Tsalagi: Trail of Tears A date in time with little or no significance in the overall scheme of things. Clear blue cold sky all around a breezeless day. FM96 in the background. Sounds carry from a stereo donated to the cause of low income, enter my ears. There are no ghosts here. Well, there are a few ghosts; present and past loves, children not yet children and in the mirror ... FM96: ..
The sun warms the sky and decreases the snow on the window sill. Heats the cat up so that he has to move again, transcends time and space. He thinks of food.
I haven't moved from this metal chair in front of the computer screen. Arms of flesh on arms of steel, the outline of my torso firmly meshed with the leather lined contour. Sunshine creeps across my middle-aged skin. Leafless dream catcher tree outside my window wipes away it's frost, shines glossy brown on a robin's egg sky. Remembers .
Crossing my legs, I stretch my toes. The phone light flashes from its location on the black desk. Arm reaches out and the receiver finds its way to my ear.
The day has come for the restitution of our forgotten past. Time to cleanse all the hurt and anger, retell stories forgotten in the land of ash. Turn the soil over with the plough and sow seeds in the rows of our history.. You've become more silent now inside. Let the sun beat down on your face. Make it push back the corners of every shadowed room. We have a history you and me.
"Hello?" "Who is this?" Cat moves in the trail of light on the rug. Blue pattern, short twill. The hum of the radio tunes out the hum of the computer. Green pattern, sound is still.
I had a dream. In the dream I was in a room. There was a table covered in maize and in the middle of the table was a naked child. I got down on my knees to pray and you were there. You gathered all the kernels in a basket and the child smiled at both of us. He held a broken arrow in his hand. The edge of the arrow cut me on the wrist and when you reached for me it cut you on the wrist as well. Our blood ran together into a small bowl and the bleeding stopped. The dream stopped. Are you there?
"I'm ... here." I said in the air between my lips and the telephone. The sun warmed down on me through the window and the phone was still there, wedged between my ear and my shoulder.
- * * *
On this hot summer day I walk down the narrow dusty road leading from the farm to the center of town. William has his hands in his pockets, shirt tale hanging out. There is a sense of purpose in my walk. I stare forward.
Today I am walking with my older brother on our way into town. We don't go in town that often because of the work we have to do on the farm. Mostly cotton and a few chickens. He has on his good coveralls and his Sunday go-to-meeting shoes. I just stride beside him with my hands in my pocket, hot from the sun and a little bit thirsty.
I have been troubled lately by fears of something I can't explain. William doesn't seem to be troubled by anything but he's four years younger and hasn't experienced life that much. I am troubled within my heart. As we walk down the road I kick a small stone out of my path near the curve that crosses the rail road tracks where the steam train comes by on Tuesdays.
"There they go, Pa, off into town again." I leans back in my wicker chair, pick up a bit of snuff like my mother used to do before breakfast when she'd take out her corn cob pipe for a smoke. Blind she is now. William and his older brother Cecil shuffling off down the old dusty dirt road an' don't that boy ever tuck in that shirt of his? His baggy trousers' scuffin' up against his bare heals. Lord o' mighty his feet must be hard as rock he ain't worn shoes all his life. "Pa, there is somethin' I been meanin' ta tell ya."
Been keeping my eye on a large bird hanging in the air overhead when my brother kicks a stone into the creek as we pass the log bridge that old Prosser Carr had built. Fly on my shoulder makes me turn my head and look back, see Ma and Pa sitting on the front porch in the shade in the corn husk chairs that Ma made last winter when we lost the big field to the flood. I like to walk into town with my big brother. Usually on a hot day we go for a soda or a swim in the creek. He walks faster than me. I speed up.
I heard free land is being given away up state in Clay County and I gotta get a place of my own away from cotton. Corn and chickens are the future. Why can't my little brother keep up with me? It ain't his bare feet, they's hard as rock. He most likely wants to stop for a swim. This sweat on my face is cooled down by my straw hat. As I walk, I reach over and grab a hunk of grass from the side of the road and stick it in my mouth. Chew on the end like I always do. Town Line coming up.
Town Line's coming up and he's still chawing on that piece of grass like a milch cow. That big bird's still flying up above and he ain't told me where we're goin'. He seems different today. Can't place it but then he's almost nineteen.
"They must be at the Town Line by now, Ma, they been hoofen it for nigh on half an hour by my watch. I slip it back into my coveralls. It's a good day for a rest on the old front porch. Still in love with my second wife sitting here beside me. Cottons about half picked and the Negroes that help out from Millerville are at a funeral and Cecil wanted to go to town with his little brother. I reach over and pat the hound dog on the rump and scratch his old yeller head. "What was you wanten ta talk to me about, Ma?" I look over at her and she has her eyes closed in the sun. Just like when I came to help her daddy in 1891 top the cotton and fell in love. Then fell in love with her three-year-old son. We got married and had a son of our own. It's a big farm and I'm usually up early fixin' this or doin' that and all the while Sirina's up here looking after the house and the boys and doin' her cooking.
I pull my little brother off the dirt road and onto the sidewalk as we make our way into town to the Registry Office. I been to school, not like Ma or Pa, and while he's a good farmer, he's old fashioned and cottons on the way out. Chickens are on the way in. I read the paper when I came here last and that's where I saw and article by Guion Miller 'bout registering for land before August 31, 1907, next month that is.
Right up off the road and right on to the sidewalk! He practically picked me right up into the air and then he put his arm around my shoulder and smiled at me! He doesn't do that much, usually just pushes me around. Trees are shady and it's cool where we walk past the house of my cousin Lecta, past the soda shop and we don't stop. We walk right to the center of the town square and up the steps of the court house. High above the town, the long pitched screeeee of an eagle as it comes into view. I said it was just a bird but Cecil said it was an eagle. Clear blue sky all around a breezeless day. Eagle dips in front of the sun, coming closer into town. Huge wings and the door is shut on my view.
Heart beats faster as I drag William up the steps to the court house to find the Registry Office and he's standing and looking out over the city. His body relaxes and he lifts himself up on his heals searching for something. I close the door behind us and we walk down the long dark hall. William is not interested in this place so I send him over to his cousin's house, they are the same age, so they can go for a soda. I walk up to the Registry Office.
"I gotta tell Pa, when he came by the farm to help my daddy and we fell in love and married down the road in Listra church and I had a son from my first husband and I love him dearly. I gotta tell him I love him still and I been thinking that both he and Cecil should know that he was dropped off one mornin' for me to care for and so I adopted him. He wasn't my dead husband's son, but Pa's asleep in his chair and the boys are still gone and it's still hot and I'm tired.
I was up in the hall with my sister Leita, looking out the window when I saw a big bird flying over the houses and the trees and the school. Off down the road I see my cousins coming into town again and see Cecil and William walk in front of my house. I got a smile on my face and I'm happy when I have my cousin to play with but when I get to the front porch, they just walk on by? They walk on by the soda shop? It is hot. The bird overhead is coming closer to the tree tops. I go out onto the sidewalk and follow them down the street in my new shoes, and across the square. Cecil goes into the Court House and I am standing on the corner. People pass by, grownups mostly minding their own business and some not. All of a sudden William comes out of the Court House and he sees me. I could go for a soda.
On the wall of the Registry Office there is a notice that is strange to me but familiar. There are some boys my age in the room and I think they look like me and they talk to me like I am a brother and I don't know them but I see me in their eyes and hair and skin. The notice reads:
Special Agent Guion Miller, Dept. of Interior is appointed by the U.S. Court of Claims as a Court Special Commissioner.The Court decree specifies that money or land is to be distributed to all Eastern & Western Cherokees alive on May 28, 1906, who can establish that they are members of the Eastern Cherokee Tribe or descendants of such members. They can not be members of any other tribe. All claims must be filed prior to August 31, 1907.
"Pa has to know that the woman who dropped off my Cecil was an Indian from these parts. I feel anxious and my mouth is dry. Pa, wake up there's something I gotta tell ya. Cherokee she was."
"... and do you affirm by your signature that you are a Cherokee? Mr. Miller says to me and I want this so bad and in my heart and through my mouth I say ... Yes. Outside I hear the eagle scream, screeee, screeee...
- * *
"I'm ... here." I said in the air between my lips and the telephone. The sun warmed down on me through the window. Screee... No one on the other end. Was I talking or listening, awake or dreaming? The high-pitched scream of the phone is quieted when I place it back on the receiver and get up out of this chair. Flick off the computer and turn off the screen. Sky is still clear but the sun has moved a bit and as I look out the window a feather falls from some bird passing overhead, calling in the cold afternoon sun.