The Sun lived on the other side of the sky from Redbird, who was her daughter. Every day the Sun would stop and visit her daughter's house in the west for supper.
Now, the Sun was the jealous sort, who didn't understand why her grandchildren would look upon her with hurt faces and small eyes. "My grandchildren no longer look upon me with love," she told her brother, the Moon. The Moon only smiled, and said, "I love my sisters and brothers, for they look upon me with awe and longing."
Upset by this insensitivity, the Sun resolved that she would kill her ungrateful grandchildren on the way to Redbird's house. So she sent oozing, painful rays that killed most of her grandchildren. Many were lost. All of the People knew someone who had perished in the drought.
More people died before they turned to the Yunwitsansdi, the Little People, for help.
I could read her mind, sitting here across the room from her, her back turned to me, shutting me apart from her life and the blood that flows within. God, I love this woman, I'm thinking. If I sit next to her long enough I pale in her shadow, become less human in her light.
Or her darkness. She's that dusky maiden, that child of darkness they insist we all are, that near–extinct noble savage living in tipis and hunting buffalo. Carlisle Emmanuel, a real life Cherokee princess. Living with a Muskogee half–blood, me, Wesley Harjo Jr.
The dominant culture resents us Indians for still living. The only good Indian is a dead Indian, General Sheridan once said. "Holocaust never happened here," Mrs. Heller told me in 11th grade history class. "There was no such thing as genocide against American Indians. I should know. I'm an historian."
"Well, Mrs. Heller," I said, "I'm an Indian. It did happen." Needless to say, I didn't pass U.S. History in 11th grade.
The truth is the truth if you are the author of it. All exterminated people turn to dust and ash when nothing matters but greed. Land, money, all the same. Our spirits warned us against them. Told us what they would do to us. Did we listen? We turned to "civilization" and look where it got us. Think we'll ever get a space in a museum other than to show buckskin, beads and feathers? Never mind that Muskogees and Cherokees never lived in tipis, never hunted buffalo; it's beads and feathers or bust, baby. The noble savage with a tear rolling down his face, dressed in leather and beads: that's the image in most people's minds. Modern minds and most liberal ones too, I might add.
We are these things to each other: Death. Burned in fire, or in ice. Just look at the pictures. But no one ever sees those unless they look for them. I look for them. Across dark canyon skies and fog–enshrouded leather seats. I see the Little Ones hiding behind redwoods, oaks. Running from waves at the ocean. I see them out of the corner of my eye at basketball games, tiny spirits whose voices are so loud sometimes you have to sing to drown them out. They say we're crazy sometimes because we hear the voices of our spirits. Who wrote the history? Not us. But that will change. Death still clings to us. It clings to Carlisle.
In death I am lost forever. In her I am lost forever. I cling to her like she's my last chance. She is. In bed at night, she takes me into her body again and again and I ride the wind with her, soaring across the plains with no buffalo in sight, soaring through grasslands, marsh, cypress, and oak until I am no longer myself but part of the land, part of her. Looking down, I see hooves where her feet should be. I am singing a charm song, a song to call deer, a song for love. We may be noble, we may be savage, we may be killed off in fire and ice, but we still have our wits. And our spirits. Yunwitsansdi. Little Ones.
Carlisle and I are the same blood. We see the same spirits. We hear the same voices across a vast space of desert wind, rain, rushing across the plains and whispering at night when we cross the edge between wakefulness and sleep. In the borderlands, that is where I hear them, the Little Ones, calling to me, and the only way I can shut my ears is to slip inside her, come home inside her. Make them leave.
The Yunwitsansdi made medicine and turned two men to snakes, sending them to watch by the door of the House of the Sun to kill her when she arrived. But she shone too bright for them and they crawled off, spewing yellow venom at her. The Sun cursed them, burning even brighter with anger, and more people died.
The Peace Chief, Nanyehi, went to the Little People and begged for help. Now this was uncommon, since begging the Little People's help could spell trouble, especially for one as powerful as the Peace Chief. Yet the Peace Chief, dressed in white, went to the Yunwitsansdi and asked for their help. She took with her Bowlegs, the War Chief, dressed in red.
Nanyehi was beautiful, she was brave and strong, and the Little Ones took pity upon her. She had been made dark by the Sun's oozing rays, and three of her children had died in the drought. Bowlegs was brave, but his love for Nanyehi blinded him to the possibility that the only way to gain the help of the Yunwitsansdi was to sacrifice one's soul.
Carlisle stands against the glass, eyes staring out the window. Does she see the Little Ones? Does she hear their voices? They exist in her, carrying their blood to her heart, her being. Surely she listens. With death all around it is all she can do. The reflection of her face has become one with the reflection of the rain on the window glass. Tears are the same color as rain, yet the bitter taste of salt stands between the two, like oceans and rivers. Today Carlisle cries an ocean. She is no longer a river.
Now her world has turned. Beloved father, prickly sister: both dead, in the space of a heartbeat. No one expected it. Least of all my Cherokee princess. My gaze hardens behind the thin walls of glass that stand between us, the metal once cold to the touch of my skin but warmed by her touch. We rarely speak these days but I know the blood that feeds this woman's heart.
I know now why the mourning dove, in our tradition, brings love magic. Its moaning cry sinks into your heart and makes you fall in love. It sings an old man's song to pierce the skin and make you lonesome. It speaks in a language we do not understand anymore but still we know. Pcvi howe, pcvi howe. Go there, make me invincible.
On cue, Carlisle turns to me, her lips parted, eyes adjusting to the light. Moving toward me, slowly, the only way she can make death go away is to wrap me inside of her. I don't resist, for the old man's song is still on my lips.