They found you sitting upright in your chair, head slumped over, back erect, those steady, serious eyes were closed.
You were alive when horses pulled buggies, when man first walked the moon.
Straddler of two cultures.
You were a man who raised totem poles, raised sons and built them boats.
You were a shopkeeper, a seller of goods, a storyteller, a speaker of two tongues.
You lived with us in the winter, slept on our tattered, blue couch pulled close to the warm, wood stove.
But always you returned to the village each spring, to chop firewood, to catch fish, to bathe in the icy stream. [End Page 104]
I was twelve when you died at ninety-two.
Your memory is fading.
I hold close what is left: old brown photographs, faded, curling at the corners.
I hold close your great-grandsons, my sons.
Tall boys, strong, and slim. Like the cedar trees behind your home, the one you built with your steady, sure hands.
S’taast, firstborn son, he carries your Indian name. The night before he was born I dreamt of you, predicting your return.
Seegaáy, the fierce one, named for that long ago noble man. Stories say he survived heavy seas. His canoe, torn in half, cracked by mountainous waves.
Only Seegaáy survived. Like you, surviving the storms of your life.
I remember now:
You sitting on the faded blue couch, your legs wrapped in Ace bandages, near the big picture window, facing the stormy straights, the hard wind blowing, rain cracking against foggy panes. [End Page 105]
Reading the Bible, humming under your breath.
Like your memory, I hold these words close now.
Your blood runs through my veins, your spirit is close to my heart. [End Page 106]
Jeane T’áaw Xíwa Breinig (Haida) is professor of English and associate dean of humanities at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she teaches American Indian and Alaska Native literatures. Her research interests include oral history, Native language revitalization, and indigenous theories and methods. She has worked with her mother, (Julie Wahligidouk Coburn) and other Alaska Native elders on oral interview projects and language materials development. She has published poetry and articles, is contributing editor of Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers, and Orators: The Expanded Edition, and is coediting a book about Alaska Native perspectives on statehood.