Calling Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck
In the passage that follows from "First Fruits," one of the seven short stories that, with five personal histories, constitute Roofwalker (Milkweed Editions, $20), the narrator, Georgiana, a Native American freshman at Harvard, is trying to get together with Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, a Wampanoag who attended Harvard's Indian College, learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, graduated in 1665, and died of consumption a year later. The author is Susan Power '83, J.D. '86, a Standing Rock Sioux.
As I head for class each morning, I find myself going out of my way, wandering behind Matthews Hall to that spot where the Indian College once stood. I must look like everyone else as I stand here, wearing jeans, a sweater, and a backpack over one shoulder, but I have uncommon expectations. I am looking for Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck. If my father were here, we would have spotted him by now, perhaps seated high in the air towards the crown of the sycamore tree, or stretched on his side in the dense grass, his suit sparkling with dewdrops.
I am haunted by this young man who has been dead for over 300 years, or, more accurately, I wish to be haunted by him. I have developed a plan to flush him out that consists of tempting him with a small package of Grandma's Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies, which are a special favorite of my father's. I open the bag to release the spicy aroma, and place it in a cradle of branches near the base of a thick bush.
"An offering," I say.
I was taught to believe that time is not a linear stream, but a hoop spinning forward like a wheel, where everything is connected, and everything is eternal. In this cosmology, I am here because Caleb came before me, and he was here in anticipation of me. We are bonded together across time, and I will recognize him when I see him. Will he recognize me?
Allegra [her roommate] has made me over with the assistance of her friend, Adrienne, a fellow New Yorker who lives in the suite directly above ours. They cut my hair so that it is short in back and longer in front; the sides sweep below my cheeks like black wings. They have recommended bronze-berry lip gloss for my mouth, and drawn pearl-pink eyeshadow across my eyelids so that they look opalescent as abalone shells. Allegra even coated my eyelashes with vaseline, using a tiny brush I find difficult to handle.
I take one last look before leaving for class.
"Kokepe sni ye," I tell the empty air. Don't be afraid. And then I whisper, "It's me, your Dakota friend," just in case Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck has been fooled by Allegra's handiwork into thinking I am a wasicuna white girl leaving cookies for the squirrels.