EXODUS

I listen to Aretha Franklin sing: "What is romance
without the one you love..."
I sit at a table against the wall
and window of KELLYS, lean into the afternoon light
feeling the warmth.

The shiny maroon skin reflected
the sun, my aunt picked
chokecherries. Her fingertips were worn
from bending, weaving geometric-
designed baskets and doing
intricate beadwork.
I gather kindling.

"Let me have a roll," a customer drunkenly leers
at the barmaid, "of quarters.
Need to make a telephone call home."
I light a cigarette, nodding, tiny orbs rise
to the surface of the draft beer
and the extinguished match leaves
a pungent odor.

After closing and checking the lids
of the Mason jars. My aunt began to knead
bread dough for fry bread.
I carried the chopped wood into the kitchen.
She began to tell me a legend.

I open the matchbook with my thumb
and forefinger using the corner flap
to remove tobacco
from under my thumbnail.
Taking a drink, I wipe my fingers
and remember.

My aunt told me of Stick-Indians
they are spirits and come out
during the fall. Don't talk
or make fun of them;
they can walk through walls
and will shove a salmon
up your ass. To show your respect
put out a portion of your food
for them or leave
some tobacco.

I laugh, the salmon part
reminds me of Speelyi
and in our mythology, Coyote
he played many kinds of mischief
on man. I turn
the loud clicking of pool balls.
"Yo' play."
"I got a big one!"
"Well, spit it out."
They laugh.

In the 60's, my aunt left the reservation.
I was going to Chemawa
Indian School and stopped in Seattle.
Went down to First Avenue.
I checked the Arlington Tavern
there was an old Filipino band
playing: "Happy, happy
Burr-thday bebbee..."
I asked around for my aunt.
I continued my search walking north
up First to the Eight-ball.
People, I talked to, said
she was around
maybe in Pioneer Square
panhandling.

Aretha continues to sing: "Heartbreak
and misery..."
Opening the door, I feel fresh
air, walk to the street corner.
Waiting for the red light
to change.

Earle Thompson

Earle Thompson Page