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Earth Medicine: A Poem From Indian Country

Lois Red Elk, an elder at Fort Peck, worries about friends in her community as Covid bears down. Right now, generations are coming together in healing prayers

EDITOR'S NOTE: While in some corners of American society today, especially in Covid times, it is fashionable to discount the value of old people and their lives, yet in Indian County elders are vaunted, revered and treasured. They are the carriers of culture, tradition, knowledge, the oldest human languages on the continent and the pandemic has left many elders imperiled.  When indigenous people invoke the word "medicine," they are not referencing prescription drugs or vaccines but to the ways of spirituality and personal healing. Mountain Journal's poet in residence Lois Red Elk, who has an incredible gift for getting at the essence of things, is sharing a new poem that will be included in her next volume perfect for where we are, as Covid cases spike and those in Indian Country rally to protect those with the longest life experiences. Lois' words are her gift to us.

By Lois Red Elk

Hello MoJo Friends,

The virus is still devastating our community at Fork Peck and we are trying so hard to heal. One of my Aunties, a cousin and myself  have had so many dreams that translate into healing, which is good.

I was working on my book but my thoughts are elsewhere right now. I have returned to my piano and toy making and that is soothing.

Blessings to you all. Lois

Making Medicine

It was dark, no matter where I looked, lights dimmed
under strain of lost power, energy draining from all of us.
The children quit playing under the solitude of quietness, 
then the mothers exhaled, releasing sobs into masks they 
hoped would hide all the death. Auntie told us to start the fire,
bring water and bring your bundles of earth medicine.
Grandpa said it was the wind that worked its way into the
houses, started stealing the breath of our old and sick, leaving
before sunrise while we slept. Boil the water first said Auntie
then let it simmer. Add the herbs in slowly with prayer, ask the 
water to release healing energy. The children watched from
outside, playing then stopping long enough to see the arrival
of give-away blankets and mourning food. It seemed like omens 
were walking in circles around the land, but no one recognized
 how the deadly air was closing in, that our space was not ours
anymore. Auntie said to let the vapors of earth medicine speak 
when it is ready, then drink of the tea, allow the silent, sacred
warmth transfer your mind to all who would receive your prayers. 
The children wanting to help were sent to sit and wait under the
willows. We made pots of tea to take across the land into houses,
and lives that could not hide from the breath taker. Moons came, 
left us so many times with places empty of life, of laughter. Auntie
said to go into the streets and sing the songs of the lesser Gods, an 
invitation to bring life back into the air. We cut our hair, carried
our medicine up and down sidewalks and prayed. The children
watching the pace began to hum along with all the singing, they 
walked the isolated edges of the community, staying out of sight, 
staying close to the willows. One child leading the walk started to
sing murmurs they heard from the willows and earth, then earth
 began to stir in duet with the children. It was after all the medicine
was brewed, after all the tea was shared, after all the prayers were
 said, and after the children sang, the healing began.

©Lois Red Elk
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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