that will get better over
time, though. We'll have to see
how it goes, what seems safe."

"Tell me what you need and
I'll do that," Joseph said. "You
can send messages with hikers,
or we can arrange times, whatever."

"Let's plan on meeting once a month
for now," said She Walks in Mist. "If
I can come up more often than that,
I'll talk to anyone who's around then."

"Agreed," Joseph said with a nod.

"Other folks will want to come too,"
Ron pointed out. "What then?"

"I'll do my best to share the time
that she can spare," Joseph said.

"The Shoshone already plan
to come as well," she said.
"They want to meet Pakateh
as well as talk with me. We can
trade off minding the waters."

"Nobody else has met him?"
Joseph said, staring at her.

"No, I wanted you to be
the first," she replied.

"That's sweet," said Joseph.
"I'll study more of the hand talk
so I can communicate better."

He signed along as best he could,
but it was clumsy and he didn't
know all the words he needed.

Pakateh responded with
a more flowing version
of the same words, and
Joseph tried to copy it.

Then one of the geysers erupted.

Pakateh winked out at once,
and She Walks in Mist
looked over her shoulder.

"I need to go," she said.
"The water is heating up.
We need to disperse that
so it doesn't boil over."

Joseph swallowed
the lump in his throat.

"I love you," he said.
"Go on, now, and I'll
catch you another time."

She Walks in Mist melted
back into the hot pool, and
the steam promptly decreased.

"How are you?" Ron asked.

Joseph wiped a hand over
his face, and it came away
wet with more than mist.

"Better today than yesterday,"
he said. "I'll take what I can get."

The important thing was that he had
regained the keeper of his identity.

* * *


Pakateh -- He has copper skin, brown eyes, and long straight black hair. He is historic Shoshone. He speaks Crow, Cheyenne, Shoshone, and Plains Indian Sign. He is very old, and doesn't know exactly how old, but he went into the water before white people took over the valley of Smoking Water, now known as Yellowstone National Park. For a while he still interacted with people, but the more white people came, the less he bothered to show himself. When She Walks in Mist jumped into the pool, though, Pakateh woke right up. Together they calmed the waters, and soon they fell in love. Both of them tend to be quiet and reserved most of the time, but they can make each other smile and laugh.
Origin: Pakateh received a vision as a young man that gave him influence over the earth, air, fire, and water. When the valley of the Smoking Water began to boil over, he walked into it and made it stop. But by the time he had settled the waters enough to leave, his tribe was gone, so he just stayed in there.
Uniform: He wears traditional Shoshone clothing. His vest is leather with rows of white beads. His breechclout is leather with fringes. Quillwork decorates his moccasins.He wears metal bracelets and armbands, a necklace with many strands of white beads, and rabbit fur braid wraps.
Qualities: Master (+6) Wisdom, Expert (+4) Hunter, Expert (+4) Medicine Man, Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Storyteller
Poor (-2) Grasp of Modern World
Powers: Expert (+4) Elemental Powers
Motivation: To mediate between humans and the forces of nature.

pakateh -- be a body of still water, lake or pool (Duck Valley)

Share a sacred teaching (Love, Respect, Humility, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, and Truth).
-- The Medicine Wheel Activities

* * *

"A sibling may be the keeper of one's identity, the only person with the keys to one's unfettered, more fundamental self."
-- Marian Sandmaier

In Yellowstone National Park, Friday, July 1, 2016 was sunny with midday temperatures ranging from 70-77ºF. Winds went from 3-15 miles per hour.

Going nonverbal can happen to anyone under enough stress, but certain conditions -- such as autism and child abuse -- make it happen more often for some people. In this case, it's plain old emotional shock from Joseph finding out that his sister is alive after all. Know how to handle it.

Activity Scouts got a lot of their trail signs from Native American sources. Look at the bottom row, cited as "Gone Home" or "Finished," two very different messages. In T-America, a circle with a dot in the middle as shown means Gone Home. An empty circle means Finished as in the end of a trail or a destination spot.

Courtship customs varied among tribes, but many of the Plains Indians used a courting blanket. A young couple would dress up and snuggle in a blanket while standing outside her family tipi. Everyone could see them, but pretended not to unless something went wrong -- in which case, the slightest sound of protest brought outraged elders descending on the culprit.

Plains Indian Sign or Hand Talk is a trade language that once spanned much of Turtle Island. Read an online dictionary.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, romance, safety, weblit, writing

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