Monday, March 1
I began learning to teach as a 24-year-old kid at Holy Rosary Mission on Pine Ridge in South Dakota. My life daunted me pretty much every day – so much I didn’t know about teaching, or about Lakota culture, or about the violence of Western culture as it assaulted Lakota culture over a century and a half. One of my jobs in that 7-day-week boarding school was to take care of c. 110 boys ages 5 to 14 in double and triple deck bunk beds. I took the K-4th graders up an hour before the older boys, got them ready for bed, tended scrapes they had acquired through the day, and told them a story once they were in bed. As they fell asleep, I walked among the bunk beds. I understood that some of these beautiful children already knew about violence and probably would not make it into a durable adulthood – and others would, no knowing which. It broke my heart to see them sleeping in a safe place within an unsafe world. During those nights these 2 lines from Isaiah’s “Song of the Servant of God” befriended me.
“A bruised reed he shall not break,
a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”
I began to imagine that The Servant of God about whom Isaiah spoke would not be frightened off by violence in the world. It’s one reason why I came to love Joy Harjo’s poem about the coming of spring after a hard winter in a racist prairie town. I repeat it today because “Grace” reminds me of “The Servant Song.” Perhaps also because very many people today must stretch so hard to let their imaginations be touched by tenderness and hope . . . in these wearing times.
Best to read both Isaiah’s song and Joy Harjo’s “Grace” out loud, with pauses.
Have a blest week,
Today’s Post – “Grace”
I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway
in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze
imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks.
The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat
dreams, and we couldn’t stand it one more time.
So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment
walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us,
in the epic search for grace.
Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a
season of false midnights.
We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey.
And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with
coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from
memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance.
We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the
hope of children and corn.
I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw.
We didn’t; the next season was worse.
You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south.
And, Wind, I am still crazy.
I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.
p.s. Joy Harjo has recently released a new anthology; here’s the link. https://www.joyharjo.com/book/when-the-light-of-the-world-was-subdued-our-songs-came-through-1-1