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The Handcuff Symbol

ISSUE:  Autumn 1988
We were struggling over a small pearl-handled
Saturday Night Special.
Like three angry adolescents,
so many thousands of miles
from Black Eagle Child,
we were turning an afternoon
college kegger at the Greek Theatre
into a perilous scene:

Weasel Heart, the one who held
the pistol either wanted to shoot
himself or another. A random execution
of someone, nonetheless. We pleaded
first in our language, hoping
such words and their common
sense inflections would subdue
despondency and remind him
of the acquiescent but living
grandfathers we represented.
Ba ke sa na nu cha qwi ba hey. . .
a ya bi ma ku ya ba da na wa che
Let go of the pistol, please. . .
before you accidently shoot
a bystander.”

Like that famous war photograph
of American soldiers raising a flag
over Iwo Jima, we raised the pistol
together and waved it high above
the silhouettes of palm trees—
and it began firing. In the concrete
earth basin, sparks from the hollowpoint
shells flew out from the thin space
between cylinder and barrel.
The red muzzle flash lit
the poverty and mold
of our skeletons.

*  *  *

Before the loudspeaker spoke,
the helicopter’s spotlight
came through the windows of the log
cabin I was born in. The same greasy
curtains were there, still held
by a stone-smooth yarn string.
Over the woodstove, still unchanged
except for her dilated, opaque pupils,
Mother Theresa was sprinkling commodity
surplus flour into a skillet of watered-down
pork and beans. She was mouthing
the Spectre’s command: “Surrender
yourself to piety.” She then
pointed to the dried blood
I had slept on and said,
Ke da be qwa shi mu nem a.
Your pillow.” As I gently
touched my face for wounds,
I found a marble floating
under the skin of my right wrist.
That’s when a tribal committee
member, who was acting as liason
on behalf of the authorities,
knocked on the partially-open door.
I could see the shadow of his fat body
breathing nervously on the bright floor.
“The family of the injured party
is out there also. So there’s

*  *  *

I couldn’t remember a damn thing
except the final humiliating moment
in being where we were, what we were about
to do. There’s nothing more disgraceful
than Indians in serious trouble—
in faraway places. How we are able
to travel and meet has to be nomadic
instinct. Truth aside, we often react
like beached whales, and this culture
keeps throwing us back into the black,
chaotic sea. Although we thrash about
for our lives, however demented and painful
it has been, we drown others in the process.

*  *  *

I am simply relating this dream
as preface to my belief they often
reoccur in reality. Sometimes in reverse.
The handcuffs, for instance, were positive.
Yet I can imagine the power of a crying
family—relatives of whoever we shot.
Point is, the next night after this dream,
a police officer actually wrapped
my bleeding palms and wrist with gauze,
and he radioed an ambulance for me.
And the gunshots? They turned out
to be my palms busting through
the hot windows of a burning
but empty house. Small caliber
gunfire can sound like glass
being broken. And the marble
under my wrist was in actuality
a hematoma or blood clotting.
But the drunk who I thought
was in the burning house asked me
for no apparent reason if I still
possessed the pistol. Instead
of being stunned by yet another
correlation, I lied and purposely
implanted a continuing vision
of this evil piece in his mind.
I could have bled to death
were it not for the gauze cuffs.


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