First Light Pierre South Dakota Days Inn December 3, 2016

The day broke 10 degrees, iron-fisted.
Parking lot isn’t talking, its striped asphalt skinned in dingy ice,
arctic breezes pitch pins and needles at us.

The blue tarp over the payload is stiff and cranky,
I bang my knuckles tightening a line.
Supposed to warm up to 25 today.

This wind is pig-headed – wanahosni, some say here.
I throw on another sweater. Another sip of coffee.
Under my breath, I practice: Mni Wiconi, water is life

We’re driving north, White Buffalo Calf Woman way,
wondering how it is in winter camp.
Will we be stopped and fined a thousand dollars?

Water protectors already shouldered the perils,
protecting a prayer is their resistance.
Living legacy of indominable will - India to Morton County.

State Route 14 is no prayer.
It cuts through ribs of a sleeping prairie.
We follow the wound, its welts of barbed wire and fence posts.

My fingers clear a hole in the window fog.
I mimic Sky woman peering into a new world,
imagine loess hills as sleeping turtles.

The turtled hills in Tennessee, burial mounds.
I know now the ground rule of first nations:
keep the East open, let the ancestors in.

In the front seat, a casual cadence of gossip
ambles along easy rifts of reggae.
He’s so Lakota, here’s a picture of his grandfather.

Ahead another rise, three metal silos hunkered down.
Intersection, Route 14 and 63, a dark smudge in the distance
lifts its head, a stubby pony shivers off the snow.

Herefords are practiced at cracking through frozen rind,
they know the Cheyenne River keeps it belly open –
Cheyenne: French for dog – a world before horses.

On the radio, Bob Dylan says he won’t go to Stockholm.
I’ve been tangled up in his songs most of my life,
lyrical geography beside the Duck River and Sycamore.

Here songs thrum like the breath of heaven fingering miles of tumbleweed
snagged in rusty wire. The long poles of tipis resemble hands
in a mudra for meditation. They invite us in.

Rise with the sun to pray.
Pray alone. Pray often.
The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak.


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