The Stranger in Our Land
I turn its rough edges in my hand.
The stone, chipped sharp, shines black in the slanted light.
This is an arrowhead, and I didn’t find it. I have never found an arrowhead, but have always wanted too, always. It takes a special kind of looking, and not only with the eyes. It takes the right kind of desire.
My friend, Mara, she found this. She has the right kind of desire, coming from her heart, and for the right reasons, for the delight of making contact.
It feels like that, like contact. As though this carefully chipped piece of stone is one end of a story that can be read backwards, through time. As though the hands that shaped it so artfully have somehow rubbed off here, left smudges of their purpose, their intent. Holding onto the sharp little point, their thumb was here. Contact. Through the connective tissue of time, unbroken, our hands touch their hands.
Following this arrowhead’s story, the flight it made through the air, which gathered memory, carried it towards the future. The moments when it was leased, and flew, and struck flesh, premeditated, are etched into its glassy reflective surface. Jagged edges made for puncture.
It raises questions down the back of my neck. Questions I can’t brush off, or hold, which form misshapen syllables, which linger in my mouth. Questions too specific to answer.
Who made this?
Not which people.
What did he wear while he chipped, stone against stone. Who mended his shirt, quietly in the firelight, was she humming. What was the arc of his back, and which foot was never quite covered, at night, in his bed. What was his bed, a mat of shaved cedar bark? Did he lay in it warm, with his lover’s calm body, and whisper of nothing, and laugh hushed laughter, about mice and water. Did he have a secret spot, between her ribs, where he would wiggle a finger, and make her gasp. Did he call her something funny, something about the scent of drying fish, bathed in smoke between lath of cedar. Did he call her name, teasing, when she was stooped in the stream, cleaning again his clothing, stained in blood. Did she scowl and then, without meaning to, smile up at him.
Or did they argue there, in jagged whispers, about the tide, and the fish, and the deer’s sticky blood.
What was the weight of his heaviest word, the weight of his bowstring pulled tight? What was the weight of his daughter, held at chest height, when, growing strong, she fell in the tidepools, scraped her skin on barnacles, and cried.
What was the shape of the sound, when, from a high peak he heard the voice of his brother, calling his name, was it bitter, or sweet?
Was he a man? A boy? In what way did he vanish from this earth, leaving behind his body to rejoin all things. Who carried him, then. What was the weight?
I think of them all, laid out on the sand at small pox bay. The pebbled gravel where they had spent their lives, cooking, bathing, talking, now pressing into their skin forever.
The water is cold here, too cold. It cooled their fevers until hypothermia brought them still, and they spread on the beach, all of them, until a white settler found them all, like a tribe of brown seals sunning themselves, dead.
We know this, but we know nothing. The strangers who lived here for thousands of years are layered into the ground, where our eyes can’t find them. Their intricate cultures have traveled away, and the remnants erode onto the beaches, broken fragments in the white shell middens, strata of overlaid heaps, from centuries of eating shellfish by the beach, and throwing the shells to the ground.
This place is my home, it is my homeland. In a way it is my entire country. This small island, within the chain of islands, in the waterway that is now called Puget Sound. Technically, it is a part of Washington state, a part of the United States, though barely, it is so close to Canada, in fact, it almost was Canada. I have spent most of my life on this little chunk of land, its rocky shores ringed in water, unbroken by bridge. The sea that bounds it, contains my entire life.
But through the scope of time, my time here, my community's time here, with its own history, its own rich culture which develops year by year, is nothing. It is a film on the surface, a bright jarring clash of glass and plastic scattered above the deep middens, littering over history’s shifting archive, which wears away tide by tide, onto the beach.
I want to know something, their names, which have fallen as sound to the earth, and become layered in strata upon strata in the ground, stains of vibration. Blooming grasses release them again and again, in silent explosions. And again and again I know nothing.
The strangers who lived in our land are printed here, impressions between the hills and the dunes of sand, lasting and empty.
I flip over the arrowhead. It is artfully made, it is still sharp. I run my thumb along it, the cutting edge a connective link. Someone touched this, made it, someone with knowing hands, practiced and sure. They used it, discarded it. Through the connective tissue, of time, unbroken, our hands touch their hands.