FROM THE NOVEL: CRIES FOR A VISION BY JACK RANDOM.
Dedicated to Ward Churchill
On the Occasion of His Recent Trials
Ina went to her spirit guide, an elder of the Cheyenne known as Red Tail. He was a friend to the Lakota and a scholar of the sacred rites. She told him the danger before she made an offering and he accepted, as she knew he would.
They spent three days building the sweat lodge, setting up the ceremonial tipi, gathering supplies and organizing the participants. On the evening of the third night, they would cleanse themselves in Inipi. All was well. All was ready. At sunrise on the fourth day, the healing ceremony, the ancient ritual of Hunka Lowanpi, would begin.
Grandfather said: If you do something every day, it will become a part of you. If a man drinks the wasichu firewater every day, the bottle will own him. If a man prays to the Great Spirit every day, he will find spiritual guidance. Jerico prayed:
“Give me the vision that the red road may unfold before me. Surround me and my relations with the light of protection and guidance, in the infinite wisdom of Mother Earth, Father Sky and the Great Spirit. Mitakuye oyasin.”
This day the words seemed heavy and foreboding. They stuck in his throat as if an invisible hand choked him. It was the day of Hunka Lowanpi. It was the day he faced his enemy once again: The wasichu killing spirit.
A fire rose to the height of a tall man before calming to glowing embers. The fire keeper tended the large, round white-hot Inipi stones and Red Tail chanted as he smoked the participants with sage. He was a small man, stern but thin, the lines of his face deep and knowing. A sense of kindness surrounded him, in his manner and movements. He regarded his fellow beings with respect and compassion so that trust flowed easily to him.
They entered the sweat lodge as Red Tail invoked the powers of the six directions. His words floated in the still of the evening and each time a direction was summoned, the people called out in the Lakota way, “How!”
At the moment of sunset, a red-orange glow flooded the eastern horizon and the ceremony began with the passing of the sacred pipe. The stones were brought in and placed in the pit, radiating in darkness like planets in the emptiness of space. Water was poured over the stones, unleashing an explosion of steam. Waves of heat rose from the earth, saturating the skin, penetrating the flesh, the blood, the organs of the body, breaking through to the bone and marrow, flooding the darkness that creeps into all, as it had Billy and Ina, Jerico and Marie, the old one and the drummers, the fire keeper, the water keeper, and all their relations. The darkness that is evil was released through the same passage, burning as it passed, until it was expelled and banished to the heavens, scattering amongst the stars.
The heat that was unbearable became a mother’s warmth as faces appeared in the stones, in the steam, in the darkness itself. Faces of the ancestors, chanting and singing, drums pounding, and with those faces ancient memories appeared in visions, spilling into the lodge: Visions of great victories and horrible massacres, visions of Sand Creek, the Greasy Grass, of counting coup, of sickness and disease, visions of buffalo hunts and buffalo slaughters, visions of wonder before the white man came, visions of blood flowing into the Washita, visions of Sitting Bull and Red Cloud, of Yellow Hair and General Crook, of Spotted Tail and Crazy Horse, of Little Big Man and the frozen dance of death, Big Foot at Wounded Knee.
Red Tail said that all must be held in the heart, joy and sorrow, darkness and light, virtue and evil, for it is all a part of our being, our heritage, and our spirit as a people. The whole of the past will make us strong in remembering.
When the vision faded and the faces returned to steam, stone and darkness, Jerico felt his body was cleansed and his spirit renewed. He silently wished that this was only an Inipi, only another sweat on a summer night. He would sleep but lightly.
Ina’s heart was full with gratitude, Billy’s with relief, and all was forgiven in the still cool air of night. Red Tail was uneasy for he had seen the spirit beneath the vision, a malevolence lurking. He had heard the voice beneath voices and he knew this spirit well. It was an ancient spirit and familiar to all who had lived through the days of the white man’s wrath, the genocide that was never spoken, never recorded in the white man’s histories, and never settled in the soul. His father had spoken of this spirit and his grandfather before him. It was there in the before times, foreshadowing the arrival of the wasichu, the onset of disease, the slaughter of the buffalo, famine and bloodshed. Elders of the spirit world spoke of its shadowed presence at Sand Creek, the Washita and Wounded Knee. It attended the killing of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
He knew that this was a powerful spirit that could not be defeated without the spilling of blood but he held his tongue. He was an old man but still strong and he determined to fight this battle alone, even if it was to be his last. The others would sleep in peace and dream of the Great Spirit’s blessing. For him, there would be no peace.
Jerico ran. In the cold dark of sleepless night, while the house succumbed to pleasant dreams, he slipped out like a wisp of air, slid into Lala and crept down the gravel driveway to the open road. He ran though he was ashamed of running. He ran though everything he knew and cherished told him to stand and fight. He ran because he was afraid, because he could not shake the belief that the killing spirit was within him, tied to him, connected, clinging like an invisible leach.
He chose to run, praying that the spirit would follow as he followed the pools of white light piercing the night, following the dotted line on black asphalt, the streaking road signs, and the yellow glow of industry that never rests alongside the endless highway.
He rolled the windows down and let the chill wind dry his tears. He would run through the night until the rolling hills gave way to barren landscape, until the earth dried and the desert surrounded him with a promise of death. He would make his stand where the four winds howled, where the blinding heat would lift his spirit off the earth, and there he would cry for a vision. He would stand alone, one man against an ancient darkness. He would challenge the great evil, killer of men, destroyer of civilizations, and he would kill or be killed.
Lala reared and charged down the highway, nostrils flared, eyes wide and roaring thunder. A surge rushed through Jerico, gripping his muscles, pushing him on, faster and faster. He would not be broken. He would not back down. He would face the enemy here and now, beneath the stars of a summer sky, and he would wreak his revenge.
An explosion of steam lifted him from his ranting, raving, maniacal thoughts, pulling him back to the earth. There was no rain but Lala’s windshield was spotted with drops. He lifted his foot from the gas and drifted to a stop. The water hose had given way, releasing a torrent of water and coolant with a hiss that slowly faded to silence, black and cold as the starlit night.
The ceremony could not wait for a lost Lakota brother. A circle of warriors was posted around the sacred tipi and none would be allowed to enter until the ceremony was complete. Red Tail assembled the gathering, Billy’s relations to his left and Ina’s to his right. He accepted their offerings of corn, tobacco and dried buffalo. With a wave of the ceremonial wands, he told them in the tongue of the ancients that the ceremony would bind them together as the earth is bound to the sky. He summoned the powers of the four directions and all spirit beings that walk or crawl upon the earth. He instructed them to share in all things: If one was hungry, the other should take the food from her mouth; if one was cold, the other should shelter her with his robe.
He gave a signal and the air was filled with the sound of drums pounding and rattles shaking. He began his song of the Hunka, inviting the spirits in. He summoned the spirit of Sitting Bull and his adopted brother Jumping Bull, once a fierce enemy whom the great chief saved from death by the Hunka ceremony. Red Tail sang of Jumping Bull’s bravery in fighting at his brother’s side. He sang of his death when he fought to protect the great chief when the turncoat Agency Indians came to arrest him. He sang of how they died together, a proud and good death, a death of two brothers bound by the sacred bond of the spirit world.
Red Tail waved the wands and an ear of corn over all the participants and painted their faces with red stripes from forehead to chin. “By this marking the spirits will know you.” He approached the sacred buffalo skull, howling like a wolf, and the spirit of the buffalo rose from the earth. There was a whirlwind of smoke, choking the weak hearted.
He ordered Ina and Billy to stand before him. Beneath the waving wands, drums and rattles, smoke and dust, he instructed them that they were now one being, of one mind and heart. “If one is killed, the other must avenge. If one is threatened, the other must offer protection.”
He draped their bodies in a buffalo robe and tied them together with thongs of rawhide. “You are now bound together forever. You are one, inseparable.”
Freed from the robe, Ina was given buffalo meat, which she placed in her mouth.
“I am hungry,” said Red Tail.
Ina removed the meat from her mouth and gave it to him.
“I am cold and have no robe,” said Red Tail.
Billy stepped forward, placing the robe around his shoulders.
“As you care for each other,” said Red Tail, “so must you care for all the people.”
The ceremony complete, they filed out of the lodge, with Red Tail the last to emerge. He presented sacred bundles to Billy, Ina, the Ate Hunka and the Mihunka, and then he suddenly seemed frail and old. He would not join them for the feast. He asked for Jerico but Jerico had not returned.
“I must go home to rest,” he said. “When you find him, tell him to come.”
They asked if there was anything they could do for him but Red Tail declined. They understood. A man of the spirit world does not ask for the white man’s medicine in the last hours of his life. He had already made his peace.
“Find Jerico,” he repeated. “Tell him to come.”
They found him alongside the road with his thumb out, having no luck. They told what had happened and took him to the old man’s bedside as quickly as they could.
“You wanted to see me?” asked Jerico.
Red Tail waved him closer and asked him to sit. His voice was soft and quivering, more air than sound.
“I am an old man,” he said. “In my life I have seen both good and evil. I know the spirit that visits your dreams and I know your spirit as well. You have been at war for a very long time, longer than I have walked the earth. It is the black robe, Yellow Hair, the blue coat, and more. It is the fascist, the Nazi, the emperors and the Inquisition. It has raised the flag of nations and the staff of the church. Where it walks, death follows. It is not always the death of men; it is sometimes the death of spirit. It wants to destroy us by removing us from our past, by killing off the old ways, by taking from us our culture, our language, our beliefs and sacred rites. You were born to fight this spirit for the spirit that lives within you has fought back for a thousand years.”
“It follows me,” said Jerico.
“It follows no man,” replied Red Tail. “It was here before you and it will remain when you have gone. You have the gift to see it, to sense its presence and its purpose. Others are powerless against it. It is for this reason, it chooses you.”
“If I choose to fight,” said Jerico, “someone is harmed. If I choose not to fight, it is the same.”
“You have saved one who would have died by its hands. You have given another a good death. I planted my staff knowing the price. My brothers and sisters are already gone. My companions on the red road await me in the overworld. I welcomed this last battle. I have played my part. Your relations will find peace. The evil one will do no more harm here. I am pleased. It is a good day to die.”
Jerico held the old one’s hand, strong and full of life.
“I must tell you,” said Red Tail, “what you already know. You cannot run from this battle. If you remain strong, it will never defeat you. You alone must not surrender.”
Jerico felt the old one’s power leaving his body and finding its home within. It was the last gift of a dying man.
“Use it wisely,” the old one said.
With that the old man died and Jerico began his mourning song. It would cloud his vision, make heavy his heart, and remain with him all the days of his life.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS) AND THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES (CROW DOG PRESS). THE CHRONICLES ARE POSTED ON BUZZLE.COM.