Of Blood and Baskets

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Remember, my playwriting teacher had said to the class, sweeping her hands as widely as her Zoom camera allowed. She smiled and paused—something I’d learned was as rehearsed as her stage presence, whether it was presented to an audience or to a row of screens. Her smile was bleach-white, her wavy hair pulled back into a bun. You’re all here for a reason, whether you consciously decided it or not. And, she emphasized, trying to connect across digital distance. Focus on filling your baskets. She cupped her hands, closed her eyes, thumbed gently at the air in her empty palms. She beckoned us to match her, breathe, and picture our own baskets. You’ve spent your lives filling them without ever realizing it. It’s okay to set down what’s too heavy for you. You are all here to start a new one, to fill it here, at IAIA.

I remember thumbing the air awkwardly, eyes twitching. IAIA? I thought, pinching my eyes tighter. Half of us weren’t on campus yet, still quarantined-via-family. I could do anything but concentrate, could barely envision filling up anything—much less an invisible basket.

Still, following along with her, I tried. What has weighed your basket down? The instructor repeated, drawing out a deep breath we all mirrored.

All at once, I felt garnets overflowing, piling into mounds of bloodied, glittering stones in my hands. In, too, went the diagnosis that shifted in my stupor, tumbling into the shadows of woven straw. The diagnosis: a three-inch basket, placed with scalpel-precision, invisible incisions, entering through dreams and remaining ever since.  

Doctors never saw it on x-rays quite the same way the healers had. Instead, nurses pawed at my abdomen, mistook it as nothing more than blood-clots. I’m so sorry, they whispered behind masks, keeping their eyes low. It’s just a clot, hon. She held her fingertips out, measuring as she pressed. I didn’t have to look to know, could still remember that phone-call: three inches, basket, you saw it in a dream, didn’t you? I pictured it all there, cradling an invisible basket filled with years’ worth of tender, sharpened garnets.

It’s okay to set it down, she urged, bringing me back.

Three years had passed, I realized. Now, picturing my basket, it felt like a second heartbeat. It held pairs of moccasins; some thrown at my feet, others that slid on, hugging me as if they’d been waiting. It echoed laughter from my senior thesis class, where we faced our projects in states of delirium, at times, knowing we were going through it together. It held each moment I stood in front of a microphone, letting poems surge out of me. It held rainbow threads stitching rug dresses, carefully sewn in my unsure hands. It held Alejandro’s handmade loom, his hands diving back and forth through thread, promising a sash for graduation.

Mostly, though, it held an IAIA that told me that I was home, for as long as I needed it to be.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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