Norman Redstar/Indian Calculations by Cliff Taylor

“It’s about 20 minutes away,”
he said, convincing me that
it was close enough and that
we should go.

2 hours of driving later, halfway
to South Dakota, we arrived at
the acreage with the sweat. “This
was a little further than 20
minutes,” I laughed. “Indian
calculations,” he smiled, looking
out the window.

That was 15 years ago. Me
and Norman Redstar. Norman:
50, just out of prison, Lakota,
grandson of Fools Crow, painter,
potter, pipe-carrier. A face
like buckshot leather. A voice
like a fallen star that landed
in Dante’s backyard. Pot-bellied.
Painting in his mom’s basement as
Buddy Red Bow played on his
little stereo.

We sweat together a lot for a
couple of years, cruising around to
different lodges in the area. It
took him half a century before he
began to really heed his grandfather’s
words. He lost a piece of his ear to
frostbite sneaking across the Canadian
border to go and see a woman he
met and married at Sundance. He
was rugged, haunted, sensitive,
traditional but a man of many changes.
He helped me make my pipe. “When
you have a pipe you can’t be afraid
to pray aloud in public for the people
when you’re asked.” He drilled my
pipe slightly crooked. “Your pipe
should last 500 years,” a friend
said. “It should be all right,”
Norman said, eyeing his mistake.

Yesterday, I got word that
Norman had died. That tiny
light that’d been up there burning
in the mountains since before
you were born winks out. You
live in a city where no one knew
him, where few even know any
Indians. You remember his bony
hands showing you the wedding vase
he made for his friends in Albuquerque
while washing dishes at work-
the wall bowing out into the shape
of the vase, the suds rising up as if
to become his squinting face
but then not. A single buffalo’s
tooth chucked into the ocean at
night by your sad, grieving

We got out of my car, grabbing
our stuff and our pipes. These
friends of his lived in a tiny
old converted country schoolhouse.
“This place has a good feeling to it,”
I said. “It’s because of the sweat,”
he said. “It’s because everyone who
comes here loves to pray.”

By Cliff Taylor

Cliff Taylor is an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. He has written a book on Native spirituality, The Memory of Souls, a book of short stories about the stand for water in Standing Rock, Standing Rock Stories, and a memoir about coming-of-age in Nebraska, Special Dogs, all of which are unpublished. His dream is to see those books in print and to use his words to help his people. He currently resides in New Orleans, where he is hard at work on his next book. Contact Cliff

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