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Tepee at a Childhood Haunt

Tepee at a Childhood Haunt

Perie Longo

It was cold for summer and high and high and cold
though the close sun bragged of its summer strength
serving us like a gold host hot on the skin,
the Mosquito Range bold rising still further beyond
where I fished as a girl with my father on the banks
of the South Platte, him in water up to his knees,
me on my knees in water picking between ripples
for gems to line up on my windowsill when home,
my heart a gourd, a rattle of seeds shaking with fantasy
to live on this earth some day, and in that crush of time
walking back to the car to carry me away from
the Native American Days, I saw it, the tepee
round and shining with the queerest light, as if cut from
electricity, pointed purposefully to the sun, poles meeting
at the center, the round that dizzies, brings us back to
the beginning as we open. Without thought, I captured it
on film, maybe because there I was one with the earth
on my knees remembering smoke that spiraled in O's
that circled from my father's mouth and I would punch
my finger through them, to travel someplace my feet
could never go. Other times I followed his smoke
in the cold black night to the red glow like a siren
at the end of his cigarette, me staring at him long and cold
in the white night lit queer with the blink of danger.
One night he caught me like that, staring, a shadow
against his pain, an interruption in the cave where he
lived, a young girl fishing for some comfort against his
sadness and their fights, ugly words in the night like fists
against dough. My heart I thought would break, and I
grew afraid when he called my mother a name not hers,
froze hard and cold, fastened to his gaze. In the photo
of the tepee there is an interruption, a streak of white
smoke something like his spirit passing across the heights
as if pre-arranged. Finally I am home satisfied, unfastened
from the cold, giving myself to earth, though my mother
I am told is white and lost, not herself, screams from
across the country she has been cheated, her eyes like the
embers at the end of my father's cigarette. Because she is
right in an old way, in an old way I enter the tepee
mounted on my wall, singular and clear, rising.


Prairie Schooner, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 1995), pp. 98-99