Pamatesēw

Frost covers the ground. The first good snow is yet to come, but the earth is frozen hard. She enters the lodge, smiling. It’s her first visit to this clan this year. The circular lodge hugs the fire’s warmth, keeping it in a way square homes can’t.

She settles into her place in the west, the warmest spot in a wekiam. The soft, tanned tips of her māhkasenon peek out beneath her wool blanket. Everyone waits in earnest for the traveler to begin. She is renowned among the clans for her ability to give life to the old stories that swim in her mind.

The traveler bows her head. Everyone is silent except the fire. It crackles and dances, casting the lights and shadows of its movements around the circle. She disappears beneath her robe. At once she reappears, the leather mask adorned; she’s storyteller now. Young children snuggle nearer their mothers, older children lean in closer for a better look. We watch and listen.

Rock forward and back, sing. A lullaby, verse after verse. The sun sets, cycling endlessly in a pattern that weaves in and out, fading from light to darkness. A ceaseless pattern of purple, blue, red, orange, yellow, and back again, sometimes adding magenta or maroon.

Winnow grain, waving forward and back. Sing a prayer to the seed. Give thanks, repeating word after word. The sun arcs its path across the sky as wind scatters husk, swirling to the ground. Round basket, moving constantly. Toss the rice round, catch it up, throw it again.

Grind corn, laboring forward and back. Sing to the corn, to give thanks or to make work pleasant, or to the child in the cradleboard. Their path is a circle, the grinding stones, the one curved to fit the other. Constant shaping, slowly, circle back, forth, and around, grinding meal as day turns to night and back again.

Scrape hides, stooped and bent. Drag the blade forward and bring it back. As you do this, sing or hum, or pray. Be glad for this work. You have been provided for. Stretch, scrape, and sing.

Boil rice with meat, stir forward and back around. Serve rice, pass it around. Eat and be satiated. Pray, and be thankful. You have everything you need to sustain life.

The night fades in bands of color across the sky. If you mark them out, you see the pattern. Purple, maroon, red, orange, yellow, white, yellow, orange, red, maroon, purple. Forward and back, like a circle, it’s round. These same colors stripe the evening and morning skies. It is a blanket; wrap it round you. Hold your lover tight beneath it in the night.

See your wife, her body is round. Her breasts, her hips, her eyes. In the turning of the moon, her belly grows round. The seasons turn. A child is born. The cycle of life from birth to maturity begins. You will complete the cycle to death, but first you will see your grandchildren come ‘round. The earth circles around the sun, marking off time like a clock, circling and circling and circling. Its journey makes a song, each verse beginning at each season, chanting the same song on and on and on.

The constant movement of sunrises and sunsets makes colors like an Indian blanket. Colors fading in and out from purple to maroon, to red, orange, yellow, to white, then back to yellow, orange, red, maroon, to purple again. Hold the blanket around yourself, forming a circle, sacred, protecting… Better still, hold a little one, warm him, protect her in the circle. If you have no little one, then wrap the blanket ‘round your love. Encircled in each other’s arms there is strength, warmth, and sacredness. Hold one another ‘til the sun rises.

When spring comes ‘round, harvest sap. Give thanks in prayer and song. Process syrup and sugar, stir constantly round, round, round till it’s just right. The liquid flakes to sugar, sweet and good.

Summer comes back around. Time to gather sweet berries, plump and round. Purple and blue, Magenta and Red, the blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. They make beautiful dyes and put smiles in children’s eyes. What a good thing given you. Give thanks and sing.

Before summer’s end, bring together voices around the drum. It’s time to dance and celebrate life. The powwow circle needs dancers; wrap yourself in a shawl colored like an Indian blanket. Dance around and around and around, twirling in circles, circles, circles, keeping time.

The Harvest Moon succeeds the high of summer. Leaves falling around, around, around circling toward the ground. The green of summer fades to gold and then orange, and red, and brown. The seasons make a pattern of colors like an Indian blanket fading from darkness to light.

The golden splendor of autumn transitions slowly to the pretty white of winter, fading colors like an Indian blanket. The earth turns round keeping time and an endless succession of color, like an Indian blanket. Weaving white then yellow, then orange, red and purple. Back again from purple, to red, orange, yellow, and white. It’s winter time. Time for repose. Keep warm. Wrap the universe, the heavens, life around your elder. It will shelter her while outside, the winter howls, moaning the song complete, the cycle of one year and beginning another, moving forward and back time, and time, and time again.

Creator likes circles. He built the universe in them, crafting circles upon circles upon circles unending. Look around. Everywhere are circles. The stars, the sun, the moon, the planets, the fruits of plants, the animals all have the same roundness of form you have. Even if a blanket looks flat, it is round as earth. Put it around you. Hold it tight. Inside the circle, you live.

“Spring’s come back around. Can you feel it enlivening your blood, moving it, stirring it like the sap of a maple? Make sugar, suckle the sweet cakes. Now this is living…”

Racquel Boyd, 32, is an enrolled member of the Menominee Indian Tribe and single mother to a gorgeous Indian son. She attends the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, WI, and majors in Liberal Studies. She plans to transfer to a four year, state college and pursue a degree in English and/or Music and hopes to someday attend graduate school. She has been writing since childhood, but this is her first time submitting work for publication or a contest.

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