My Ceremony For Taking

Lara Mann

No one told me how it should be, these steps
for taking.  Some things I know without being told.
The words told to me ended my family,
the words I told burned my family’s death scaffold;
those things we say when we are hurt, to hurt.

I wanted to take pieces of my ancestor’s
homes with me, the way some homelands are sacred. 
The way some carry their birth dirt for protection. 
But these locations are revered, and for me,
the taking was blasphemous.

My parents split, and I felt
absolutely halved, though what was left of me
was unclear.  I needed a ceremony. 
It had to require pain,
a sacrifice.  It had to be missed.  

That summer, when we went, my dad and I,
back to Alabama and Mississippi
to try to fix our fissured selves.
I pulled out hair many times.  

Choctaws were known for hair: long, thick, honor-
banner.  I gave of myself.  My hair was my thanks:
parts of me pulled out, white-root waving; a lock,
not just a strand, pressed into the dirt I took
for payment, to leave part of myself.

Nanih Waiya Cave

Pearl River, Mississippi

“A very long time ago the first creation of men was in Nanih Waiya; and there they were made and there they came forth. […] And the Choctaws […] came out of Nanih Waiya.  And they then sunned themselves on the earthen rampart and when they got dry, they did not go anywhere but settled down on this very land and it is the Choctaws’ home.” -Isaac Pistonatubbee

A couple miles down this iron-locked road
is low cave in a large mound.  Dad throws rocks
inside the gape.  We hear shallow water.
He crawls through the opening, flashlight in hand.
I am scared of underground places, can’t follow. 

There is room for four grown men to stand, he echoes.
I stay where I can see what’s around me:
Kudzu-draped trees, old growth, in the shadows.
I can almost see what’s inside them, their stories,
but they’re tight-lipped and I take my lesson. 

Picnic tables, grills, beer cans surround the mound.
Even though it’s miles away from any town,
no sign, not on a map, just a numbered
county road, I can see people still come here.
Dad crawls out, throws a burnt log onto the ground.

I want to go inside; shuffle, head down, knees up
into the entrance but can’t go any further.
Instead I grab a handful of wet cave-wall dirt,
mossy green, replace it with my hair.  I clutch
this dirt-gift, nails in palms, head pulsing heat from pain.

This place he’s taken me, this Shadow World,
requires both of us.  We had to come
to our Source, go in, come back out renewed.
But I’m not done with this past yet, can’t end it
and reemerge; my head is burning in shadow.

Grandma’s Yard Art

Clements, Kansas

Volcanic glass glints
in the dirt
next to a white enamel
bucket speckled
with rust spots
Grandma dropped under
the dripping faucet.
The glass
gathers sun,
sheens it onto
orange day lilies,
overgrown grass sprigs.
Child’s-diamond blue,
smoky grey, daffodil
curves of melted
fire push heat out
onto green.  They never
take enough in
to alter that
blaze-birthed surface.

Silver Creek Fruit and Stock Farm Barn

Clements, Kansas

Slipping through
the half-swung door
outside to in,
mildew beams outstrip air,
molded grain musts out the light.
Bales of hay un-hug themselves,
twines untwisted by time,
but still stair
to the hewn walnut crossbeam.
Near the top a sinking ankle
reveals a black snake’s hollow,
a tight fist of angry woken sleep,
and the serpent strikes in a fury.
An off-kilter lunge for the cross-beam
brings peace from the black beast
but the hand-hewn hatchet
jags on the ancient walnut surface
splinter into fleshy fat,
dusty grey in the quickening scarlet.

Lara Mann
Lara Mann

Lara Mann is a native of Kansas, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and a University of Kansas alumnus.  She is of English, Irish, Choctaw, French, German, Scottish, Spanish, Cherokee, Welsh, and Mohawk descent.  Mann finished her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the spring of 2009, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is anticipating the release of her first chapbook from Salt Publishing, UK.  She has been published in 'The Connecticut Review,' 'Many Mountains Moving,' and 'Sentence Magazine,' among others.