I Stole the Soul of Samuel Thomas

Was it okay to take his photograph?

He said yes

 

Canyon de Celly South Rim lookout and thunder

I’d been skirting the storm clouds since leaving Ganado

Aware at Chinle they threatened to catch up with me

The usual visitor centre

The park for lunch

Bread, cheese, tomatoes

Sweet mesquite potato chips

A dog, some trees, scattered picnic tables

Just me and some off-duty rangers

 

Is history ever planned?

He said yes

 

One thousand foot high sheer cliff faces

One thousand year old ancestral stronghold

Red rock scoured by ages

Sunrise and deluge

Teeter on the edge and relive the past

Bareback braves and gatherings

Col. Kit Carson in sixty three

Surrender and removal

Return and reclaim

 

Do you ever come back?

He said yes

 

Every spring and summer after the thaws

We open up the hogan with eight walls

The door facing east toward the rising sun

Pick a peach or two on the remaining tree

In days gone by the crop would be dried

Laid like sunsets on baked ledges

Preserved alongside the corn

Winter’s rainbows

Now I drive a pickup and live in town

 

How much? Ten bucks? I’ll be back

He said yes

 

It was part of the bargain

The waiting and negotiating

White European invader with single lens reflex

Follow the trail, find the clues

Read the unfinished story

Listen to the thunder applaud your glory

And see. Now I am ready to honour my word

The money buying his family time

Carefully skirting around the canyon between us

 

Did you paint that?

He said yes

 

It wasn’t that good

Some representation of things I knew not what

Spirits and stuff for tourists on the back of a board

Crude but hey, it’ll look good on my book shelf

But I didn’t say any of that

He was packing up

The storm clouds were catching up with us

Day turning to night

A time for retreat

 

Can I take your photograph?

He said yes

 

And posed without smiling

Held his artwork without pride

I held out my hand and we shook like men

Looked him in the eye but his was cast to the ground

An uneasy truce ensued

The first drops of rain falling first upon his cheeks

They all seeming to miss mine

I wondered did he ever smile

Samuel Thomas, Navajo, August 2016

 

It’s been nice meeting you I said

He said yes

 

And then, looking away

I have to be here

This is my home

This is my life

If I leave

If I have to go somewhere

It is like somebody broke my journey

I dream of hearing wild horses again

The sound of peaches falling into buckets

 

~

 

On the road out of Chinle

Still within the Indian reservation

The storm had come and gone heading north

Great floods of water surrounded shacks

Island trailer homes and tied-up dogs

The summer hail swept to the sides of roads

Eighteen-wheeler-dealers thundering through

And me? I’m on my way to Horseshoe Bend

The next stop on my whistle-stop tour de force.

 

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