The Dance

Rabbit Lane-Laura

My family’s favorite event of the year is Tooele’s Festival of the Old West, combining a gem and mineral show, a mountain man rendezvous, and an Indian pow-wow.  I give the children a small allowance, and they bring some money of their own, to buy polished rocks or beads, a bag of marbles or a medicine pouch, a rubber-band gun or second-hand knife, and always a homemade cream soda and fry bread.  “Fire in the hole!” precedes the boom of the real cannon that blasts arm-loads of candy for children to scamper at.  Men and women walk around in period clothing–my kids always chuckle at the man with the deer-skin breaches not quite concealing his butt-cheeks.  And then the drum beats begin, and the chanting.  The Native Americans have begun their dance competition.  Exiting the back door of the gem and mineral show one year, we saw a young American Indian man dressing in his fancy regalia in preparation for the competition.  His father helped him with the clasps and ties that held in place the flowing regalia, which abounded with feathers and shells and bells.  I wrote this poem to express my overwhelming impressions of this boy connecting powerfully with his peoples’ at once glorious and painful past, with his attenuated but clinging culture, and with the spiritual reality of his ancestors.  (This poem relates to Chapter 7: Turtle Lodge on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, and also to the poem House of Offering on the Rabbit Lane: Poems page of this blog.)

THE DANCE

Shell open.  Tailgate down.
A boy,
in bright-beaded leathers,
in spirit feathers,
preparing,
for the dance.
Father inspected, breathing deep:
satisfied and proud;
unspeaking:
You are ready.

The drum beats the hour,
the moment,
of the dance;
a summons:
compelling
the movement of feet
pressing the ground in
a rhythmic communion
of flesh and earth,
of spirits;
compelling
the movement of arms and wings,
like the offering
ascending
in red birch smoke.
Earth and sky recede.
Light and darkness combine.
There is only him,
with the drum,
with the song,
with the dance—
his dance.

They come to him, then,
and lift him up
in flight
through the heavens:
Shadow-faces
with warm wrinkled eyes;
their hair flowing in long gray strands,
like wispy rain clouds
above the parched plains.
Shadow-faces
singing the ancestral song,
turning above and beneath,
swirling around and through,
joining him, becoming one,
bringing him tenderly
down to earth and sky as
his feet press the ground
to the last drum beat.

He walks, then,
slowly,
back to the tailgate,
the world
before him,
Shadow-faces
within.
He waits, then,
to dance again
the dance.

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4 thoughts on “The Dance

  1. maggiepea

    Takes me back to the days when Harv was so involved in the Mtn Man Rendezvous. It was very exciting to go to the one in Tooele, where he knew everyone. There was an air of mystique surrounding the whole event. You captured this young Native American’s excitement and beautiful dance with so much meaning for his people very well. Great depiction of the fun to be had at these places and I loved that your kids had a certain amount of money to be spent on items of their choice but with a given limit; they are learning the facts of money that some people never learn. Good writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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