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Speaking The Ancient Lexicon Of North America

In Two Poems For The New Year, Lois Red Elk Expands The Human Vocabulary


In this dawning new year, poet Lois Red Elk once again brings valuable perspective to the little things of daily life that matter most. Below, she offers Mountain Journal readers the opportunity to expand their indigenous vocabulary in 2018.  First, in her piece "A Well Worked Design", she calls  attention to the inexplicability and interrelatedness of nature's design as expressed through the forces of daku-shkah-shkah.  Secondly, she reminds adults that by our actions and examples we set to take heed of one of the most previous gifts known to humankind.  In Red Elk's native Lakota/Dakota, the word is wakanyeja though ever culture understands its sacredness.With "Spirits of Our Own", she reminds us that even as time goes on, the loved ones we hold dear and who depart physically are never far away.  —MoJo editors

By Lois Red Elk

We have been in a deep freeze here on the northern plains with extreme low temps. But we are surviving.During these moons of cold, reflections without the sun, and season of celebrations and story telling, I always share stories of Spirit.

                 A Well Worked Design

Imagine a design so perfectly ordered
like a spider’s web or a leaf,
breath of gods, dust borrowed from an ancient
planet, a salamander kind of
anatomy, crawling, then running for a life on this
terra firma, lungs modeled after
sea creatures from the past then fine tuned for
air, a tawachi born for this space,
for those beginning dreams, but with potential
to create, develop.  We look at
markings, a sketch, prints in petrified rock, in mud,
on plateaus where settlement is
foreseen as safe for female members.  They smile
believe this arrival is all predicted,
the cloak of clouds, the liquid of space between
nurturer, fire, the soft flexing power
of what makes all things move, subscribe to a
habitation – daku shkah shkah.
With pursuit, they raise their thighs for the rhythm
created where bones and shells mingle
sending  a strong layered telling from deep in the
throat of lyrics and journeys.
They share the coming and going among all who
listen, they raise their arms and
palms to the wonder of a giant zitkala flashing bolts
of light sent forward and down
inviting thunder.  They will keep the promise to
creation to revere wakanyeja,
as precious and call it enlightenment.  A subtle
predicted growth surrounds,
brings patience.  Time to build the counting of
long winters, establishing occupation
among mountains and plains.  Time to receive
flow of female water, an altar
realized in womb, where growth is seen, received
as a well worked design with aid
of apparitions dwelling in dreams – a growing
transformation into fluent beings
letting go a new kind of sacred laughter
for all to assimilate.

©Lois Red Elk

Tawachi: mind
Daku-shkah-shkah: that which makes everything move
Zitkala: bird
Wakanyeja: children


                      Spirits of Our Own

They lived where we spent our joyous play, where
we lived in the moment and in deep thought, lost
in a corridor of innocence and trust.  They came to
see us during those times.  We were a light that was
bright and beckoning, nothing to inhibit or shade
our peace.  Our light was an invitation for all the
spirits to approach.  We could feel them in the area
or bracing our energy with love and understanding.
Such energy was like an invisible force that seemed
related to our breath, seemed like the dear grandmas
who cooked for us, who smiled their approval, who
tucked us into bed at night, that kind of presence.
When the light shown through the willows or when
a gentle breeze rustled the grasses we knew they
were talking to us.  A thought would come into our
minds that asked how we liked the atmosphere, or
what we were playing.  Sometimes we would answer
them out loud and sometimes we would just hum
and acknowledge the essence of their thoughts and
affection.  Their nearness was always comforting
like they were our spirit relatives.  Sometimes when
we were playing we would look up and see them
standing in the distance.  Sometimes we could see
them approaching.  One of the spirits was a delicate
woman, like a mother or auntie.  She was always
dressed in a long flowered dress with a multicolored
belt.  She kept her hair in neat braids and wore beads
and shells around her neck.  Her moccasins were
soft and brown.  She would always sit with us while
we played with our dolls.  Her presence was always
comforting and welcomed because the visible glow
from her body was warm and safe.  Sometimes we
would share those meetings with our parents or our
aunties.  All they would do was smile and gently
tell us that it was all good.  Lila Wasteste Bebela…

© Lois Red Elk

Lila Wasteste Bebela – Very good little babies

           Many Voices Press, Kalispell, MT.



Lois Red Elk-Reed
About Lois Red Elk-Reed

Lois Red Elk-Reed is a poet who calls the high plains home. She is Mountain Journal's poet in residence.
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