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Have You Heard The Tales Of A Trickster Spider And Porcupine?

In this season of transition, Lois Red Elk reminds how humankind is reflected in the stories of wamakhashka

Fort Peck:  Lois Red Elk writes from the place where a mighty river, the Missouri, (Mníšoše) turns into a massive artificial tarn, surrounded by an bigger ocean of prairie.  Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Fort Peck: Lois Red Elk writes from the place where a mighty river, the Missouri, (Mníšoše) turns into a massive artificial tarn, surrounded by an bigger ocean of prairie. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Lois Red Elk has been traveling and as she has made her way home to the place where the Missouri River forms giant Fort Pork Reservoir in the middle of the high prairie, what's been normal is momentarily nowhere to be seen.

"The weather here is unusual for November. Just a scattering of snow," she writes to us. "I'm missing snowbanks and flocked trees although I know the snow will come." 

Coming too, right now, dear MoJo readers, is a gift from our heralded poet-in-residence.  
"November is Native American Heritage month so I'd like to share the cultural aesthetic of our perspective of wamakhashka stories," Lois says. "Wamakhashka translates to mean, beings of the earth, our name for animals. We consider them as relatives as we also are beings of the earth.  As wamakhashka constantly tell us stories of their lives on earth, we have to develop a part of our selves to understand them and interpret their messages to us."

The two poems Red Elk shares, below, are about the spider, the trickster and a teacher. Enjoy the first titled "Challenging Your Spider." The second, "Porcupine of the Highway" tells of the story of porcupine who teaches domestic arts through dreams and appeared first in Red Elk's volume Our Blood Remembers.  —Mountain Journal eds
Challenging Your Spider

You know you shouldn’t, but the glass jar 
will work for now.  You have to keep track 
of possible thunder, observe closely without 
being struck or bitten.  You have to move 
your body slowly, one shadow at a time.
Your eyes watch cloud positions directly above,
not off to the left or right of the targeted, but
directly inches from the circle you imagined 
around what you want, but respectfully fear.
You take control of your unsteady breathing,
the heavy beat deep in your chest so as not to 
exhale too loudly so as not to unleash the 
revealing tremble that will begin the vibrating 
of luring web lines that you know will surely 
alert and frighten all gullible into a frenzy of 
doubt or a clamor of hurried pace.  You know 
it has ancient stinging connections that it will 
use against you, use to paralyze your senses.
Now is your chance to calmly lower the glass 
over the one you secretly dread, detest, deny,
the one you want to control.  It will be a 
victory over that tricky one, the one who 
deceived the early humans into curiosity,
into constant unusual prying, into the sweet
gratifying lies above the life below, into
the earthly chaotic web, but just as you aim 
and begin to lower the trap, just as you think 
it will all be over the hairy head turns and it 
is not what you could ever imagine, not eight 
eyes, but a human face just like yours, looking,
pleading that it not be captured, displaying 
feelings that speak so sad that you drop the 
glass.  It wasn’t the fright of it all, it was the 
realization that your common culture is a 
reflecting mirror.  Instantly the tiny trickster 
spins off the table edge into earth life leaving
you defeated, barely able to accept the loss.

©Lois Red Elk
Porcupine On The Highway

 
Amos:  They said sister is stranded on the *highway.
            Her car is about 10 miles east of town.
Sister:     I might as well pick up this porcupine or
               it’ll be smashed by tonight.
Porcupine:  I give my body to a quill worker,
                   and laugh at magpie on the fence.

Amos:  Mom, I’m taking Myrna to help sister.
             Her car quit and I might have to tow her in.
Sister:     Oh, it’s a big one and the quills
               aren’t damaged.  It’s got long hair, too.
Porcupine:  Clouds are fading.  Earth is cooling.
                   Grass is calling me home.

Amos:  There she is.  She put something in her trunk.
             It looks like a big old porcupine.
Sister:     This sure is a mess.  I should skin it here.
               All the cats will be coming into the yard.
Porcupine:  They used to read my bones, study my
                   entrails for health and weather.

Amos:  What happened?  Did you break down?
             Don’t tell me, you’re scavenging road kill?
Sister:    Yeh, both!  All of a sudden this thing
              stalled, then I saw this huge porcupine.
Porcupine:  They say our voice sounds like a 
                   whimpering child.  People gather.

Amos:  Pull your hood latch.  You’re cable was loose.
            Take it home and skin it.  We’ll follow you.
Sister:     I’ll make Myrna a quilled bracelet and
               brother some armbands.  Surprise them.
Porcupine:  She’ll remember later that last week she
                   dreamed about a big porcupine on the highway.

* U.S. Highway 2, eastern Montana between Wolf Point and Poplar

© 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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