Nov 28, 2017 - Being Young by Cliff Taylor

Twenty Three. Up in Crow Creek. My second year of Sundance.

How did I find myself here?

We all have our tents up in a row with our backsides to a creek (while chopping wood with a new ax the ax-head will go flying off into the bushy creek; oops!). Our cars are parked haphazardly with an individualistic/communal Indian logic in the field facing them. Off to the West is the arbor, last year’s tree, the sweat, the whole grand set-up shimmering under the starry light of old South Dakota. Everyone’s turned in, asleep; I wander back to my car -to get something?, I can’t remember- and enjoy a long stretch of minutes all to myself.

An abused kid riding my bike in the dusk of Columbus, afraid to go home as the streetlights begin to flick on. A middle-schooler drinking and running amok with the bad kids, who were my friends, one of which, Sunny, will always feel like a brother to me. Hanging out with the older art guys at Village Inn as a teenager and indestructibly realizing that I want to be a writer more than anything in this life. Working as a cook at a truck-stop after I drop out of college, having visions, receiving holy guidance from the grandpas and grandmas in the other world, but adrift, unable to see where I’m supposed to go. And now, back with Joe Bad at his Sundance up in Ft. Thompson, two days away from being doctored in ceremony but I don’t know it; so much moving through me, everything that got me here vibrating and turning and singing for LIFE!

I sit in my crappy car and put in a cassette, Lifted by Bright Eyes, and begin to listen to it by myself in the dark on those highly spiritually active Sundance grounds. Everything is so crisp, in focus. A life larger than the whole mass of America, if you could ball it all up, is rising out of the earth and time around me, like a spirit-monument growing out of the whole face of the earth, and it is speaking to me. Its language is everything that could function as language and it wants to communicate the oldest things that live in its heart. My brain and being can only handle so much, like droplets, little sips. It wants to come to me by the buckets and barrels but I’m just not there yet. When I get doctored the spirits will stretch me. Sundancing is stretching me. That’s one part of what the Sundance is meant to do: stretch and deepen our capacity to live and work with the spirit-energies that our ancestors worked with to feed life and survive and artistically make this holy culture that carries these oldest things that’re in the heart of this eternal field of life that I am just barely glimpsing. It’s been overwhelming, shattering, healing, powerful, just what my soul was crying for, what all our people/all people’s souls are crying for. But now I just listen to the music, let all the deep feelings of recognizing the sheer beauty and surrealness and sacredness of where I’ve found myself, move through my heart and mind. I’m stunned and in the arms of a love belonging to so many that I could never see them all or understand the multitudinousness of them all. I sit back in my driver’s seat and just feel, just feel the moment, just timelessly feel the blessed, gorgeous, ineffability of it all.

One song turns into another and then another. I want love so bad, want to find a girlfriend so bad, a girl to share this all with, to experience love and togetherness and closeness with. I want to get better as a writer, not be so amateurish, clunky, unable to write anything longer than a short story, of which I’ve written about twenty now over the years. I want to understand the holy little people who come to me, not to have them be such a mystery that I don’t understand but like a mystery I fully understand, have a grip on, can talk as exhaustively and informatively about them as anyone who really knows something semi-authoritatively about anything. I want my dad back, want a dad not in prison but one who is graced with the ability to be the father he never has been, to love me and swoop in and be with me as I go down this sacred Red Road. I want to be healed, to not be in so much pain, to not be such a mangled bleeding wound inside, watching all that I want never come to me because I’m too fucked-up to know how to reach out for it or go for it or go and get it. I want to be free, free of this mess, these traumas, these wounds. I want to walk free of all this hell and pain, to have some peace, to help my people, to serve the Creator, to do my part in somehow just making everything better for everyone. I want all these things and they all live inside of me like hurt animals, licking their wounds, hiding, occasionally coming out, some groggy, some with minds that’re like lasers, some that glow, some that know the old songs, some that want to give up, some that know the whole secret is contained in never giving up, in dancing all the way through, in dancing all the way until you sweat out on the last day and finally get to have your first drink of water-

I listen to this Nebraska-born artist sing and wail, emote and make a gift of his experiences to us listeners, to this boy of me sitting alone in my car. I want to hold onto what is happening. My life, modern, ragged, dorky, inspired, lonesome, is intersecting with the great holiness of our unfathomably sacred Sundance and the eternity that resides inside of it, the ancestors in the car with me, their minds touching my mind, their hearts streaming into mine, their words coming into my throat and soul for later, for when I do learn to speak, for when I do learn to write, for when I do learn to do whatever it is they have planned for me in the future. I want to not leave this moment, these minutes; I don’t want the cassette to end. This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life. To be this close to my people, to the spirits and ancestors, to the Holy, to God. I want to just be with what all my deep flowering feelings are telling me and not leave their medicine, their gifts, their awakened sense of what is going on, of what is happening right now. I want to stay here, in this soul-place of my purpose, in this field where everything that my people need is present and abundant and giving and lovingly replanting itself in all of our aching beings. I just want to stay here, stay HERE-

The cassette ends and I sit in the silence of my car, of the night. I look off over to the Sundance tree. There are old ones there. I can see them praying; I can see them praying for us; I can see them praying for me-

Cliff Taylor is a writer, a poet, a speaker, and an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. He has written a non-fiction book about the little people and recently completed a memoir, Special Dogs, about coming-of-age in Nebraska. A year ago he moved to Seattle. He’s waiting to see what happens next. Contact Cliff @

Last Real Indians