41. Twenty-three, stepping off to the side in the back at the grocery store where I work, lifting up my shirt, pulling off the Band-Aid to show my big half-dollar sized piercing scar to my biker boss.
“Shit, Cliff, that’s infected. You better go to the doctor and get that looked at.”
Sitting in the chair at the wound-specialist’s, my shirt off, the ponytailed doctor coming back with about four nurses in tow.
“This is something you might only see once or twice in your career,” he tells his nurses. “That’s why I’ve brought you in here. This is a piercing wound and this young man got it from the Sundance.”
40. Sometimes I’d get depressed and get in a groove of drinking at this one bar a few blocks away when I got off work at seven in the morning. Sometimes Indian Pat would be there (he hated being called that). There’d be just him and me and the bartender and a few others who came and went. Pat had graduated from Haskell, had worked for various tribes and lived in Tacoma for twenty-four years, had moved back to Nebraska, retired from a government job, and was now a drunk who lived by himself and did little with his days but those two things. We’d get hammered and he’d tell the same stories over and over again, wanting to talk about Indian things, wanting to talk about anything but, like the women on the muted morning shows playing above the bar or the women on the mexican game shows that he watched at home but couldn’t understand. Sometimes he’d tell the story of why he drank without ever really telling it. “My wife and I had one son,” he’d say. “You know, he was planning to Sundance, like what you did, but then he got in that car wreck and died and that was it.”
39. Sometimes I’d get so drunk in the bar on those mornings with Pat that I’d really start loading up the jukebox with my songs I liked and open up and tell him all sorts of things the spirits had told me over the years, telling him my visions, my dreams, everything.
“My mom had big medicine,” he’d say, leaning back, his arms crossed, drunk as hell, ready to tell me the same stories he always told when I let myself start talking that way. “People were scared of her, including my wife. That tornado that came through Pine Ridge in 68′ when I was a teenager -you know, there’s some people who say that she’s the one who caused it.”
38. I’d had a hawk in my freezer for almost two years, just the body of it that I needed to bury.
When Liv and Chelsea came through Nebraska we decided to camp out for a night on the Sundance grounds. I brought along the hawk. As we were driving up North on Highway 81, Liv said, “This is crazy. I can’t believe we have a hawk in a cooler in our car. We ARE in Indian Country.”
We spent the night there (more stories later?), I buried my hawk, and then we went to visit my friend Barbara and to ride her horses.
Standing with about eight Amish kids, each less than a year apart in age, at the farm where Barbara kept her horses, I heard a hawk’s cry and looked up: two hawks were circling somewhat low right overhead.
We all looked up and heard one of them cry again.
“There’s your hawk,” Chelsea said. “They’re here for you.”
37. Whenever I go to the Sundance grounds I always go off by myself and pray and talk to all the spirits that’re there; if I’m alone, I’ll walk the entire grounds by myself and do this aloud.
Staying up by the fire I told this to Chelsea, as we talked and talked for hours in that sacred place. When she and I were finally ready to go to sleep, she said, “Are you going to go walk and pray then?” “I don’t know. I’m kind of tired,” I said. “You should,” she said, full of an encouraging spirit and to be honest, a womanness, that I wished I’d had more of in my life. “Okay then. I guess I will. Good night.” “See you in the morning,” she said, crawling into her tent and zipping it up.
The next morning we both woke up late, much later than either of us were accustomed to, almost abnormally late.
“Were you singing last night,” she asked me, “when you went walking around to pray?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I went up to the cook shack and sang some songs up there. Why?”
She looked at me and blinked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“Well, when I was in my tent I heard the singing up by the cook shack but I also heard someone walking around here by the tents and it wasn’t Liv. I knew that one was you and the other must’ve been a spirit?”
“I was the one singing,” I said, thinking about it. “The one you heard walking around was a spirit giving you an experience to remember this place by, to let you know of its sacredness.”
I thought about it for another second.
“That’s pretty cool though.”
We both looked at each other.
“You ready for a morning cigarette?”
“You know it.”
36. Denny and I and his kids eating Chinese and talking in Bismarck. “Sitting Bull came into the ceremony and said, ‘Don’t be afraid to be a different kind of Indian. When I was growing up I was a different kind of Indian than all the others around me. If you want to write poetry, write poetry. If you want to make music, make music. If you want to go somewhere your parents have never gone before then go there and do that.’”
We all four keep eating, scarfing down our Chinese.
“This is a message every Indian kid in America needs to hear,” Denny says. “It’s okay to be yourself, whatever that may mean. It’s okay to be yourself and be Indian too. You can be both. That’s the future and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should be figuring it out in ourselves and then encouraging it in our children. It’s okay.
“’Don’t be afraid to be a different kind of Indian,’ you know?”
35. Meditating on the couch at Denny’s mom’s up in Selfridge, alone in the house by myself. I’m deep in the place I go to; silence, stillness, a peace like a light wind going through the curtains of an open window; and then suddenly I’m gone, in a vision. Denny and I are cruising along up in Standing Rock; it’s sunny out; a good day. I look out the passenger window towards the old rugged buttes and see what feels like an entire village of stones, all perfectly round and spherical, ranging in size from pebbles to large boulders, standing there and looking at me, at us, at Denny and I. There’re hundreds of them and I can feel their awareness as a group almost spreading into me. I look at them, a village of round stones, and then I’m brought back to my shut-eyed meditation as I hear the back screen door kick open and then close back shut just as fast. A spirit leaving, I think. And then another second later I hear a car door out front slam closed. I open my eyes, unfold my legs, stretch. The front door opens. “Brother, brother, are you there?!” Denny yells with a laugh in his voice. “You’ve got some explaining to do. I heard you’ve been saying things about me. People are talking and I’m not happy about it.” I laugh. “I’m in here, brother,” I say, “and I’m ready to tell you everything.”
34. For about a decade my life revolved around the Sundance. I marveled at the power and genius and beauty of it. One time before a ceremony Joe Bad said, “Fools Crow said, when talking about these ceremonies in his nineties, ‘I have just barely scratched the surface of what they are. I have just barely scratched their surface.’”
Heading out the door of the gas station where I worked for ten years, getting ready to take off to Sundance that evening, my boss and store owner, a Vietnam Vet, self-made man, money guy, knowing where I was going, in all seriousness, like he was afraid that I might go up to the reservation and ‘go Native’ on him, said to me, “Now don’t forget where you come from!”
In that moment I thought it was just the most hilarious thing.
“Don’t worry,” I yelled back (was I dreaming of the Sundance or was I something the Sundance was dreaming?), “I won’t!”
33. I was sitting by my artist friend Barbara at the powwow, watching all those proud Poncas in their regalia, looking at how everyone kept aging, kept returning, kept coming back. Then, my buddy Dan, who I’d come to the Ponca Powwow with about twenty times, tapped me on my shoulder. “Cliff,” he said, “your dad’s here.” I turned around and looked. I hadn’t seen my dad in ten years, the whole length of his prison sentence. A kind of quiet and shame emanated out of him, a child’s discomfort with his surroundings. I got up, figured what the hell. “You’re still alive?” I joked. “You’re still real?” (My words don’t always come out right.) I hugged him. He didn’t hug me back; he just kept his arms stiff and down at his sides. We talked for a minute and then just silently watched the dancers and then he said, “I gotta go. I forgot something back in the car.” And then he was gone. Later, my little brother told me, “I tried to hug him too but he didn’t hug me back either. He told me that he doesn’t touch people like that anymore. Not anymore. That’s what he told me.” Last week at the coffee shop: “That’s how traumatized our Indian people are. We can’t even touch each other right anymore. To touch and to be touched just touches too much and it’s all just too fucking painful.”
Read “66 Things I’ve Experienced As An Indian part 1” here
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 @firstname.lastname@example.org