01 Mar 2022

Bone Black, 16

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… Her hair has not been combed. It has not been plaited into the two braids that identify this woman as the grandmother I have always known. It is she who explains that picture taking is no in nocent act–that it is a dangerously subtle way we drive our souls into extinction.

If this is not so why is it that the photographers always manage to arrive just when the tribe is dying out, just when the traditional practices lose power, just when the people are blinded by sorrow. She says no to picture taking- when everything is lost the pictures hardly matter, like the talking box they capture only the remnants, only what is left of life. She is only her real self when her hair is combed, sitting not standing. She is never in front of the camera.

I believe her. I see the black-and-white photo of a fat baby wearing a pink dress sitting on a bed. I know this is not me and has never been for this baby has no hair. Her skull is smooth and shiny like polished silver with black jade for eyes this cannot be me. The grown-ups identify it as me, happy baby, smiling baby, baby with no hair. I know who I am, the one not seen in the photo, the one hiding under the bed, hiding in the dark, waiting for the camera monster to go away.

I believe her. They are making us children stand endlessly still while they take shot after shot–birthdays, Easter Sunday, Christmas. We worry about this picture taking. Can it be they will not remember what we look like. Can it be they will forget so soon. Can it be they do not worry about the saving of our souls.

They have bought a camera that is almost on the way to color, the photos will have blue and red, the patterns on our clothes will be bright. I want never to grow up, to be a cowgirl forever riding in my skirt, with matching vest and hats, with my pointed boots and my one gun. I can defend myself against any enemy. I can shoot straight. I do not kill Indians-they are family. I protect us from the enemy white man. I shoot straight. When they tell me that I must grow up, throw away my cowgirl clothes, give up my gun, surrender my boots, I appeal to the little black box. I want its magic to capture me forever this way, to never let go of my world of prairies, Indians, and frontiers. They come in the night. They take it all away. They burn it in the trash. I carry the memory of a cowgirl in my pocket-she is more beautiful than I will ever be again. I miss the gun, the shirt and vest, the hat, but the tears fall over the boots, over surrender and defeat. The black box gives me one backward glance.

Standing still, poised in anguish, I think of the beautiful girl riding a horse on the frontier, shooting straight. I ] am learning to be still, to give my life over to the black box. I am learning surrender.

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