Reflections on Spirit

Note 14: Buffalo Woman Ain't No Mother in Some Soldier's Eye. 6/11/99

Sighting down the long barrel of the rifle, I brought the bead at the end into the center of the V three inches from my left eye, the one the rattlesnake would almost take out of my head fifteen years later. Both V and bead were pointed toward a spot just behind, and a little below, the left front shoulder of the grazing bison who stood rock still and silent about fifty yards from where I had been hiding in the tall prairie grass since dawn. My heart was pounding with anticipation for the kill. I had never been so excited in my life. Just as I began the slow count of squeezing down on the trigger, a crow I could not even see began a raucous screech of cawing that must have alerted my prey to his immanent danger because the bison in my sights jerked his head up and turned his eyes around in my direction and bolted forward so suddenly, from a standing start as it were, that the bullet struck the mirror of his emptied space six inches behind his left hind quarter. How I could have missed him completely, while gathering up and casting down virtually every piece of broken mirror with that single bullet where he had been standing before the crow told him to run, is as much a mystery to me now as anything else that has ever happened to me in my life. I could have hit him with a stone, had I been able to throw one that far, had I been able to find one in the prairie grass before he ran to the other side of the earth and sky where the old man insisted he had always lived.

So instead of building the image of the bison in the western quarter of the sky/earth of the wheel, the old man had me put down stones in the shape of a woman who had a bison's head on her shoulders, maybe just a mask(?), rather than the head of a crow, as I wanted to do. The western point of the Mayan calendar is occupied by the day-name Men, which most scholars believe refers to the triple-goddess of the moon in her guise as the crone, as the old moon. Whether that is true or not I have no way of knowing since the old man generally refuses to discuss or comment on anything relating to the concept of god or goddess. He always says he has no idea what that means. I tend to doubt the identity myself because why would the Classic Period Mayas, who had a far better understanding of lunar motion in calendrical systems than any European has ever imagined, be inclined to come up with a representation of the moon that parallels what they (Europeans) actually did imagine about the nature of lunar influences in the lives of their non-tribal people? The short answer is that Mayan astronomers would have been as likely to mimic Eurocentric paradigms as they would have been to one day walk on the moon and claim its territory as an extension of their own. What the Mayas might have seen, as spirit, in the western quadrant of the sky/earth had as much to do with death (of the sun) as it did with anything associated with a moon three-quarters past new, which would have been the more logical choice because it is the new moon who kills the sun in a solar eclipse.

In any event, I put the crow's head on the back of the buffalo mask she was wearing because I could not separate one thing from the other even if the old man could and did. Her head, like the serpent's on the diametrical pole of the east/west line, was integrated into the circumference of the outer circle and had the black stone representing Men in the center of her profiled head. She wore the traditional shaman's skirt festooned with all the visible stars that decorate the evening sky. Opaque, like the night sky of the realm of the spirit-dead, the stones that made her space absorbed more light than they reflected and her quarter of the sky was darker than any place but one I had ever seen. Being diametrically opposed to the serpent, who seemed to be moving away from the open space between her legs, with all the obvious implications that image ought to inspire fully intact and intentional, on mine and the old man's part, since we were mutual architects of the wheel, I was able to appreciate fully the implications of that part of the story of Eden where the serpent seduces Eve into taking that first bite of the forbidden fruit. Since sex has always been an integral part of the Eurocentric perception of original sin, with one of the early church fathers (I forget now which one) actually arguing that original sin is passed along through sexual generation like part of the DNA code, the image in the wheel was a perfectly appropriate reflection of logocentric perceptions of human depravity.

The role the buffalo-headed woman came to play in the ceremony of my spirit-death is a subject I will put off to another time because the bare facts of her presence in my vision at the time cannot be made to make any sense at all without major distortions of what is, or might be, true both in terms of Eurocentric projections from the false consciousness of Christian ideology and in terms of how certain aspects of her identity might be taken for something other than what they are and represent in native American perceptions of reality. In other words, there is a danger of being wrong about what I mean to say from both sides of the conflicted ground where this battle has to play itself out.

The fact that a traditional image of rejuvenation, renewal, even rebirth, of the deepest values one can find in the long history of native American philosophy, black-bound in stone as hard and durable as diamond, which quartzite is, should turn up in the western death-dealing quadrant of the spirit-wheel the old man was directing me to build, while a seeming contradiction in terms, was actually only another instance of the habit of mirror-imaging one can never escape or elide when fashioning an harmonic replica of spirit-time in real-space. The woman should have been east and fashioned from red stone. She should have been birth. The fact that she was west and built of black stone meant that rejuvenation and renewal can only spring from the killing grounds of death. I could call forth the memory of the Ghost Dance at this point but that would be too provocative, altogether too threatening both to European and native American remembering to be tolerated here. But how can I not call it forth? How can I not shake the rattle on the tail of that snake yet again? I will not do that yet, again.

The problem any of this symbolism generates concerns the fact that Europeans have never tolerated the existence of native Americans on the land they coveted from the first moment they set their collective ideological foot down on the shorelines of the Americas. Like death-in-life and life-in-death, the presence of one obliterates the possibility of the other. When native America is rejuvenated, renewed, and reborn, and there is no force on the face of this earth that can prevent that from happening, not now, not anymore, because the only real force that has ever existed on this earth is spirit-force and that belongs to us not them, Eurocentric ideology will dry up like the shed-skin of a serpent, which is all it has ever been anyway, the one we all know from the Garden, as it were, to be blown away in the wind. That is a future we can all live with, a future hatched out in pieces of stone in a spare room in an apartment in the middle of nowhere significant on the face of this earth in 1977. That was the year in which the end began.

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