We stood in the tiny mud-room with the door open, smoking and shivering. It was freezing, about zero degrees with the wind howling. In the distance we could see the overlapping hills of my people’s ancestral homelands, the bare skeleton of a perfect tree hanging tough on the topmost point, touching the sky.
Ann was bundled up, hunched over, catching me up on the latest goings-on of the tribe, the community, all sorts of our mutual friends. I’d only picked back up the bad habit of smoking since my girlfriend and I had arrived in Nebraska on our cross-country road trip/move to Oregon. The cigarette was good. The conversation my old jam, my favorite; inside the whole star system of my relations was sparkling, keeping me warm with the good radiations they gave off when I remembered them. This was maybe the hardest part of leaving Nebraska: not being as tuned in as I once was to all the intricate story of my tribe, the advancements and discoveries, the good news and gossip, all the vibrant, beautiful happenings.
As she talked I began to remember people I hadn’t thought about in years, I felt the ancestors mindfully care-taking the past at my back, like her house was full of folks we’d be returning to the midst of once we stepped back inside. The tribe’s new Casino in Carter Lake. The children’s play in Ponca that Ann was getting ready. Who had taken over my Uncle Sandy’s post as the tribal historian. It was all buzzing in the air. I puffed, felt hungry to do some writing, which I hadn’t done all that much of since we’d been on the road, listened to Ann generously and happily unload from her archives. Then, in a pause where we both just looked out onto the snow-covered ground of her backyard, a severed truck-bed with a cool CHIEF bumper sticker on it resting next door, all this talk about Indians sparked an idea in my mind. Huh, I thought, smiling; Wouldn’t that be cool?
“Who knows where ideas come from, Ann,” I said, looking down at my long-burning (two smokes in one!) Natural American Spirit (am I a good Indian for smoking this brand or a bad one? who knows…lol), “but I just got one: what if sometime in the very near future they created some nanotechnology cure for alcoholism, something that with no bad side effects, just completely erased the urge or desire to drink? And then what if that nanotechnology cure just swept through our Indian people, in all the reservations across America and everywhere else in between? I wonder how awesomely that might change things among our people like almost overnight? What would life for our people look like then if that scourge of alcoholism was miraculously removed from our people and the life of our families and communities?”
“Geeze, I don’t know, Clifford,” Ann said, taking a puff, repositioning herself on her little chair. But I was feeling it so I just kept going with it, running with it like I was a brave coming with a feathered lance from the Other World that was going to lightning strike some supernaturally bad-ass healing into our colorful and glorious, if struggling some, tribe.
“And imagine if like all of our tribes started getting word back from the ancestors and spirits in all our ceremonies that this cure from the doings of the non-Indian was actually coming from them and had their endorsement and was a grand example of how help for our people and all people was going to be sourced collaboratively and in new ways that actually healed relations between the races and any who both were different but who also weren’t different because fundamentally they were a human being, a two-legged in the sacred hoop of life. You know?
“And then imagine all of us freed of that heavy net of alcoholism turning to our stuck ancestors around us, the ones who could use some help just as much as us, and helping them get free of all that alcohol-related trauma, helping them get healed, generating a massive whammo-blammo ripple-effect healing for all our relatives on the Other Side who’re lost or hurting or still too burdened by the effects of genocide to travel up to the Happy Hunting Grounds where all our transitioned ancestors are. Imagine that.”
I took a long drag from my cigarette. My cold hand shook. I pictured this sci-fi reality as the most real thing, felt the star system of my relations laughing and hooting and war-hooping within, leaned into this reality of what could be that was always so close like it was a buffalo robe whispering the wisdom of the Old Ones and I just couldn’t get enough of it, whether I was in a good place or a kind of rough place, I just could not get enough of it.
“That would be something, Clifford,” Ann said, standing, finishing her cigarette. “You should write a short story about that, explore what all would happen if the alcoholism really did leave our world like that.”
“It would be a true game-changer,” I said, thinking of so many I’d known who’d struggled and/or fallen to the bottle, to those spirits who’ve cost us all so much since their introduction to our story.
“Maybe I’ll write a little novella about it,” I said, looking at that tiny tree in the distance. “Or maybe I’ll just write an essay about it since I don’t know when I’ll have any time to really write something more substantial like that as long as we’re on the road. You know, just to get the idea out there, to stoke people’s imaginations, to add some spirit-food to that big casino buffet a lot of us get our strength and inspiration and fuel to keep going from. Maybe I’ll just do that.”
We put our butts into the ancient ashtray and then we shut the mud-room door. “The nanotechnology cure for alcoholism,” I said, looking at Ann, feeling almost like we’d been visited while we were out having our smoke and visiting. “It just might save us all.”
By Cliff Taylor
Cliff Taylor is a writer, a poet, a speaker, and an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. He has written a non-fiction book about the little people and recently completed a memoir, Special Dogs, about coming-of-age in Nebraska. A year ago he moved to Seattle. He’s waiting to see what happens next. Contact Cliff @ firstname.lastname@example.org