She was a river child, a tundra child, a mossy child when Ma played a mail order accordion.
Where a Ma-Child found it; how it was lost is not the point. After she found it, before it was lost, when I was a girl Ma played the accordion.
When Ma emerged to lower a felt-lined case onto our bare floor, brothers, cousin and I went to our knees. Butts bounced excitedly against upturned heels. Elbows flexed, eyebrows raised, dimples glowed as Ma released multiple metal catches. We pursed lips. Puffed cheeks to bring out excited air to calm ourselves into deeper hearing.
Ma lifted a lacquered, pearly-inlayed button accordion through an escaping musty waft. She drew a moaning instrument to her breasts. Snapped its strap to drape a strange thing across strong shoulder and back. Began swaying motions to draw air in and out. We accepted this new music made by capable fingers tapping patterns across octaves of pearly shells. Strong arms drew air out and in. Her movements became instruments of our songs.
I am yet one child of zip code 99559. She is our Ma who plays a mail order accordion.
Mail is sorted. Zip code first, then box number, 37 then 567. Our zip code is cross-tabulated by researchers supposing to predetermine and excuse anomie, uneducatability, poverty, failure to thrive, rotten teeth, ill health, self-destructive behaviors, violence against self and each other, limited life expectancy.
Many 99559 children are gone. Those remaining are parents, grandparents. Great grandparents.
When our grandparents smiled in a manner of pictures books and iconic images plastered on commercial airline tails and carts positioned on SEATAC and LAX tarmacs to shout I am Alaska, we had no running water. No toilet. Rusty water was pumped into a discarded WWII oil drum. We pooed and peed in pails we took turns carrying to dump in clusters of willows. Our home was warm—in winter daytimes. We were Smiling Eskimos listening as Ma played a mail order accordion.
We practiced reading Beginner Books Pa arranged to arrive in our mailbox on the riverbank in town.
I read P.D. Eastman’s words. Are You My Mother?
I mimic careful enunciations I hear our own mother intone. Like her, I add my own take on the page.
Anagumkun, I am your mother.
Ithpiit, wii, pegamikin. You? You are mine. Mine.
And I belong to you. Winga, peguvgua.
As a river child, a tundra girl, a mossy woman, we listen as generations speak aloud to one another. Shhh! to hear chickadees call with early morning light. Mark sun and moon rise and set. Catch fish through ice. Collect shells. Swim in blue waters reaching Hawai’i. Etch curving line drawings. Sun shines on lovely stories of staying together. Dance our way of being.
You’ve come a long way from Bethel asserts another ivy league trained attorney at the end of a heavily subsidized career pursued in some name of protecting against vagrancy attached to false notions of socioeconomic development. They don’t hear me reply, it’s only 50-some minutes by modified Boeing 737 from there to this resource extraction capital where I settled in with you. Instead, I smile warmly with tired eyes to keep going.
A celebration is planned to mark the 150th year since a United States wrote a paltry check and gave it to Russians to claim our homeland. If asked to participate, I do not plan to return those calls.
Our night sky is Yowah opal, calling, Come home.
I am home.
We quiet our minds to accept the inevitable.
A late diagnosed cancered wife of a brain impaired cousin is transferred from ICU to a room reserved for those medevac-ed to the city in the name of Medicare/Medicaid subsidized attention—to instead gather to release in crowded airless rooms we know so well.
I stay in corridors. Ready myself to hear alerts from smart phones enabled by elements mined by wage slaves living in tunnels in Botswana and Brazil.
On one surface, what’s in play is, How much more morphine? What type of prayer by what manner of clergy gathering to spread salvation?
Those living outside an over-trying to be reimbursed for marked-up culturally appropriate death know: We are not alone.
Long before words akin to sinner, amen, pass the salt, where’s my check? ancient melodies served as call and response. Because I’m real, I come towards you. Do you watch for my approach?
Might we be reunited by connecting calls for healing?
Alice Rose Crow, Maar’aq, was born to and raised on the Kusquqvak (River) in southwest Alaska. An Island Institute Resident Fellow, Crow earned an Institute of American Indi(genous)an Arts MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in As/Us: Indigenous Women’s Literary Journal, Plume, Hinchas de Poesia, Camas, Brevity blog, Yellow Medicine Review, Tribal College Journal Student Edition, River, Blood and Corn, Retort, Frontiers,and Standards. Her creative nonfiction manuscript An Offering of Words is underway. In it, Crow explores what holds real people steady in these times of rapid change and anomie. She writes from a cozy nest in Spenard, zip code 99517.
Artwork by Damon Locks