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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Oenikika"
This poem is spillover from the February 5, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] readera, [personal profile] librarygeek, [personal profile] helgatwb, and [personal profile] redsixwing. It also fills the" asking someone to join a group" square in my 9-5-18 Kind and Soft card for the 1000 Words or Less Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] zianuray, and [personal profile] book_worm5. It belongs to the Iron Horses thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Oenikika"

[Wednesday, August 13, 2014]

Kenzie was lounging in the living room
of the Starblanket family roundhouse.

He wore one of his new open-sided tanks,
the dusky blue one, over a ribbon skirt
of dark blue fabric with brighter trim.

His fingers kept sneaking through
the open sides to trace the small scars
that peppered his sides and front.

Blair and Bobtail came in with
their arms around each other.

"You look happy," Blair said.

"I am," Kenzie said, smiling.
"I love my new clothes --
and my scars, too. I wasn't
sure I would, but yeah. I'm
getting really attached to them."

"That's good," Blair said. "Ron
told me he took you shopping."

"It was more fun than I expected,"
Kenzie said. "I can't always
find clothes that feel right."

Blair and Bobtail both nodded.
"It's not as easy for two-spirits as
for men or women," said Bobtail.

"I wanted to talk with you about that,"
Blair said. "It has been four weeks
since you looked at the sun. Are you
feeling more settled as a two-spirit?"

"Yeah, I am," Kenzie said. "I've been ...
a little mixed up about gender for
a long time, but being around you
has made things a lot clearer."

"I'm glad to hear that," Blair said.
"How well is your body healing?"

"Almost back to normal," Kenzie said.
"I've been doing physical therapy,
stretches and stuff, mostly chores
that make me reach and twist. I
have most of my flexibility back,
although not all of my stamina."

"It will come," Blair assured him.
"I thought of something that might
help you get more energy back and
release what happened to you."

Kenzie took his feet off the couch
and sat up. "What?" he asked.

"Oenikika, a sweat lodge ceremony,"
said Blair. "I lead them for two-spirits here,
although of course I would understand if you
didn't want to sweat with such a young 'elder.'
You could sweat with the men instead."

"You're older than me, I'll call it good,"
Kenzie said. "Uh ... how many people?"

"It can be just you, me, and Bobtail,"
said Blair. "We're the only two-spirits
who are at home right now, but we
could wait if you want more."

"No, no, a small group is better,"
Kenzie said. "I'm so new to all this,
I'm still making a lot of mistakes. I'd
rather not have an audience, you know?"

"We know," Bobtail said. "Everyone
feels nervous at first. You'll be okay."

"As the leader, it's my responsibility
to make sure you're comfortable and
you know what you do," Blair said.
"I may be young, but I'm fully trained --
modern first aid and everything."

"Everything?" Kenzie wondered.

"Well, I haven't led sweats for
sick people without another elder,
but everything else," Blair said. "I
know lodge construction, fire building,
selection of stone people, equipment,
holy herbs, sacred songs and chants,
preparation for the participants, and
how to make sure people are safe."

"The first aid training is fairly new,"
Bobtail added. "I'm an assistant,
so I learned it too. We study things
like heart conditions or asthma that
can pose a risk, heat stress, and CPR.
We can do a basic health check and
know when to call an expert. It's safer."

"That's a relief," Kenzie said. "I've
heard about sauna accidents ...
and, well, some New Age stuff
that sounded pretty stupid."

Blair shook her head.
"When people don't know
what they're doing, somebody
tends to get hurt," she said.

"But you know, so it's safe,"
Kenzie said. "Okay. What
will we be doing, then?"

"Oenikika is a practice of
spiritual purification and prayer,"
Blair explained. "I think it will help
wash away the bad parts of what
has happened to you, and seal in
the good parts. We can acknowledge
your two-spirit gender at the same time."

Kenzie smiled. "I like that idea,"
he said. "I'm trying to fit in, even if
I don't always know what to do."

"I'll guide you," Blair promised.
"There's advance preparation.
I'll build the lodge and arrange
a fire-tender, who will bring us
hot rocks to throw water on.
Normally we do four heats,
but if it's too much, you can
stop earlier if you need to."

Kenzie silently resolved
to stick it out no matter what.

"None of that," Blair said,
rapping him on the knee.
"I know that look. You don't
get stubborn on me! I need
you to tell me if you overheat."

"Sorry," Kenzie said, ducking
his head. "I promise to tell you
if I feel like I'm overheating."

"That means if you can't breathe,
you get really dizzy, or your heart
is galloping -- not just you feel
way too hot," Bobtail added.
"A little lightheaded is normal,
so are spiritual experiences
that alter your consciousness."

"We'll go over this in more detail
before we do it," Blair said. "Now
that I know you're interested, I'll go
ask Caribou for the instructions."

As Blair walked away, Bobtail explained,
"She will come back in about an hour,
no more than four. The spirits will
tell her what kind of offerings they
want and any special preparations
that we need to make -- it varies."

"Okay, I can go with that,"
Kenzie said, nodding.

He lay back down on
the couch and tucked
his hands inside of
the open-sided shirt,
clasping them across
the span of his belly.

As Kenzie waited,
more people trickled in --
first Joseph, then Ben and Ron.

"We're going to hold a sweat lodge
for Kenzie," Bobtail announced.

"Congratulations!" Joseph said,
sitting down beside Kenzie, who
moved his feet to make room.
"Let us know if you need
any help with preparations."

"Blair is out praying for advice
from Caribou," said Bobtail. "I'm sure
that there will be plenty for everyone
to do." She turned to Kenzie. "We'll
probably wind up waiting four days so
we have time to make arrangements. It'll
be easier on you if you can prepare for it."

"Okay," said Kenzie. "Four is sacred,
right? I have heard that before."

"That's right," Bobtail said.
"Four directions, four colors."

"If Blair is leading, will this be
a sweat lodge for two-spirits,
or for everyone?" Ron asked.

"Two-spirits," Bobtail said.
"You know Blair, she's too shy
about her age to lead one for
everyone without an elder."

"I just wanted to find a way
for the rest of us to pitch in,"
Ron said. "We like Kenzie."

"What about blankets?" Ben said.
"You'll need plenty to cover the lodge.
Each of us could loan you one."

"I like that idea!" Kenzie said,
then looked at Bobtail. "Am I
allowed to ask for things like that?"

"You can ask, it's just up to Blair
what to accept," Bobtail said.

"Okay, that makes sense,"
Kenzie said. "She knows
more about this than I do."

"We can throw a feast
after the sweat lodge too,"
said Ron. "You know
that the Starblankets
will want to do that."

"That would be welcome,"
said Bobtail. "We're going
to acknowledge Kenzie as
a two-spirit. We can present
him to the family that way."

"Congratulations," Joseph said.
"It is good to know yourself."

"Yeah, it really is," Kenzie said.
"It's new, but I'll get used to it."

By the time Blair came back,
they had a whole list of people
who would probably want
to participate in some way
and ideas for what to do.

Blair was chuckling as she
walked in. "You will need
to make a lot of food," she said.
"The spirits asked for so much!
I think everyone must be coming."

The other Iron Horses started
laughing too. "Oh, they heard us!"
Ron said, grinning. "We have
been in here talking about who
wants to come to the feast
after the sweat lodge."

"I heard the old men
asking for antelope,"
Joseph said. "We'll
make a hunting trip."

"I'll do my best to help,"
Kenzie offered nervously.

Joseph narrowed his eyes.
"How much experience
do you have in hunting?"

"Uh ... not much," Kenzie said.

"Hunting antelope is hard work,
and you're not fully recovered,"
Joseph said. "We'll start you out
on something easier instead,
such as squirrel or rabbit."

"We could go fishing too,"
Ben said. "The trout will
be big and fat right now."

"That I can do," Kenzie said.
"I know how to cook them too."

"You don't have to prepare
all the food yourself," Blair said.
"Just make sure you touch it and
say your thanks. The spirits know
everyone helps with a feast."

"Okay," Kenzie said, already
imagining how to lay out food in
the roundhouse kitchen. "We
can make that work. I'll ask
Ida, she's done this before."

"Many, many times," Blair said.
"You will also need to make
sixty-four prayer ties in
the four sacred colors."

Kenzie frowned. "Those
are the little cloth thingies that
look like ghosts on a string?"

"Prayer ties are holy things,"
Blair said. "You make one by
placing a pinch of tobacco on
a cloth and tying it closed
while you pray over it.
I will show you how."

"Oh, good," Kenzie said.
"I didn't want to have to rely
on remembering it from school.
That's probably not the right way."

"Probably not," Blair agreed.
"That's okay, I don't mind teaching
how we do it here. Bobtail and I
will make our own, but you have
to do your set by yourself."

"I can do that," Kenzie said.

"Excellent," Blair said. "I'll go
tell my mother about the ceremony
and the feast we're planning."

Once she left, Bobtail said,
"Blair won't tell you this part,
so I will. When a holy person
does a ritual for you, always
give them a gift. You start with
tobacco -- the sacred kind, not
what you buy in a store -- and
add whatever you want to that."

"She mentioned she's running low
on sweetgrass," Kenzie said. "I
already learned how to gather that
and braid it. Would that work?"

"Yes, that's a lovely idea,"
Bobtail said. "You will
have a lot to do, though."

"I'm willing," Kenzie said.

That was a good thing,
because Kenzie spent
the next several days
working his tail off.

Gathering sweetgrass
took a whole morning
by itself, and then he
300 spent all afternoon
making the braids.

Blair, Bobtail, and
Kenzie cleaned up
the roundhouse in
preparation for guests.

Kenzie also helped Ida
to go through the kitchen
and see what supplies
they needed to buy.

He pitched in when
Joseph brought home
an antelope to butcher.

He went fishing with Ben,
who gave him a lesson in
tickling trout by hand -- then
declared him hopeless and
let him fish with a fly rod.

Ben was slapping fish out of
the water as fast as he could find
them, so it didn't matter that
Kenzie's way took longer.

They all made prayer ties,
even the people who wouldn't
join them in the sweat lodge.

"We'll put ours on the lodge
and hang the rest nearby,"
Blair said with a firm nod.

In the evenings, both Blair
and Bobtail told Kenzie
about the sweat lodge
and what he should do.

When it came time for
the ritual, Kenzie felt
nervous yet hopeful.

Blair had built the lodge
down by a river, first making
a frame of willow branches
overhead and then layering
borrowed blankets under
a sturdy canvas tarp.

Inside, cedar branches
covered the dirt floor.

Blair, Bobtail, and Kenzie
dressed simply for the ritual.

They all wore breechclouts,
but Blair had a Bareskin top,
Bobtail had a blouse with
shoulder straps, and Kenzie
just went bare-chested.

When Kenzie gave Blair
the parfleche of tobacco and
the big basket of sweetgrass braids,
she smiled and added them to
the pile of supplies to use.

Tomson built a fire
to heat the stone people
and carried them inside
using a forked stick.

Then they crawled in.

The lodge was small
and completely dark.

Blair sang a song in Cree
and then threw water
on the stone people.

She sent up smoke
and prayers to each
of the four directions.

She burned sage to purify
the lodge of negative energy.

She lit sweetgrass to bring
the big, powerful spirits
to heal the people.

She burned cedar
to make the air sweet
for the spirits to work.

She smoked tobacco
to bless the earth and
send up their prayers.

Kenzie listened to the songs,
swaying a little in the dark lodge.

It was warm and wet, but not
more than he could bear --
like a hot summer day.

"We are all related,"
Blair said in English.
"Now we will go around
and say our prayers. I am
grateful for finding Kenzie,
who is my kin in gender
and a brother of my heart."

"I am grateful for all the fish
that Ben and Kenzie caught
for the feast," said Bobtail.
"The swimming people are
generous this season."

She nudged Kenzie
to let him know that it
was his turn to speak.

"I am grateful for finding
a home and family here,"
said Kenzie. "When I was
beaten and left by the road,
I thought I would die, but now
my life is better than before. I
pray to let go of the bad things
and hold onto the good things."

Blair sang another song and
waved the smoke over him
with a flat cedar bough.

She lifted the door flap
and let out some of the heat.

Then Tomson brought in
another stone person.

In the second round,
they talked of hard things.

Kenzie tried to keep up,
but he was starting to feel
light-headed and not quite
in touch with his body.

He wasn't sure whether
that was a bad thing
or a good thing, so he
tapped Blair and asked.

She pressed her hand
to his throat and his chest.
"You are fine," she said.
"The spirits are working.
Go along with them."

She had to help him tell
the story of what happened
to him, but that was okay.

Kenzie felt like he was
being boiled alive.

When Blair lifted
the flap, though,
he felt refreshed.

In the third round,
they talked about
the good things in
their lives, or tried to.

Kenzie felt frankly stoned.

He muttered a question
to Blair, who assured him
there was nothing intoxicating
in the smoke except the spirits.

Bobtail picked up his hand
and kept a finger on his wrist
to make sure he was okay.

It didn't feel bad, just weird,
like he was ... fizzing inside.

Blair opened the flap, and
another stone came in.

"This is the sweat lodge
of the two-spirits," she said.
"We hold the medicine power
of both men and women.
We come here to welcome
a new one among us."

Something yipped.

"Is that a fox?"
Bobtail asked.

"Sounds like it,"
Blair said, and then
another one called.

"Two foxes," Kenzie said.
"That's what they call me."

"Kenzie Two Foxes, two-spirit,
be welcome," Blair said. "May
the spirit beings bless you --
Creator and Caribou, Fox and
Bobcat, and all our relatives."

Kenzie felt fur brushing over him,
and it tickled, but he couldn't laugh,
because he was in church.

He burst into giggles anyway.

Bobtail nudged him and
asked, "What is it?"

"Fox fur," he gasped,
"they're tickling me!"

He laughed until he
couldn't breathe, and that
wasn't a good feeling at all.

"Crawl out," Blair said,
guiding him to the door.

Kenzie crawled out,
and the cool air cleared
his head, and he no longer
felt his foxes tickling him.

Bobtail made it to the river
in three great bounds and
jumped in with a big splash.

"It will feel very cold,"
Blair warned Kenzie.
"Take a deep breath
and then go in. We will
pull you out if need be."

Kenzie held his breath
and jumped into the river.

The water was FREEZING!

"It's not freezing," Bobtail said,
pulling him to his feet while he
screeched and thrashed. "It
only feels that way because
your body is so hot now."

Kenzie floundered to shore,
where Tomson wrapped him
in a blanket and rubbed him dry.

"How do you feel?" Blair asked
as she toweled herself off.

"More alive than I ever felt
in my whole life," Kenzie said.
"Every inch of my skin is
awake and tingling!"

"That's good," Blair said.
"It means you are clean now."

"Yes, that's exactly how I feel,"
Kenzie said. Thinking about
the attack didn't bother him
now. He ran his hands over
the small scars that showed on
his front. "I hate to cover up."

"You don't have to," Tomson said.
"Just wrap yourself in the blanket
while we go back to the roundhouse.
You have to dress for the feast anyhow."

So they rode home wearing blankets,
Kenzie staring at Blair's because it was
so beautiful -- a turquoise field with
a multicolored star and paired feathers
with medicine wheels on top and bottom.

Then they went into the guest bathroom
where they helped each other dress.

Bobtail put on her ivory leathers
decorated with fringe and beadwork.

Blair wore a deep green vest with
floral designs beaded and embroidered
down the front, and a matching apron.

Kenzie put on black trousers and
his new sequined bolero vest.

"Let us take care of your hair,"
Blair said, and he agreed.

She brushed it out and
coated it with sage oil.

Then Bobtail braided it
in a long tail down his back
and tied the end with a thong.
"There you go," she said.

"I think it needs a bit more,"
Blair said, smiling. She showed
Kenzie a pair of hawk feathers,
their quills beaded and fastened
onto a medicine wheel with
leather thongs to tie it.

"Oh," Kenzie said, staring.
"That's so beautiful."

"We made it for you,"
Blair said. "May I?"

"Yes, please," Kenzie said,
and she tied it into his hair.

In the living room, someone --
probably Ida -- began drumming
and a crowd of voices raised in song.

"That's a welcome song, they're
trying to hurry us up," Blair said
with a laugh. "You're good, let's go."

Kenzie felt shy and proud and
nervous and excited all at once.

When they came into the living room,
cheers and more drumming greeted them.

Blair held up her hands, and silence fell.

"We have gone through the oenikika,
the breath of life, and made our prayers,"
she said. "I give you Kenzie Two Foxes,
a two-spirit. His foxes came to our ritual.
Welcome him as a friend of the tribe!"

Kenzie squeaked on the inhale.
She hadn't warned him about that!

But Ida was drumming and
Joseph was thumping Kenzie
on the back again and Ben
was demanding to know where
the food was even as Bobtail
pushed Kenzie to the kitchen.

He grabbed a platter of
antelope taquitos and then
carried it into the living room
where people swarmed him
to grab the delicious treats.

Bobtail swirled past with
another platter of trout on sticks.

"Sit, eat!" Ida said, pushing Kenzie
onto the couch. She had saved him
a taquito and a trout, augmented
by a bowl of three sisters chili.

Suddenly Kenzie realized
that he was ravenous.

The food was delicious
and he felt happy that he
had contributed to the feast.

When Kenzie took his empty dishes
to the kitchen, something tugged
at the seam of his trousers.

"Can I see your scars?"
a little boy asked him.

"You sure can," Kenzie said,
and lifted his glittering vest
to show off his accomplishments.
"See the two biggest ones in back?
Ben fixed those up for me."

The memory was warm and
bright now, and didn't hurt at all.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.

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