by C.M. Decarnin
Every song has the same words.
Hei wani hei ya.
Hei wani hei ya.
Hei yawani hei yawani hei na
wani a hei na.
The women sing it and they're not going to give you the real words.
The sunlight. Lake water. Woods taller than any he has ever seen. They don't come from Kansas. They remember. They worked fields in the woods and not too far off there were mountains. Seed planter. Hide worker. Bead message maker. Child nurser. Corn grinder. Splint-basket weaver. Meat smoker. Berry dryer. Advisor. Teacher. Woman. There was elm and black ash then. White and purple shells from whelks and quahogs. Green leaves and shade. It was another world.
The sweet tune.
Hei wani hei ya.
Faint like a scent of distant smoke. Winding in the air and tying everything together.
Purple and white message belts memorializing treaties fragile as shell beads.
Swept up and separated and landed here in the prairie, as if by a tornado. Leaving behind all the animals of the woods, all the fish, well-known plants, for the endless whispering sadness of the grass. The only purple the clover and liatris and coneflower among the white asters and spurge, milkweed and white clover that threaded the grasses' infinitude. No wood to build a longhouse.
They didn't belong here.
They couldn't survive here.
Hei yawani hei yawani hei na.
There were two stories here.
Two kinds of travelers from afar.
He opened his eyes in the dark, and knew it was the cave that was telling him the simple brutal story. The other story. Somehow in the words that were not the real words, of a song that only women knew, memory still lived, telling in his dreams of what was gone, but once had been. Stories that should have been kept as beaded messages carried to the future, if they could not be told by living songs.
In the darkness it was as if he could still see the thin line of smoke rising against the shadows of the trees.
How had he got here in his pajamas?
This cave was made to carry messages...
It wanted to talk to him. One language for the stars. Another for the trees.
He couldn't understand the voices of the stars.
Yet the songs of the forest women he could understand. As if this earth's roots and his were one, no matter what, no matter how far he had had to come to meet them. The words of a song might not mean anything, but it didn't matter. Like the tiny rounds of drilled shell their meaning was intrinsic, passed to him as if he were a messenger, he too... accepting the precious belt of white and purple, its statement simple so that anyone could understand: a crystal-shaped heart, a line of figures holding hands...
Tears were running down his face. In the darkness painted symbols he couldn't see on the cave's walls still meant nothing to him, but the beautiful faint ghost of melody had drawn in his entire soul, opening it and filling it with meaning.
The story was one of shock and fragmentation and wrenching change of every detail of an entire life.
Yet the message was of memories. Families and friends and threads of acquaintances stretching out, all through the woods and mountains, history, tradition, the way things were done, the way things looked, and felt, the way things were. The threads and beaded moments that were life had been entrusted to him.
He sat up in the dark. He felt the tears fall down into his open hands.
Knowing there was no one now to bring that message