First Lesson at Boarding School

A Child of the Navajo Nation, c. 1950--

Because she is scared and she is lonelier
than she has ever been,
who has never in her six years been lonely before,

because she is so unaware of what loneliness can be
that she is solely directed at what she cannot name,
directed perfectly in her bone-white fear,

she is the deer mouse who has seen the shadow of the owl in moonlight
and knows nothing of the owl,
only the shadow, of which the mouse also knows nothing,

only the single perfect fear, the second of perfect mouseness.
She utters a mere sound, a stammer of a sob,
which the teacher takes to be a noise in the girl’s native Diné.

The teacher removes from her blouse pocket a small pair
of classroom scissors, reaches out to the terror of the little girl.
The talons of scissors, the owl beak, aims

at her eye, snaps, clips a few wet eyelashes,
the girl and the mouse silently eaten.
In a week, the wind through the classroom door nudges mouse hair,

all that is left of the children,
and the teacher:
the smell of digesting fear.

Author’s Note:  It was a notable occasion, the quincentennial of “Columbus Day,” and we spent the day in Chinle, on the Navajo Nation. We thought it appropriate that we enjoy the day’s ironies among the Original People on the undiscovered continent, with people who would observe the special anniversary in their special way. As it happens, Russell Means and most of the tribal activists were in Denver, making their observations known. So for us in Chinle that night it was quiet; it was a time for hospitality, for conversation, for stories, for contemplation. This is based on one of the stories. The contemplation, for all of the old reasons, and many new ones, is for all of us.

Richard Fenton Sederstrom was raised and lives in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and the North Woods of Minnesota. Sederstrom is the author of seven books of poetry, his newest book, Icarus Rising, Misadventures in Ascension, published by Jackpine Writers' Bloc, was released last winter. Read other articles by Richard Fenton.