beaded trout

Un-Dance

my mother and i sit in the truck
looking out over the people
who have gathered for this summer ceremony
our trucks and cars circle the ceremonial grounds
perfect spots for taking respite from the busy work
also the best places to catch up on gossip

children run around and play among the piles of wood
women stand around the open fires stirring pots
tortillas clap between their seasoned hands
eventually draping over one hand while the other hand turns a
sizzling crisp and browned bread over in the crackling Crisco filled kettle pans

i watch as some men gather and shake hands
laughing as they huddle in closer
closer than i usually see men stand next to each other
they cross their arms and root their feet in to the ground
knees soft so they can bounce a little to their singing
one of them has a drum tethered to his body like a little satchel
he hugs the little drum close and begins tapping out a rhythm

i watch as couples move in to the circle
two stepping softly
in unison
clockwise
the high pitch and drop of the men singing
only adds to this familiar scene

i am old enough to see for the first time
how it all seems to connect
but i am still puzzled by the dancing

so, i ask my mom
"why do we dance?
why do the dancers dance the way they do?"

she smiles and looks at me
"oh, you don't know?"

i shake my head and smile
slightly raise my eyebrows
indicating i want to know more
but careful not to push too much
asking too many questions is rude
even with my mom
so i wait for her

i wait even though my curiosity can't wait anymore
to just listen and watch
and i am away from these ceremonies
more often than i want to
school has taken over the cadence of my days
where clocks beat out a different rhythm

eventually my mother says
"we dance to undance the sickness
you see how they are dancing all together
how they move in one direction
making sure to keep beat with the drumming?"

i look and nod
but it still doesn't make sense
i smile, thankful for the teaching
and keep watching trying to understand
how a group of people can help one person
just
by singing and dancing
by eating together
by telling each other stories
by sitting in trucks witnessing all of this
under the stars where
woodsmoke hugs all of us closer

and, as with all of the teachings given to me
it takes some time before all of that makes sense
my mother's words
the singing
the food
people gathered
some cooking
some eating
some chopping wood
others hauling water
more to keep the tables clean
and people moving through to eat
children playing
men singing standing so close to each other
holding notes together

i have, at one time or another
cooked
ate the food
cleared the tables
danced
hummed along with the men
and played amongst the wood piles

all except that i have not stepped inside the hoogan
where the medicine man is singing

for all of us

where people tuck their backs in to the walls of the hoogan
where time is kept by the rhythm of the days and nights
by the movement of the stars
by the memory of hozho

we bring them food
keep their fire lit
sing to them on certain mornings
in exchange for offerings
and tend to their relatives

the other thing my mother told me that day in the truck
was that
"everyone here benefits from this ceremony
from the clans who are helping their relative
who is not well
to the people bringing food as an offering
to the men singing
to the people eating the food that is offered
to the women tending to the food
to the people who chop the wood
to the people who bring us water
to the dancers
we all heal as the person is being healed
inside the hoogan"

now i also know
the stars
the day and night
the plants who help us with this healing
also benefit
we all come together
sing food in to our mouths
dance stories in to our memories
tend to each other's breath

and even though
the only thing we have control over is our own breath
how we use that breath
in the service of others
is what heals us

Nazbah Tom


contents of issue 4

A Tip From the Butterflies
Nicole Savage

At The Stomp Dance
Linda Rodriguez

Gone Dancing
Deborah A. Miranda

Solstice
Linda Boyden

Time of the Circle Dance
Mary Jean Robertson

Un-Dance
Nazbah Tom


Nazbah Tom Biography

Nazbah Tom is Dine, born and raised on her ancestral homelands in Northeastern Arizona. She is published in "Turtle Island to Abya Yala: A Love Anthology of Art and Poetry by Native American and Latina Women". Currently she is working on a biospiritual allegorical play called "Sacred Script" that explores and deconstructs "dilbaa" the masculine presenting women of the Dine. She performs all over the Bay Area and does her best to capture poems haunting her at all hours of the day.


Permission to publish poems in this one context was granted by the authors, who unless otherwise specified, hold copyright on these works.