That you would be made of rock

It starts with a fight and ends in rock. Coyote turned them into píswe,
Ant and Yellowjacket, though they were fairly warned. Forever in rock
támsoy ka· ’alatálo hold their embrace, anger drawn to surface like sweat—
that’s just how jealousy moves. You see them from Highway 12, and you feel no grief:
these rocks mean home. Stories live in rock. Alive too is your heart, your tim’íne,
moving along the Clearwater. The river your companion, and everything is wá·q’is: 

Alive. With Spirit. Animate. Ki wé tes, this land; this pain, this beauty breathes. wá·q’is
is life touching life when I trace the arc of ram’s horn at Buffalo Eddy, memory made in píswe
thousands of years ago. We do not forget. This land is our becoming. Monster’s tim’íne
became rock where he fell, brought down by Coyote, trickster and original rock
star. But not every stone is píswe, nor every story. ’ú·yi·kem is flat rock piled in grief
to cover the graves. Lava rock is your relation who meets you in the sweat

lodge to pray. To purify. All of it is water flowing: tears and song and alloyed sweat,
garlic and booze and betrayal. It speaks through skin. Water dances on rock, hiwaq’iswí·sa:
sweat rocks made of fire. Water hits rock and your body weeps, and grief
flows beyond tears. No refuge when sorrow comes. Thunder shattered píswe,
that’s how he made tipa’x̣líwam. Your life breaks, you too are Split Rock.
Your heart is not made of stone, yet even rocks sunder. Tell this to your tim’íne:

you are stronger than bluff or boulder. More river than rock is our foundation. tim’íne
muscles through. We are never far from Wounded Knee or Alcatraz, our sweat
and song our bond. A Nez Perce inmate escaped The Rock
and received his power from the ocean. That’s waq’í·switki, wá·q’is-
way-of-doing-things. Power becomes medicine. Fire imbues píswe.
We go to The Rock to relive and relieve: songs of loss and hope and grief.

On a fourth grade field trip to Massacre Rocks, we were taught to grieve
for pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Oh to be schooled otherwise! That the tim’íne
of the tiwélqe is as great as land itself, which offers up flint and obsidian for píswe
to flake into knife. I grew up in tewélqem wé:tes, beside the Snake River, happy for sweat
shirts to slip into after a cold swim. The Snake runs through our homelands too; wá·q’is,
despite where it’s been dammed by flat walls of concrete: so·yá·pom/white man’s rock.

Coyote mostly unmade dams. At ’amsáxpa lies his unfinished work, a half row of rock
in a creek. I long for Coyote to unmake the dam at Celilo, to unbury the rock and undo the grief
that has ached our souls since 1957. Celilo is silent but alive: forever wá·q’is.
Some part of my life is underwater. What I would give to hear her voice—my own tim’íne
would I give, to feel the roar of her waters in my blood. No amount of reason or tears or sweat
could stop the destruction. Yet water ever returns. In spring we roast roots on té·mpiswe,

warm cradle of rock in the pit. Mamas rock their babies and words pour from my tim’íne;
this is how we speak, we pray, we grieve. The land births rock and sweat
beads desire. You too are wá·q’is. Hold the vastness in your hand: spirit in blood and píswe.
More Poems by Beth Piatote