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Deer Spirit

A new poem from Lois Red Elk about how Lakota/Dakota dream culture and channeling the spirit of nature allows us to connect with the ones we love, even when far away

Sketch of running white-tailed deer by Bob Kuhn (1920-2007).  You can also see more of Kuhn's finished easel paintings at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Sketch of running white-tailed deer by Bob Kuhn (1920-2007). You can also see more of Kuhn's finished easel paintings at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

EDITOR'S NOTE: When we keep loved ones in our thoughts, we give them a closer presence in our lives. So too can we connect with the spirit of others through our dreams, Lois Red Elk says. This is merely one aspect of Lakota/Dakota dream culture, a culture that is more than inextricably tethered to the nature world, but co-atomized, like breathing and air. In the brand new poem below, that will be included in a new volume of work coming soon, Lois writes about connecting to her granddaughter and channeling deer spirit.  —Mountain Journal Eds.

Hello Friends at MoJo, 

Now that the pandemic is under some control, I am wanting to travel and visit children and grandchildren, missing them so much. They send pics and we talk via all the different media options. Was thinking about my dream culture and how i can communicate through dreams and prayers. 

What is important is that we maintain a reaching through spirit as that is the best communicator. My oldest grranddaughter sent a pic of herself cutting up a deer at her table. I was able to dream about the entire event and now share. 

Piidamaya—thank you—for being here,


  At Her Table

By Lois Red Elk

In moments of quiet, I observe her 
patient energy. She is busy at work. 
It is a picture sent from a 1000 miles 
away, on the same latitude, but I’m
there, at her table, in the same space

With equal thoughts I recall from my
deer experiences – the skinning, sharing.
I see her preparing. She retrieves her
knife, cutting board, pans, towels. An
air of spirits gather, language arrives.

She sets her eye on a hind quarter, cuts
in half, then again in half for easier
handling. I see her heart, mouth move, 
lips open, close as she repeats traditional 
prayers to deer, the Gods above, below

An ancient thank you song leans into
spaces between those seated. It is 
tradition to do things with others
watching and guiding, like she saw 
her grandmas speak with the invisible.

The deer spirit, lingers near an open
window, watches, leaves her scent in 
rooms for a while. Hooves, legs, body
already leaping in distant, green fields,
ready to join family among constellations.

Cooling hours come rushing in through 
both doors, windows, as the sun entity
lowers. This saving breeze is for tired 
fingers, moist brow, from the lesser gods 
of ancient culture, reminding, blessing.

Her table begins to expand for all the 
sliced flesh - for thank you offerings, 
for delicious recipes, for generous 
portions she plans for elders, the poor, 
for hungry children loved by deer.

After the last cut, the deer spirit nods, 
leaves a prayer for all the grandchildren.
She releases a thank you sigh. Essence from
sage, sweet grass, spirits dwindle, dissipate
as she clears her table for the next project.

© Lois Red Elk

POSTNOTE: We are pleased that Lois is working away on a new collection of poems and will let you know when it is published. In the meantime, ask for her other volumes at your favorite local bookseller: Our Blood Remembers, winner of the best non-fiction award from Woodcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers; Dragonfly Weather; and Why I Return to Makoce with a foreword from Montana's recent state poet laureate Lowell Jaeger and nominated for a High Plains Book Award in poetry.  Given headlines that continue to appear about the discoveries of new atrocities committed at boarding schools for indigenous children, we encourage you to read Lois' last contribution to MoJo that appeared in June, The Unspeakable Past Of Indian Boarding Schools 

Make sure you never miss a Lois Red Elk poem by signing up for Mountain Journal's free weekly newsletter. Click here 

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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