Through the Looking Glass

Helen falls asleep yet again in the large easy chair
in her living room. The Guidebook to Native Americans
of the River Valley lays in her lap, open to a sketch
of a young man, one of those who called themselves
the downstream people in older times and settled
near the great river long before white or black souls
rode its backbone up and down the land or even
drew breath near it. He is nearly bald, with only
a small black pennant of hair affixed to the back of his head
and a river of beads bisecting the bare brown hill of skin
near its apex. Rings of beads hang from his ears, his nose,
and the buckskin coat he wears. He faces west,
towards the great river; and once this chair, the book,
and her body melt into dream, she, too, faces

the great river. She sinks to the ground, lands on her
blue jean knees, and then leans over to look
into the great river’s rippled mirror: but instead of
her own face, she sees the young man from the guidebook
staring back at her and holding out his hand. She slides
her hand past the river’s membrane and takes hold of his:
and he pulls her through the veil, leading her
past fishes, past clouded water, past stones, and past
the riverbed, a silt underbelly which they slide through

as if it were air. And now, they stand on the west bank
of the river, dry, as if they had never passed through the
watery portal. The young man gestures to the river,
the grass, and the dense army of oak, ash, and walnut trees
around them: this is our land. My home is just beyond
the river. Come, and I will show it to you. He turns, and
walks east through the thick crowd of leaf-crowned wooden
souls. She remembers for a moment that the sketch of this
young man in the book was from the year 1740, but chases
this little fact away as she follows him, pushing branches
away from her face as she walks. The trees give way

to open land dotted with a group of domed wigwams; but
they are empty, hollowed-out souls. In front of one wigwam,
two women carefully barbecue a carcass over an open fire, and
one lanky old man with caverns for eyes stares at Helen
warily. Don’t worry, the young man says, that is my
grandfather. The two women are my wives. We are the
last ones left in this village; even our chief has died. Helen

asks the young man, what has happened here? He
exhales, as if trying to send his sadness upon
the wings of a sigh, and replies: Some sickness
came upon our tribe this summer. We do not know
where it came from. Some people from another village
visited us, and after they left the little red dots came
upon our skin with the fevers. Helen asks the young man,
what will you do? and he replies, We can only keep praying
to the Great Spirit and try to survive. Helen peers around
and sees berry bushes plucked bare, bones of small sacrifices
lying just outside the ring of wigwams, and a few errant stalks
of corn bent over with broken backs like sages whose ages
wear heavily upon their shoulders. She turns to her host and
asks him, why have you brought me here? He turns

and looks at her for a moment, offering nothing but
a pregnant silence that she cannot decipher. Then he
answers: In my time, the great river will outlive us. But
in your time, Aanteekwa, it will die. I wanted you to see
the river as we see it before we collapse into the arms
of this great land. She raises her eyebrows. You called me
Aanteekwa – why did you do that? And what does it
mean? He says: you will find out soon enough. Follow me.

Written 6/5/13
© 2013 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written for We Write Poems Prompt #159: the Wizard of Oz Revisited. This land is far from Oz, however; Helen appears to have traveled back 250 years in time and is at a location in Steelville, not too far from the house she grew up in, and near the great river. I won’t reveal what Indian tribe the young man is from, but I will tell you that the tribe’s modern members no longer live in Ohio, although the tribe is not extinct. The events in this poem occur around mid-September of 1990.

If you want to read the earlier poems in this series, here they are:

Read the next poem in the series, “Anteekwa Learns the Meaning of Her Name“.


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About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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5 Responses to Through the Looking Glass

  1. Pingback: The River Valley Book of the Dead | Raven's Wing Poetry

  2. Pingback: Aanteekwa Learns the Meaning of Her Name | Raven's Wing Poetry

  3. Pingback: Aanteekwa Gains Her First Disciple | Raven's Wing Poetry

  4. Pingback: Crow and Bear | Raven's Wing Poetry

  5. Pingback: Anteekwa’s Epistle to Steelville | Raven's Wing Poetry

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