Tuesday, March 15, 2011

White Feather

White Feather

The old Indian woman stoops on her wooden porch and picks up a white feather. Her bones are tall and wide – she has the proud bearing of a Shoshone.

Her pouchy brown eyes are now covered with slowly advancing cataracts, but she can still feel her mountains; she can smell the cool dry air brushing over high valley grasses.

She tells of days when her grandmother walked out of the stone age before she died with such quiet confusion.
She tells of her mother who wore her Indian name with dignity to her own end.
Now it is she who bears responsibility above the new insanity. Only I know her name.
She now is worn and consumed by the unmentionable degradation of unpronounceable disease.

She who was summoned to fight for her people’s rights at senate committee hearings – she who held up her great gray head, softly voicing her peace above skinny nervous men who underestimated her indolent presence.

An indulgent smile moves across her tired round face as she speaks of her children’ s children:
“Sure, they didn’t want to live at the ranch. There is no modern man’s fun up there – progress calls down below on the great desert floor – much, much too lonely up there – I’ll lose them as I lost their parents to the money or the drink.”

She moves slowly a lenient hand, and calls with voice neither raised nor anxious. The peace of god and old aunts is with her. The love of gray husband, always around. She senses passage of seasons on her land with the resolution of a fair borrower.

Round eye sagging in face of concern – round hip of motherhood – carried papoose and basket to collect pine nuts and rush root and once felt part of the all mother. She dries her great wrinkled hand on a flowered apron. With a squint to the dusty mementos on the wall, the woman gathers ancestral consciousness in one long breath.

She remembers ancestors who hunted all the way to the birth of the river; now she sees her sons gather wild horse and buy violent new cars – till they depend on the wealth of others and the destitution of self.

She bears the looks of townspeople who mock the schoolchildren hire the fathers and the bureaucrats who evade her honesty.

Proud Shoshone woman, my friend.

Geese have gone south and the “taibos” will soon be driving up the rock trails with their infernal machines mounted on so high axles as to conquer Earth itself.

The Indian woman’s legs are heavy as her head now. She doesn’t want to be driven into town anymore, or to the Indian hospital on the Paiute reservation – free doctors – free nurses – cost plenty – to her – so nice – so far – so, no.
Time to let spirit go – god is fine and the doctors also. Children will be well: one married to sweet blond girl; the other just got her diploma – she is strong now.
Husband' s tears will dry up in wind – time to speak Shoshone once more to old aunt. A phone call from down below – a two hour drive.
Old woman twirls great white feather in rich brown hands.
Time to let spirit go south.


  1. Beautiful, Nadine. You captured the essence, the spirit...and the peace of her chosen path.

  2. Nadine, this was a beautiful portrait. I have always admired the Native American way of thinking, and their acceptance of the inevitable.