6/99 ~ to live like the wild ones

“Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorney or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We were in a really bad way before the white man came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without the basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.”

-John (Fire) Lame Deer


it was already dusk by the time we made it to the banks
of the Red River, exhausted
we dumped our bags on the wet sand and flopped down
taking in what lay on the other side
bright city lights and the faint sounds of sirens and engines revving

‘i don’t know why you’ve been acting so ashamed’
my travel pal said mildly disgusted, as he often tended to
‘we aren’t the problem. just take a look around. we aren’t the problem’
i knew in my heart i wasn’t necessarily a problem but in my head
i was a slug, a burden, a no-thing

after spending a few weeks stuck in a city
living on the fringes
with my home on my back
the endless seas of cars and faces that
avoided my gaze or didn’t see me at all
had left me downtrodden

i looked out on the water, and then at the trash and debris caught on the shoreline

‘we aren’t really much different than that guy you’ve been reading about,
Lame Deer, doing his best to live free within the confines of a civilization that has taken it all away’

the deep breath i tried to take met with the constriction in my diaphragm
and i just sighed and sunk deeper into the frayed canvas of my overstuffed backpack
‘yeah, i dunno’
i could usually count on this guy to shake me up out of my limiting beliefs
but bringing up the suffering of Lame Deer and his people
just made me feel ashamed for feeling ashamed

the sun had long since sunk below the horizon by then
and under the refuge of darkness we relaxed enough to set up camp

in the morning i tried to imagine what this bank
on the Red River would have looked like
what it would have sounded like
200 years ago
before this land had been claimed
to be anything other than free

surely i would have felt free to be there then

eh, but

no matter,
we had to pack our things up quickly before too many eyes
saw us

the rest of the day i imagined
the houseless people of the city as
the nomadic people of a time that once was
when this land had been the home for the
wild ones

and now, how those unable to adjust to a society that required them to
live in four walls, and
pay taxes
who didn’t want to pay
for living on the earth
were cast aside and overlooked
the low layers of a
sickly society that poisoned
the same river they drank from

in a city of millions
how could one man’s freedom
endanger the freedom of another?
was freedom truly found in the dollar
and did it somehow justify the brutal intolerance
of anyone who chose to live outside the margins?

i know the answers
and i proclaim that without hesitation, for
the answers are weaved into the fabric of all creation
the shoreline on the Red River waxes poetic of freedom reigned
and the free peoples of times before find their voice in those that
still live
like the wild ones