American Totem Pole
What is she but her worries?
What is she but her stories?
She wants everything
Admission History and Physical Exam Circa 1979* He lit matches one by one and snuffed them against his skin. Shattered a bottle and used the shards of glass to cut himself. Shattered another and doused his wounds with three point beer. It was Oklahoma after all. He smelled of wet leather and burnt flesh. The wet leather, his moccasins. The burnt flesh, his flesh. A performance artist. One-sixteenth Choctaw.
They were both nineteen. Really it wasn’t hard to see why they fell in love. Sometimes he performed just for her. Fell asleep with a cigarette smoldering between his lips. Sometimes she joined him in his art. He bit her until she bruised. Bent her until she almost broke. They played chicken and dropped a lit cigarette between their pressed-together forearms. He gave her Wren. And just before he hanged himself, he gave her Tisha. Family History: The patient’s father is deceased at age 21 from suicide.
Circa 451° * Chirp chirp. She comes from a family of birds. Father died long ago and really she’s not sure if he ever existed. His clothes hung like death in the closet and she thinks she can almost remember them there. But they are rags now and although she’s looked everywhere, she’s lost his baseball from the mantel. And when she asked her mother for paper, she told her to color the pages of his books and she did, but lightly and with her Crayolas so you could still read the words, but last winter it was cold so they burned them.
They ate popcorn and roasted marshmallows on twigs and her mother laughed and said, Up in smoke. Up in smoke. Burn motherfucker burn, while they burned his books and her drawings. And the corn went pop pop pop while she picked the blackened skin off her marshmallow, thinking what it might be like to have a father. Physical Examination: Lungs: The lungs are clear to auscultation and percussion. And Wren cried and rubbed her feet together and her mother drank wine straight from a jug and really it was the nicest night she could remember.
Bur it is winter once again and since there are no more books and no more Father and mother is gone in make believe and Wren is forever gone in his closet, she has decided the best thing to do is to fly south.*
Circa Mother* I’m not myself, her mother liked to say. Then who? Who are you? I don’t know, her mother said. But I am not myself. The patient’s mother is living with a history of depression and hypertension.
Circa 1939* Her brother’s name was Robuck. They said to the girl, You can name him anything you like. She said, I’ll name him Roebuck. She named him after the catalog, Sears, Roebuck. He was wandering one day down by the train tracks. No, this is not the story you think it is. And is she telling it right? A group of them. All boys. Maybe not. And a rock and a slingshot. He fell dead. Rock to temple. Temple to rock. Renal: No history of hematuria, pyuria or stone formation. She named him. She named him not.
Circa Tisha* She was named by her mother for her great great grandmother, a halfie. Is it one great or two? Great or great great? Who can remember? But the great grandmother or the great great grandmother with fifteen Indian names—and Tisha had two of these names (and the others, who can remember?)—said, By god she wasn’t going to register and if she could she would slit her wrists and bleed out every drop of Indian blood in her. This is why Tisha and Wren and their mother and no one else in the family had any papers. But what are papers if you’re one-sixty-fourth Cherokee? When people ask Tisha what she is, she always says, I’m all mixed up. And you can’t say that with papers. I am not myself. And I am all mixed up. These stories gave her ideas.* Extremities: No clubbing, cyanosis or edema. Pulses are +2 and symmetrical in all four extremities.
Circa 1989* Late at night, she watches her mother dress. She undresses first and then she dresses. This is not every night. These are only the best nights.* Cardiac: As mentioned in the History of Present Illness.
Circa 1976* Did you hear about the girl named Daisy? She was beautiful for daze. But beauty doesn’t last and she’s glad of that. In any case, she who was beautiful is now not herself.* Chest: The chest wall is unremarkable. No masses are noted over the breasts. No discharge from the nipples.
Circa Circa Father* Halyard knot, Reef knot, Bowline knot, Perfect Knot, Two round turns and a half-hitch knot, two half-hitches knot, they were hitched, tied the knot, Double shell bend knot, sheet knot, sheet cake knot, beneath the sheets knot, overhand knot, Hangman’s knot, perfect knot, not perfect, went without a hitch, cut the rope, beneath the sheet, he is not, not, not. In any case, her father’s not. And her mother is not herself.* Heart: The heart is a regular rhythm. No murmur, thrill or gallop. The point of maximal impulse is not enlarged or laterally displaced.
Circa 1992* Late at night, her mother dresses. She undresses first and then she dresses. But tonight he is home. She is not alone. And he is in-and-out inside her. This is not every night. These are only the worst nights. And this is her childhood. She watches without watching.* HEENT: The pupils are equal and react to light. The extraocular muscles are intact. The sclerae are nonicteric. The fundi are well visualized, without any hemorrhages or exudates. The tympanic membranes are intact bilaterally.
Circa Wren* He held her and she fit the length of his forearm. His palm cradled her soft spot and he said, Daisy, she is beautiful. She was pink and perfect and hid his scars. Patient has one older sister, living and in good health. Sad, they say, not to have memories of your father. But she does. She has many. They are just not her own.
Circa 1937* She was pretty as a picture. Made that dress, handmade. And then posed herself. Pretty as poesy, posed for the picture. She sent away for the development and someone from the cigarette company saw her. Wanted to slip a cigarette between her fingers. Posed just right out of fright everything might not be picture perfect. But of course it was. It was and it is. And she wouldn’t sell them her photo. She was flattered, but still had her virtue. Physical Examination: Vital Signs: Blood pressure 130/80 Pulse 68 Respirations 12 Weight 114 pounds. The women are pretty. The men are wild. These are the stories to tell a child.*
Circa luck* She with the tallest totem pole is the most unlucky.* Plan: 1. The patient will be admitted to the psychiatric facility for further psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
Circa death* She couldn’t remember his face exactly and on occasion, she wondered if he could remember hers. A boyfriend in a long string of boyfriends her mother wore like beads on a cheap necklace. She remembered his hands were a young brown, calloused hard-white on the knuckles. Liked him at first. He called her his see-through girl; she was so pale. And when her mother said, Yeah, go outside, go get some sun, go get some burn on your skin, for Christ sake, you’re part Indian. He said, No. I like her like this. Patted her ass. Said quieter, just to her, I can see everything blue at work beneath you. Sometimes they watched television together and at the funny parts, they’d look at each other just to watch the other laugh. The striped Mexican blanket on his lap and she felt the weight of his eyes. He moaned softly, soft enough so she wasn’t sure whether she’d really heard anything at all, but his hands moved beneath the blanket and the stripes made bright waves above his lap. He wanted to blindfold her. She said, No. She said, No, please. He said, Yes. Lick the lollypop. He said, Suck it. Suck it, my see-through girl. He moaned softly, soft enough so she wasn’t sure whether she’d really heard anything at all. Although this time, she knew. It’ll all be over soon, he said. But it wasn’t. And the muscles of her mouth ached. And she thought there must be scars. And someone would know. But there were no scars. And no one knew. The mouth is free of any lesions, ulcers or masses. She felt the barnacles of his knuckles scrape against her cheek again and again, but even as the blindfold slipped, she kept her eyes closed.*
Circa a man* He could swallow his jaw. He could swallow his jaw? Yes. Well, what else could he swallow? Could he swallow his fist? Could he swallow his pride? Could he swallow a little girl and keep her inside?* Abdomen: The abdomen is not distended. Bowel sounds are present. No mass or organomegaly. No areas of tenderness.
Circa her fairytale* Until one day a man will say to her, Your esophagus is a totem pole beneath thin skin. And she who has waited her entire life to hear just that will marry him.* Neck: The neck is supple. No adenopathy is noted. Jugular vein pressure is normal. Carotid upstroke is brisk and symmetrical bilaterally. The thyroid is within normal limits in size and shape.
Tria Andrews has published critical essays, fiction, poetry, and photography. She is a PhD student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction at San Diego State (SDSU), where she taught literature for SDSU, served as Assistant Editor for Fiction International, and mentored for the American Indian Recruitment program. Tria’s research is on alternative forms of rehabilitation, such as sweat lodge ceremonies, writing workshops, and yoga programs, for Native girls in juvenile detention centers located on tribal grounds. Her interest in the mind-body disciplines has led her to earn certifications in massage therapy and yoga, which she has taught for over three years to incarcerated adolescents. She is also a third-degree black belt in the martial arts and two-time women’s national wrestling champion.