Calvin and I are at Wayne Bordeaux's trailer, he teaches Lakota
language at the school where we work. We are sitting on his couch
watching the Broncos while his wife breastfeeds their new baby. They
have named him Jerome, but that's just his white man's name Wayne tells
us, for the paperwork.
"I'm hoping for something with wolf or buffalo in it," says Wayne. "I'm
Buffalo, but anything with 'buffalo' would be good."
The medicine man shows up around eight, and he sends Wayne and Calvin
and me out to find a dog for the soup. He gives me and Calvin the stink
eye because we aren't supposed to be there. This is deep Indian stuff,
what is about to happen, and white people aren't usually allowed. But
Wayne reassures us that we can stay—it's a ceremony for his
son, he tells us, so it's his
call. We put on
"Should be a puppy actually," Wayne says when we get out of the
trailer. "Dog meat's too tough." Calvin visibly recoils at this,
because he's a dog person.
"It's not that bad," Wayne says to Calvin. "Dog's a sacred animal,
remember? Dogs used to help us when we was nomads, before we had
horses. But white people always gotta get so shocked about it for some
reason, like we're killing Lassie or something." I laugh to reassure
Calvin, but I can tell he doesn't like it.
A feral dog had a litter a few weeks ago down by the river, and so we
head that way. It's late spring, and the sun is still setting. There is
a lot of traffic on the highway tonight because of basketball or
something and we watch the headlights cut across the trash-covered
fields and lawns. In someone's backyard, there are three children
jumping on a trampoline in the twilight. They yell something at us as
we pass, but we pretend not to notice.
At the river, Wayne takes out his flashlight, and we see the brown and
gray bitch a few yards downstream by the water. She has the face of
Lobster and short greasy hair. When we get to where she is crouched,
she finally gets on her feet and backs away. It is clear from the way
she moves that she is sick with something. Underneath where she was, we
see six pups, one is inexplicably dead, but the rest are alive and
squirming. Wayne grabs two and hands them to me. I hold them still.
"Two should be enough," he says, but then he reconsiders and grabs one
more. They are very small. I don't look at Calvin.
"Let me show you how it's done," Wayne tells us. Then he takes the
puppy's head in one hand and gives it a little twist. There's hardly a
sound, but the puppy goes limp. Then he says something in Lakota to the
dead puppy, and he hands it to me.
Later, while we are cooking the soup over a fire in Wayne's backyard,
Wayne will use some nylon rope to tie the medicine man to a chair in
the living room of his trailer, he will turn off the TV and the lights,
he will shutter all of the windows, and Wayne will lock the medicine
man in the house alone, because that is how the ceremony is done. And
the five of us will wait in backyard—the baby wrapped in
blankets against the cool night. And from inside the house, the
medicine man will bring the spirit world down on Wayne's trailer, and
the spirits of the dead will descend upon us. They will free the
medicine man from the ropes, they will unlock the doors of the trailer,
and then they will give Wayne's son a Lakota name.
Kaj Tanaka is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arkansas. He has
stories in or coming from Monkeybicycle, Knee Jerk, PANK and
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
W i g l e a f