Best of the Net 2012  

On the Crow Reservation

Late August I-90 assaults us with insects
on the windshield, Washington to Iowa.
The Crow Reservation edges
Montana, crosses into Wyoming.

Mere miles to Little Bighorn
a part of me wants to stretch my toes
into the ground; another part wants to be done
driving with sun glare.

Mom is ready for a pause.
She parks at Custer's Battlefield Trading Post,
where Hwy 212 meets I-90
and cuts through Bighorn.

The road—another wound that will not heal,
will not absorb the river
through the black scab. The parking lot
is oversized, clay dust and gravel.

We stop for gas, a squeegeed windshield,
provisions. An Icee machine glares a red
white blue frozen syrup offer along a wall.
Aisles of souvenirs—Custer profile key chains,

polished stones, magnets, books, dream catchers
in the air-conditioned Trading Post.
The woman behind the counter
looks nearly full-blood, wears her hair

in long braids and quilled jewelry at her neck.
She looks at my mom, asks Which tribe?
Mom answers Lakota, Fort Peck. Her gaze direct,
shoulders squared. Even I know Sioux and Crow were,

are, not friends. A boy spins the key fobs
and I hear the cheap metal fall back against plastic
before he plunges a hand into the bin
of arrowheads Made in Mexico, and cuts himself.

The Crow woman gives him a Band-Aid
and points to the rest rooms.

She looks at Mom again. I push a package of venison jerky
towards the register, offer a smile and ready to hear
Too Irish, too subtle, grow braids. Jerky and a water gallon,
a Milky Way and 5th Avenue. The challenge drops
as green digits haunt the screen.

The Crow woman packs our things in a paper bag.
Enjoy the jerky, my uncle made it.
Drive safely. There aren't enough of us left,
old fights are over.
She notions

towards me, how I should find myself
an educated Sioux man at least for a night
to reverse the bloodletting, have a child.

I've never met a man more Sioux than I even near my age.

Back to the car, door hinges shriek in rust,
resist closing. Inside the space echoes
our adjustments under the clasp of seat belts.
Red dust settled on my clothes

and around my knuckles.
The steel sides and upholstery
block out wind sounds
that sheer against us, standing still.

- Elizabeth Ashe (from Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination)