by Kevin Burns
It rained for the first time in a month today. The dirt road was mucked and slippery up to Mary’s. Her one-room shanty perched on a bluff above the river. Near the Lakota village. We met during my shift at the Rez hospital, and I soon fell into visiting and bringing her frybread and honey.
Mary was ninety, blind in both eyes, one from a willow stick as a child and the other from glaucoma. She taught me how people can be rotted out like the hollow cottonwood trees in the gulch that still have their green leaves. They look alive, but you’ll never know they’re dead inside until a strong wind comes and they twist and fall over.
Yesterday, we sat by her open door and I described the broad sweep of sweetgrass that led down to the river, the cattails along the bank, the curved sandbars in the swirling water, and the thickets of purple fireweed that ran up the draw on the other side.
Mary asked if the buffalo were across the river, and they were. I counted them, and she said buffalo behind a fence are not natural. Buffalo and Lakota should never be fenced, she muttered. We shared some frybread, while the evening breeze played with her hair like when she was a child running in the coulee with her sister.
The hills soon turned purple, and the first stars appeared. I stood to leave and Mary lifted her milky eyes as if she could see into mine and traced Wakan Tanka on my palm. Watch out for falling trees, she laughed from her wheelchair. I squeezed her hand and said I would and walked out into the Great Mystery under a warm blanket of summer stars, leaving the dark stumps of the fallen cottonwoods behind.
About the Author
Kevin Burns lives in the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona near the border with Mexico. He grew up in Washington, DC. After graduating from Georgetown University, he lived with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Kevin devotes his days and nights to listening, writing, editing, and listening more. He can be found watching the stars or people from various hilltops and cafes worldwide. Kevin welcomes new friends and can be reached at kwburns509(at)gmail(dot)com