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The Blessing Of Being Alive: Lois Red Elk Returns!

Montana's acclaimed poet of the prairie beholds the patterns of nature and finds solace in the power of turtle

During a bout with serious illness, Lois Red Elk Reed found solace thinking about the tapestry of nature, its fabric, comprised of miracles within micrcles, woven within our ocean. Photo courtesy pxhere
During a bout with serious illness, Lois Red Elk Reed found solace thinking about the tapestry of nature, its fabric, comprised of miracles within micrcles, woven within our ocean. Photo courtesy pxhere
After one of the longest winters in a good long while, we're happy to report Lois Red Elk is returning from her own hibernation, this one involving convalescence. "Well, I have finally recovered from a very serious spine inflammation," she writes from her home on the high high plains near the shores of Fort Peck. "The situation was not good for clear thinking and writing anything."

Whenever Red Elk commits words to paper, she is always incisive.

The first work here by Montana's critically-acclaimed poet is titled "A Well Worked Design." Red Elk composed it before she fell ill and then re-reading its lyrical message proved useful in helping her heal, she says. "
 We all are well worked designs and have to remember the spirit in which we were created."

Red Elk's second poem, "She  Was Fed Turtle Soup," springs from experiences in her own childhood among strong nurturing women. "In the Dakota Culture, when a child has a dream about turtles they are fed turtle soup and instructed that they will live a long life," she says "During my illness I kept remembering the significance of my dream and the spirit of the turtle sustained me."

"She Was Fed Turtle Soup" is among the many gems in Red Elk's highly-praised book, "Why I Return to Makoce."  Welcome Lois back, honor her, by picking up a copy. —Mountain Journal editors
(From the forthcoming work  “On Earth Time”)

       A Well Worked Design

imagine a being so perfectly ordered
with clay from Unchi breast 
breath of gods, dust borrowed from ancient 
planets a salamander kind of
anatomy for life on this terra firma with 
lungs modeled after a sea 
creature from distant past tawachin born for
light dreams to create we 
look at the footprints in petrified rock on 
plateaus where settlement is 
foreseen as home female members smile and 
believe it is all predicted the 
cloak of clouds the liquid of spaces between
the nurturer and fire and the 
bending power of what makes all things move 
all subscribe to a habitation 
and pursuit they raise their thighs from the 
rhythm created when bones
and shells mingle they send a strong layered
telling from deep in the throat 
a sharing coming and going between all they 
raise their arms and palms to the 
wonder of giant zitkala flashing bolts of light 
they revere the wakanyeja as
precious and call it enlightenment a subtle
predicted growth surrounds 
builds as the counting of winters establishes 
occupation with the desert 
mountains edges of mother’s water and places 
where tall trees grow they 
give as they receive a well worked design with 
apparitions dwelling in 
dreams floating outward transforming into 
fluent beings letting go a new
sprung sacred laughter for all to assimulate

©Lois Red Elk

Unchi—grandmother
Tawachin—mind
Zitkala—birds
Wakanyeja—children
  She Was Fed Turtle Soup

The willows were turning green, slips of leafs
pointing to one another in a slow tempo soothing
the air with whispers of coming water.  Her feet
were bare and the earth cool while a loose hem
feathered her ankles for her walk.  Bracing on 
stems for the gradual pace to not disturb all the 
sleeping turtles, she wished for sunlight in a 
shade of green to hurry growth and to keep her
hidden.  How close could she lean into the 
memory of relatives who lived this life of damp 
shells and slow demeanor without alerting them
of her intent.  All of grandma’s voices were now
shaking her sleepy mind and begging her return
to answer the details of her dream.  It was the
call of tradition that signaled the next step to
seal the new experience into her life basket.
She will be served turtles energy for her growth.
Off of grandma favorite tree a knot was cut and
shaped into a bowl.  Handles in the shape of
young turtles was carved into the sides.  Into
the cottonwood bowl was poured the prepared
soup with essence of memory from a life once
lived.  Thanking all that came before this earth
life, was her detailed prayer.  A calling of all
water animals to witness the taking of one
energy to give to the energy of another, a child
who passed the test of recalling ancient blood.
Her heart will live with turtle strength. Her 
life will be long and purposefully directed. Her
song will be like the cool breeze moving tall
willows above eddies remembering motion.

©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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