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May 20, 2024

Novel Excerpt: Ogden Messiah

By Antonio Hopson

Abeque-Abeque is a name used by the Chippewa meaning: Never Leaves Home. His brash, loud-mouthed grandmother christened him this because he often needed to be forcibly removed from his mother's breast. Abeque-Abeque, he would sometimes hear her saying in his head. You know a man cannot live on milk alone! She upbraided him this way until he was a teenager, always pushing him to live life more like his great ancestors.

Abeque-Abeque's grandfather called himself a fur trader and was so often absent from home that he only recognized the old man if he were dressed in a hat and coat. As late as 1970, grandfather wore buckskins and moccasins, donned a 'coon hat and wore a rifle strapped around his back. It was the same rifle that his great-great grandfather, a Chippewa warrior, had used to shoot white settlers along Escanaba Bay. Grandfather would trudge through swamps hunting for any animal possessing fur that could be legally killed and worn. The old man had probably used his dementia as a means to stay away from grandmother.

Abeque-Abeque's father died when he was still a baby -- hit by bus on his way to Minneapolis to look for work. Alexis had gained a local reputation as a poet because he smiled a lot and almost never spoke. His prose was good enough to make Abeque-Abeque's beautiful, quiet-hearted mother swoon. "What good is a poet," grandmother had scolded her daughter, "on a reservation, where people only care about two things -- bingo and peppermint schnapps?" Abeque-Abeque knew from school that the Chippewa were people inclined to poetry. One poem he especially liked went this way:

I am walking

Toward calm and shady places
I am walking

on the earth.

In his dreams sometimes Abeque-Abeque saw his father gliding through fields of blond grass. While Alexis had not been in Abeque-Abeque's life to impart any wisdom, in his dream when all was quiet and still, he could hear his father breathing a poem into his ear.

Float onto tomorrow,

we have lost what is our sum.

Your loneliness, your dreams can wait

until the whole does come:






Abeque-Abeque's mother was a poet of a different sort. She made use of her hands, spinning sine and feathers together into the most exquisite dream catchers. The art was distinctly Chippewa. When hung above a bed, bad dreams were caught in the web and the good dreams were passed through. One night while his grandmother was playing bingo and drinking Peppermint Schnapps, Abeque-Abeque sat and watched his mother sew. She placed the finished dream catchers in one of two baskets. Abeque-Abeque asked why.

"One is for the tourist," she told him, "and the other is for the people of Sault, Ste. Marie."

Abeque-Abeque can still remember the musky-sweet smell of his mother, her wool blanket saturated with maple sugar harvested in the spring. It was hard to leave his mother's side when she smelled so good. He asked her why he had been named a girl's name -- a name used as a taunt by his grandmother, even if she had been correct.

"I told you this already. When you was a little baby," his mother smiled wanly at him, "you would cry and cry when you were not in my bosom."

He asked her why she had let the old woman get away with such an insult.

"Because she is gram ma'ma."

Ultimately it was not the teasing, or the fear of leaving his mother's side that made him move to sunny New Mexico -- it was a dream that one of his mother's dream catchers had let slip through into his unconscious.

In the dream Abeque-Abeque was visited by a very wise old man dressed in a white robe and wearing silver braids that touched the ground. Even though the man looked like an older version of his father Abeque-Abeque knew that it was not. "Son?" the figure asked, standing near a frozen brook. Abeque-Abeque knew it was coyote -- the trickster and part-time prophet.

"A man who could find his way back from the afterlife," Abeque-Abeque suggested, "should recognize his own son."

"Yes," coyote admitted. "You are correct. This is why I chose you -- because you are smarter than your family thinks. And also, you are a trustworthy person. I apologize for resorting to such simple tricks, but would you have listened to me if showed up as talking dog?" Abeque-Abeque did not answer; instead he looked into the frozen brook where he saw an image of himself sleeping. "I am here with a message for you."

Abeque-Abeque turned and looked into the distance. He could see his home of Sault Ste. Marie backlit by the rising, yellow moon. There were no lights on in any of the houses, only long dark shadows. "The message is from a very interesting... how shall I say this so you will understand ...entity? Do you understand that, boy? The entity is not like a man or animal, instead, it is a thing that resembles a thousand-thousand trees, all connected together at their roots. The flesh of the trees becomes me, and then I speak to you. You live in the flesh. Do you understand?" Coyote sat on its tail. "The trees know that you want to leave this place -- and you will. But for you to leave, and prove your grandmother wrong, you must do the trees a favor." Coyote had captured his attention, and Abeque-Abeque turned to stare into the lurid, glowing tapetums of the animal. "Now this is very important . . . so you better listen up . . . you must figure out a way for the buffalo to fly on your wings. Did you hear that? The buffalo is a messenger, a messenger from the trees." Abeque-Abeque looked across the field where one of the shadows lit up. It was the light to his bedroom window, and soon he saw himself sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes, thinking about the dream.

Abeque-Abeque would not hear from the coyote for another fifteen years.

Antonio Hopson has published short stories in The Harrow Magazine, The Subterranean Quarterly, Poor Mojo's Almanac and also NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu's Exquisite Corpse Magazine. Currently, The Vernal Equinox of Death and Kisses, an anthology of his previously published short stories, is available at major bookstores. For more information, go to http://www.antoniohopson.com.

Article © Antonio Hopson. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-03-06
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