My great-grandmother stopped talking to her son one day,
a small boy, burnished olive skin,
black hair, eyes like stones.
The rough towel scrubbed over his face, scuffing his skin,
the scent of lemon and sweet sage puckering his lips.
She pulled his long hair back tight against his head
sheared it off with a kitchen knife,
tucked it into a tobacco pouch with a burned corner,
too damaged for a quilt square.
He tugged at the starched white shirt crisp against his skin,
patched pants rolled up above brand new shoes, kicking
at the latching pail holding fry bread and pulled pork for lunch,
a piece of candy tucked in the bottom,
to ease the burden of her silence.
Nervous hands smooth back the shorn hair,
greased and tidied for the first day of school.
She smiled, put her forehead on his, turned him to the door,
watched him swing the pail against the fence posts.
A half-mile down he met the yellow bus,
yanked two glossy cat’s eye marbles from his pocket,
traded the one with the cracked blue eye to another boy for an apple.
The dark red skin split under his straight teeth,
a swift sucking of juice,
exposing the perfect white interior,
stark against the bitten skin.
Home. A day of alphabets and numbers,
the funny names, horse, pig, chicken, dog,
that felt foreign in his mouth.
His older sister asked him about his teacher,
about the hard chairs and yellow pencils, his Big Chief tablet
with his name printed on the cover.
His mother listens from the kitchen,
Their words falling around her,
like drops into a pool she cannot reach.
My great-grandmother stopped talking to her son one day.
My grandfather can remember the tenor of her voice
above the rhythm of her hands as she kneaded her dough,
but cannot tell any of her stories.