Camp


The tribe named me, so in courage I shall live. That’s what I said, and that’s what I meant. The grandmother said stop, stop, stop child, whatever the tribe named you is silent now. No language left, no names allowed in missionary schools and turning back on her I left like sand blown across dry miles to where I could keep my name without caution, without whisper, without fear.

Where I moved, west coast, Oregon near the Washington state line, there’s some Lakota, some Puyallup, some stragglers from the dry lands like me.  Dine. We got the same hello for each other, though, reaching the lips and turning the eyes away, yata-hey brother. Quiet people, some of us, out there silent with the clams and strong runners upstream or down, don’t matter. When I moved there, I won’t say the name of the town, cause history is full of shame, it was a settlement, just new built, for Japanese families, those same families that came across from who-knows-where on iron rails, iron horses, iron and blood carrying loss and history all across the country or all across the sea from where the sun is wide. Planting berries, flowers, gardens like poems. All pulled up or left behind. I can’t make a phone call; the switchboard is always closed. I am lonely with these lonely people, their language not mine and not the common language of outside the camp either.

Unless they get dented or rusted, tracks last a long time. Story tellers last a long time too. In the rounded huts of the Japanese settlement, I learned new words, genke desu, konichiwa, hottoitenka. They learned new words, too. The word for interment – camp;  food – chow; a meeting point for noses – spam, shit on a shingle, hash. Ugly words, yes – we could agree on these when we met in the open yard after meals, before lights out, all of us there for the interim. Interred for the interim, high fences, hard lights. Hiragana, good night, my temporary friend. Yá’át’ééh hiiłchi’į’ Good night, stranger, good night friend.

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