The Promise of Dreams Holy

  1. Unlost

Awake, staring into darkness, the lamplighter sees the child found alive, wrapped in her deceased mother’s shawl and covered by her body, dead by bullets at Wounded Knee. Alive, it’s Her Long Medicine and her daughter called Dreams Holy in a photograph. Beautiful young girl with ceremonial beads, her great future evident, but only an old photo cataloged with others at the library. Anyone can find it, but she’s not there. A tag, some handwriting on the back, nothing else. It’s a map to absence, this faded image of the invisible, a story untold. Touch it lightly with fingertip, pass through it like smoke to that place of the unlost visible only in dreams, except to the lamplighter, our watcher, for whom these people remain ever present. It’s just that all others have learned not to see them.

  1. Troubles with God

They find her and bring her north to Cheyenne River Reservation, a childhood journey. She walks through the blind village . . . village of tears. Tear bands of birds, people, trains, thorn bushes, and comets decorate faces everywhere, eyes blinded by tears. Tears from the eyes of god, some say. Old women getting older, they say that.

A little girl plays in snow, cold, laughing, throwing snow. She hides behind a buffaloberry bush at Totten, snowball in hand, poised. The large voice intones, “Ball.” A word, “ball,” as if teaching. A word newly comprehended, somehow profound.

Hollow wind sounds through her hair, wind echo of distance, of the far away within longing. She’s on her way home, the long way home. She calls to her mother, her father, wants them to know she’s okay, though she feels unsure in this village. Just down the hill, they say gods are joyous. From there to here must be like light and dark. A nun pulls the shade over a gray window, no color, only fragility and the vacuum of space, emptier than thought.

  1. After All

After all, emptiness. Within, outside too. Dreams Holy moves invisible. Behind her, purple thistle grows above the heart’s purple soil of those left behind, mother and father, sister, brother, all the gone . . . gone into earth, souls welcomed by ancestors or still walking unsure, unsettled between two worlds. She looks for a message and receives it. Evil in the world will be recast, leaving a renewed Earth filled with food and love and faith. She goes away with a Turtle Mountain boy who had his hair cut at Totten. Dreams Holy picks him carefully. They make it to the Grandmother’s Country along a path illumined by the suns and moons of secret legends and many untold stories.

Completely invisible now, she marries. This man is strong. He carries stone high in Winnipeg’s new city. Very strong must be, not to drink. On the bank of the Red River, between Rooster Town and Niizhoziibean, she dreams of a family, a nation, multitudes beyond time and place and buffalo, and children she dreams, her children, into the little frame shack. It has one window where Dreams Holy dreams. Two elder children die of the fever when their mother works with the Grey Nuns. Dreams Holy bends to carry them, so weak. A fire and aspen bark tea she dreams, but they dream only of death. So many do. The next is a girl child called Evelyn, the name of a kindly Christ-god woman. Evelyn Eyes in Cloud, for the eyes in the cloud that birthing day, god eyes. Prophet eyes see her baby run off with the lumberman called Leblanc. Then, never to see her again, though she dreams her in childbirth. Dreams her a son, a daughter. The son of the father and daughter of the mother: the first a he Leblanc, Francois, and she, Evelyn, for the mother who dies. Finally, Dreams Holy stands still in a rain that washes everything down to the river, rain without children or husband, unknown after all.

  1. Her Discontent

She’s part of the world now, Evelyn the discontent. Her hard fingers still point and jab, somewhere. Her mouth yet twists out blasphemies in a linguistic hybrid of French, English, and Lakota, none ever uttered separately or distinctly but always in long rushing outbursts at Gerald, or Louis (soon to be missing with the invasion) or chores, or at Nana. Especially at Nana, the great woman who cares for everyone and everything here on the farm. Evelyn sees her mother, her grandmother, in waking dreams but is uncertain and thinks of Nana, the white woman who raised her and who speaks Lakota enough to know.

There is no teacher in the one-room schoolhouse on Miller Road. None until he comes along. Joseph. Not that Evelyn attends school. She doesn’t. She works and yells at Nana, and at the chickens, or Gerald. Yells her discontent. But Joseph attracts her, brings her to the school.

Joseph is unknown when he arrives, unnoticed at first, like all the others. So many come and go now, without work or home. But there’s a kindred way about him, the cant of his lean and bent shoulder, the odd hat, and the flecks of gold in his eyes. His eyes do it. Empty room, plank floor, cold iron stove. They want someone there, life there. A little room in back for the teacher where Joseph lives several years. Years of chalk dust and stoking the wood fire, of students with little time for book learning at haying and planting, of invitations to weddings and holiday feasts, and of Evelyn. Evelyn, before she runs off in a fit one day, finally determined to enter the world she feared. She is part of the old schoolhouse during this time. Within the purview of Joseph’s love, Evelyn brings in the water from over Frier’s fence, cleans the chalk board and trims the lamp wicks, though she won’t sit with the class. She does what she wants, no command ever from Joseph. Before class, or afterwards, they talk. Or Joseph does. He talks of God to Evelyn, and of God’s world.

“So many blows make us strong,” he tells her, “too many are another matter. It is much easier for those who have seen God, I guess,” says Joseph. “We’re all born into suffering. If you have the belief that you can do it, you’ll learn how, even if you don’t know at the start.”

Many children there grow-up with memories of Evelyn sitting the back steps, smoking. Memories of her frightening, cloacal cursing, and memories of Joseph standing guard over their lives for a short time. Just that time, guard over our little lives in that time before the great war.

  1. Tank Killer

A live and coiled steel snake, Francis springs outward in knife flash. Kills a deer that way once, by hand, and laughing, laughing. They want him and they take him. Take Leblanc to Normandy.

He’s strapped to a tank killer, his driver with pedal down, hunkered low for bullets and tank shells. That driver hunkers down the entire war. Not Frenchie though, up on top yelling, gripping hot triggers of those hammering dual 50’s. Fifty caliber machine guns pound death rattle on enemy fuel tanks. Once that rattle starts, tank men have only moments to outflank or destroy, or die. They never do get Frenchie.

Brings the English woman home to Fletcher Farm Road, near to the upper falls. She loves him, her American. Loves him and his land. She must, staying here, nothing else around. Fish in the freezer, deer or bear always hang on the porch. No game warden goin’ up there after a war hero. Frenchie works the highway department.

“They say his father come here from Canada on a logging crew, liked it and stayed. See him and his wife in church sometimes. Looks part Indian.”

  1. Lamplighter’s Task

Few remain, those watchmen charged with keeping the light, shining a pathway for spirits not yet done with this world. Staring into darkness dense and heavy, the lamplighter’s task is as if undone. And there is emptiness. Everywhere, a waste, a vast cold emptiness, the gone in gone. But not undone. There is no darkness for the lamplighter. This light-swallowing void is only the omneity we are unfit to see.

The lamplighter guides the way back to this earthly sphere. They carry her on palanquin from the dark rapture beneath Bear Mountain. Borne from darkness, bearers unseen, into night the color of ink in a wooden well, it is Dreams Holy who recreates herself, who must. It is Dreams Holy who becomes herself at the darkest, because of her promise. She keeps the promise to her great great grandson the Yuwipi man, finder of lost things, things you can touch, and those things of the mind . . . a promise of healing.

Memory of that time when ancestral voices spoke and were heard has gone by. Some say it is just talk, old lamplighter’s talk, like the universe of whispers, that perpetual thrumming in your ear of the unlost voices, all those voices spiraling in an ever-widening celestial gyre. Hear them, as Dreams Holy emerges from the mountain where blood no longer spills from torn bodies and dancers join hands in fulfillment of her long ago vision. Her light shines through to the origin even as she enters the now after. “Here,” she says, “here I went where all things will change. The history is yours. It begins.”


Published in Obelus Journal


Obelus - publisher of Dan Reilly fiction