- Purchase/rental options available:
Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 1175-1185
[Access article in PDF]
The Face Of The Mesquaki Woman
Astrid H. Roemer
In the beginning was the land and it belonged to the people. It was mother to them, giving them all they needed to survive. They took from it what they needed and left the rest for their children. And always they gave prayers of thanks for all that the land gave.
PU SHI TO NI KWA, Iowa
I enjoy looking up to the hills without any desire to climb them. Maybe I have enough experience to know that the landscape consists of never-ending highs and lows. For three months, I am living in the valley close to the river. This stream is not a waterway, for I never see any ships or even pleasure boats. Once in a while girls slide by with flushedfaces, canoeing resolutely.
Otherwise nothing goes over this water--no person, no vessel.
The paved roads that lie along the water process an unbearable stream of automobiles. I am thinking: that's how it is now.
In the morning, even before this stream gets going, I go for a walk on the tiled path that runs between river and street, the kind of hike that gives me about an hour of restlessness. There is so much to see and to ponder. In addition to the heavy automobiles that tear over the road, I hear ducks, geese, and birds.
I am ashamed when I catch myself so preoccupied with thoughts that carry fragrances of memories. As I look at the landscape over the water, my view collides against its hills. They are bright green and contrast sharply against the azure of the sky.
The air smells like sunlight. I suppose that the temperature, especially, gives me the feeling that it is good to decorate the day like this: the river, the freeway, the trees, the hills, the birds, and the sky. I learn to accept that I cannot manage to keep my mind only on the rhythm of my arms and legs.
In the afternoon I walk through the center of town. I pause briefly in front of every shop window, sometimes to see the reflection of my own figure. But I also pause to give new impressions a place and to adjust old ones. This takes time and sometimes more than that. The doors of the stores are as heavy as lead--to subdue the gusts of winter, I suppose. As soon as I push such a glass doorway open, I feel shots of pain. Images flash by from cowboy films that I saw almost daily thirty years ago, memories of guys who with their wind-and-weather bodies kick, shoot, push open doors. [End Page 1175]
I do not know if it is the pain in my wrist or the memory of film images, but at the moment that I have to gather all my strength to pull open one of those doors, America comes to life for me. BrieflyI am such a gun-toting hero who suddenly comes to disturb the peace. For with hindsight I never know what exactly I was looking for in such a store. The pain distracts me from knowing what I really want to find.
But I am not really balanced. I greet everyone who nods and mumbles something. I look at their faces and then at their clothing. Especially, their blue jeans 1 hold my attention. For the first time in my life, I would like to wear a pair--hard blue, bleached, straight legs, a small piece of leather to the right on the back pocket; I want a horse and to have my feet swaddled in pieces of buffalo skin. In the campus bus, I can smell the people. I can take my time looking at their faces. I can listen attentively to their voices.
It does not escape me how they are dressed in washed denim and hiking boots. I follow the men in the movements of their upper legs and watch how their jeans envelop their waists...