Her Favorite Photo You can almost see her whole face— all Miya wanted anyone to see. Taken at an awkward angle in an unexpected moment— an attempt made clumsy because of the closeup and the wind blowing her hair, I think— it looks impromptu but not intrusive. Draped by the flowing, curvilinear form of hair about her shoulders, her head looks like a sculpture— reflecting the mystery, modesty, and depth of her face. It was her favorite photo. I look at the old, fading, black and white image long . . . and hold it in my hands. Not even black and white—more gray, “Coyote gray,” she would tell you. “And a little out of focus.” “Like me,” she would say. “The glow of embers in black ash,” I would tell you, “Like a hazy moon, rising and falling in the sky,” I would say. She is unsmiling, and there is a sort of trail— like a silver snail path— that draws my eye to her neck. It was her favorite photo. As I recall, she would soon be putting on her regalia— her yellow buckskin dance dress with the quillwork designs on it. Within the waiting atmosphere is a contemplative stare, and a scent of sage in dusty air . . . Miya is the most graceful of the dancers. Like flitting shafts of light, she leaps and swirls, bounces and twirls, dips and sways, following intricate steps of the traditional dance in rhythm with the throbbing, pounding, hypnotic beat of the drummers and the singers. Her mane of glossy black-brown hair streams against the sky, as her red, fringed shawl spins in the wake. Her buckskin dress glows in the bright sunlight, and her feathered fan glides through the air like a butterfly. Miya is mesmerizing and intriguing, dignified and regal. Faster and faster she dances on the sweetgrass, leaping through the breeze like a winged creature of the sky, or a wild, happy coyote creature of the earth. As suddenly as the memory comes, it goes and is over. It retreats into where memories go, gleaming for a moment before it disappears. Only the feeling remains. Light enters the window and lays a graceful shadow across the worn frame. On an adjacent shelf are relics— feathers, fur, medicine bags, beaded things— testimonials to days gone, to love and loveliness imposed upon by Death, the denier of hopes and dreams. I look at the image . . . again . . . long . . . and again . . . and hold it closer in my hands. I study her round face, her curved nose, the strength of her jaw, and wonder: At what precise moment did the architect of that beautiful face frame the arch of those eyebrows, the curl of those lips, and the character of that expression? What a flirtation with stone, bone, and damp clay her creation was— infinitely more interesting than talk of genetics. Her face was a reservoir of limes and lakes, and she let me touch them with my fingers and the backs and palms of my hands. It was her favorite photo, you know; For funny, odd-shaped reasons: because she was young, because she was thin, because the snap of the camera was unskillful, because it was taken by me on a warm, sunny morning after a breakfast of coffee, fry bread, berry sauce, and kisses. I give the photo a waning last look and glance upward and away. Outside the rain falls like heaven’s own tears. At this moment, I realize how much I miss my friend. I draw back the comforter on my bed, and crawl into the silence— where memories and dreams slip and ooze, glow briefly in the night— unbound— and slowly fade from sight in morning light.
Composed on January 16–17, 2021—in another season of remembering my beloved friend Miya, who died in February 2019 with lung cancer that spread to her brain. She was a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian tribe in South Dakota. We loved each other for more than 30 years, finding each other time and time again. No matter what our individual situations or how far apart we became, we came back to each other. Her memory is closer to me these days as sad news keeps coming from South Dakota of our mutual friends infected and dying with COVID-19.