Below is a piece I played around with at Camp Salondawega 2014. This was Salonathon's first year hosting an artist's retreat, and you can bet they will be doing it again next year and I will be there with bells on. All photos courtesy of the phenomenal Zack Lee.
This is the start of the workings of a one woman show that will possibly feature a dancer sometimes and is about stepping into your power and rites of passage. It sounds vague because it is.
The walls are armored in particle-board panels Each panel bears the same printed, simulated wood-knot Little eyes looking back at you
There is a deer head mounted on a sagging anchor that missed the stud And it smells like rubber cement
On the wall with the least surface area, There is a big screen Zenith television with a tube inside It buzzes when you turn it on and if you relax your eyes you can see rainbows in between the tiny vertical lines that make up the picture
There is a brown leather sectional couch in the corner With bronze studs that attach the leather to the frame And it is smooth on the places where people sit And lay their heads And cracked along the edges where the leather is hard and tight It smells like cigarettes
The carpet is threadbare down the center of hall and in front of the coffee table and in front of the Zenith tube television Marking the habits of all who have inhabited the space If you lay on the floor it smells like when you take your vitamins or drink too much coffee.
On the walls there are are dream catchers A cross with a crying, sleeping Jesus Hawk feathers A painting of a Cherokee Chief in the style of a comic book super hero.
The windows are high on the wall, rectangular in the hamburger style way and are level with the grass. They slide open sideways The track is rusted There are no curtains.
Glowing ashes float by the window From the burning leaves outside And the styrofoam cups that burn purple and melt into something that could only be classified as atomic.
This is where the firsts happen Pricking our index fingers and rubbing the blood together One night after watching the edited for TV version of The Craft on TNT. The Marlboro light That crackles if you suck on the filter hard enough The kiss that was intimate enough to know that he was drinking vanilla coke Before you shared the cigarette
And when we realize we don’t know what we are doing, we practice on each other.
Lacey’s basement is a private island In the 814 area code where the school busses don’t go Surrounded by 20 acres of Northwestern Pennsylvania forest Where the trees are dense and old that the ground is always cold And you can find patches of snow well into April
And if you dig into the loose earth with your thumb, you will find clay And there is always the sound of running water And each summer storm leaves a fallen tree We never found them all.
Lacey and I became friends because of circumstance Her last name is Aloisio and mine is Anderson So instead of memorizing that Robert Frost poem in Ms. Montgomery’s class I got to know her shoulderblades That moved like wings As she took dictation
Lacey and I are friends because our birthdays are within 4 days of each other. Our moms would call each other scrambling the night before the birthday celebration month day so that we wouldn’t bring the same BiLo Halloween cupcakes. This year she brought chocolate cupcakes with green frosting and an orange plastic pumpkin ring on top I brought sugar cookies in the shape of a ghost with white sprinkles stuck to the white frosting. They both tasted the same.
Lacey’s hair is long and always in a ponytail And the ponytail continues the line that aligns her high cheekbones with the crown of her head and her chin that punctuates the heart shape of her face. And her eyes are brown like leather and framed by thick horse lashes. She smells like water
This year we are having a joint birthday party
It is October. And The Craft is playing 3 times a week on TNT And this party is more than a birthday celebration It is a slumber party. It is a conversion. Because, tonight, Lacey is going to call the corners and open the portals and all of our burning questions will be answered by the Cherokee spirits.
Lacey is 1/32nd Cherokee on her mother’s side. She is a spirit of the land And the clay that is a thumbs length underneath the dried leaves and the dirt And the water that turns your toes purple in August and and the fallen trees of 100 summer storms They all speak to her.
Tonight we are evoking the spirits that inhabit the ancient Cherokee burial ground in Lacey’s forest. It’s existence has been proven because Lacey and I found a spot by the creek where there are arrowheads. And we dig them up and we glue them to the frame around her full length mirror Lacey the warrior princess.
Slumber party means that Lacey’s dad leaves $20 on the table and goes somewhere else and doesn’t come back until after we have been long asleep. We take Lacey’s moped to the Kwik-Fill station for supplies The burn from where the pipe etched itself into her calf that one time is still scabbing and peeling and scabbing again So we put on jeans and boots and we tuck the jeans into the boots She throws me her brother Tony’s leather jacket and I have to roll the sleeves 3 times just to peep my knuckles out She brushes my bangs out of my face Grabs a tube of frosted pink lipstick from her dresser And puts it on, instructs me to go pah And we are ready to purchase sour cream and cheese ruffles, Heluvagood Original Flavor dip, Classic potato chips, Orville Reddenbacher’s microwave popcorn, little debbie nutty bars, and the huge jar of Snyder’s cheese balls and Vanilla Coke
I always ride on the back of the moped.
I am in charge of the snacks. Arrange the bowls in order that they would appear in the rainbow And divvy out the snacks by size and shape and color
Lacey returns from her room with a handle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum A birthday present from Tony. And I see his jacket slumped over the back of the kitchen chair with the arms rolled up three times Like an amputee
She asks me what to mix it with I say vanilla Coke because I saw my mom do that once.
So I get the punch bowl and mix it, measuring with my eyes and my intuition. And I forage all of the cups you can’t see through 6- one for each girl And arrange them in a circle around the punch bowl Etched with pears and grapes and blossoms An antique, but not Cherokee
It is Lacey’s job to greet the guests as they arrive. I make plates and give out Sprites. The girls inquire about the bowl, but Lacey says we wait for later. She is a master of anticipation.
The fruit flies are swarming And the ice keeps melting So I add more and swat my hand around the jagged lip of the punch bowl Like casting a ritual to my ancestors.
The girls just look at me; through me; and will sometimes say “Kayla, right?”
Lacey wants to move the punch bowl and the snacks to the basement, so I do it without instruction. They are nesting and setting up their ‘areas’ and picking out the order in which to watch Hocus Pocus, Pretty Woman, and The Craft. The Craft has to be last, Lacey says.
I light candles Yankee Candle’s Pumpkin Spice Yankee Candle’s Snowflake And a handful of random dinner candles held up by tarnished antique candelabras But not Cherokee
Lacey spreads out a blanket that is woven from a bunch of different colored threads so that when you stand far away you see the image of a wolf’s face I set the punchbowl on his nose The candles around his head 6 pillows I take the one from Tony’s bed that is black with white spots where his drool had dried The rest are perfect squares embroidered with deer motifs A turkey One has an arrowhead, for Lacey.
Without prior discussion, Lacey gestures for them to line up in front of the punch bowl and they do without hesitation I ladle their cups with flat, brown syrup rum water.
She is wearing a roach clip barrette with a hawk feather and leather strips and wooden beads behind her ear.
After Justine, Lauryn, Candice, and Megan have been served, I ladle my glass half full. We hold our cups gingerly and scoot on our knees to our places. The thing about a group of girls is that each knows her place without anything needing to be said. The transition is always seamless.
The orange glow from the candles’ flames flickers on the wall as the sun sets And the leaves rustle And we each, as if on cue, touch our arms to feel the goosebumps rising No one shivers
We are going to open the portals And we are going into the woods To receive the message from the ancient Cherokee spirits
We hold hands My partners’ are warm and the sweat is cold and our fingers delicately tremble against one another We are skeletons
We close our eyes and we are breathing together Lacey chants Earth, Air, Fire, Water until she feels like it’s time to stop And she asks for the spirits to come forward And to lead us to the place Where her Cherokee ancestors are buried
I swear I heard a woman’s voice Murmuring sounds in a rhythm that makes my spine grow taller
I pinch my my nose shut and finish my cup of rum and vanilla coke. Counting the gulps. 2-3-4-5 My cheeks and tips of my ears are hot And something that lives dormant and low Slithers into my chest I stand on my feet firmly And my voice is clear As, to Lacey’s surprise, I tell everyone to go outside. I smell sweat, and the anticipation, and the cotton candy, and cucumber mist body spray I have been possessed by the Cherokee warrior princess herself
The porch is slabs of graying pine There is space between the support beam and the ceiling That was shimmed once, but the roof still shifts away There is a stack of firewood that Tony splits And he huffs out of his nose like a bull And his cheeks are red And he is glowing There are camp chairs bleached by the sun and linked together by spiderwebs An empty can of Fancy Feast chicken flavor Sunbleached Bud Light cans And a rug that is new that simply states “Welcome” with no punctuation
The sky is overcast and it could be dawn or dusk. And the shadows are long and blending into the places where the sun’s rays permeate the low hanging clouds. We could be anywhere.
We breathe together. Shallow and clavicular Hands gravitate toward each other but never clasp A line of virgin offerings
I hold the flashlight in front Lacey holds court behind me Pointing out the landmarks The tree where the warrior princess hung like a leaf after leaving her body Because the white men wanted to take her as a wife
Normally I would listen and play along Fulfill role of ‘side kick’ But I am focused I am joining my sister Cherokee Warrior Princess And she tells me that I am the only one That has the potential to be as brave and as noble as her
The Maglight leads us to the circle of six stones Lacey and I prepped the week before With moss on the rocks and leaves and twigs strewn about To make it look like the arrangement has always been there.
We sit I turn out the light Lacey pauses just long enough for our eyes to adjust Water drips from the trees And, as if Lacey coached them, coyotes howl in the distance But, having lived in 814 her whole life, she knows that they are more afraid of us than we should be of them.
I want to derail her.
Today is my actual birthday And she is holding court These girls don’t even know my name Or they pretend not to So that I know my place On the dried up slobber boy pillow
My mind is a screen And my mouth is a vessel And my voice is unwavering As I begin the tale Of the Cherokee warrior princess That would not be taken And died with honor
I conjure her brown feet walking along the creek The beads on her tunic rattle Her braids follow her shoulder blades that glide along her back like wings.
And Lacey transforms From red faced and flustered To awe struck To a sheep
Everyone whispers that they see her Murmuring vague details about hair like a raven’s Eyes like a doe We have all read the same stories.
And we need to be converted
We return in silence Honoring the threshold that has been crossed Lacey makes space for me to set my bed up next to her And she looks into my eyes And without saying anything My position has been changed. And all of the girls call me by name.
The blue Zenith-light flickers on the walls as the credits to The Craft roll over my eyes. I count all of the names 2-3-4-5 When the screen is black, I slither out of my fraying sleeping bag with Belle on the front post princess-ball transformation. It is a little too short, and my shoulders peep out.
I collect the cups And the rainbow bowls And the antique punch bowl Stacking them so that I only make one trip Up the stairs And to the kitchen
I wash away the vanilla rum syrup And the radioactive emulsified cheese And the Cherokee Warrior princess is humming a song Just behind my ears
The sky turns the color of blue that is difficult to look at without squinting The dishes are drip drying in the rack And I fall asleep counting the sounds 2-3-4-5 And everything is still.