CooXooEii Black: Homesick Blues

If you read my last column entry, you’d know God brought me to Memphis, TN, for school. I prayed and prayed about whether I should stay here or go home for the summer, and God told me to stay in Memphis.

So that’s where I am. But, when I hear a song by Luke Combs or Colter Wall, I’m immediately transported back home. The harmonica and slide guitar remind me of gliding over the sage-dotted Wyoming Plains and traversing the aspen-lined mountains. It’s funny because I didn’t like country music until I left home after high school.

Don’t get me started on powwow music. My heart dances like the morning rays shimmering on a Wyoming lake when I hear the drum. Shoutout to all the singers on the Wind River Reservation who have beauty and power in their voices! Powwow music makes me incredibly homesick. On the days when I really feel it, I might bust out some grass dance moves and let out a war hoop or two. 

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My heart has always been torn between the country/reservation and the city. In eighth grade, I badly wanted to trade the mountains for the high-rise steel of city skyscrapers. I LOVED going to Denver. The orange city lights of a sleeping city were mesmerizing. That area of Colorado was historically occupied by the Arapaho Tribe, so maybe that’s why I loved being there so much.

After high school, I lived in New Hampshire for a year, and that was when I realized there is a country boy in me after all. I missed being caked in dirt after a long day in the mountains. Missed waking up before the sun for a hunting trip. Missed the smell of fresh lodgepole pine shavings. Missed the sound of a river’s quiet hush, the scent of fish under my nails, and the Meadowlark’s trill.

That’s when my battle between living in the city and being a country boy (or a rez boy) began.

Being in Memphis for the summer has been great. Although I’ve spent all my time in the city, there is plenty of country to explore in western Tennessee if I wanted. But this summer, I’ve been blessed to go to concerts, trendy restaurants, and museums. Memphis has a huge art scene, and I find myself drawn into those places as a creative. All of this appeals to the city-slicker parts of me. But as I write this, the biggest powwow in Wyoming is happening, Shoshone Indian Days Powwow. It’s easily one of my favorite powwows. I love seeing my community come together to laugh, dance, cheer, and eat. (I’m fighting hard not to listen to Neon Moon by Brooks and Dunn to cope with my homesickness right now. No, I’ll save that for another day).

I used to think Wyoming and the Reservation was a place to “get out of.” But every now and then, my heart yearns for the 307. I’ve concluded that if you want to stay in Wyoming, stay. There is no other place like Wyoming— it’s shaped like a box because it’s the perfect package. But if you want to leave to explore or go to school, then it’s okay to go. You will find a place to hold you the same way Wyoming does. Plus, when you return, you’ll find that the Rocky Mountain breeze is still quick to embrace you. 

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If you leave, you’ll also find people who’ll show you home can be anywhere. A mobile home. Get it? Let me give an example. My dad is Black, so I’m half Black and half Indigenous (Northern Arapaho represent). Memphis is a majority Black city, so most of my community here is Black. It’s been great to water my Black roots. And the people here remind me of the people I grew up with on the rez.

When I joke and laugh with older people, I feel like I’m with my aunties and uncles. The joking is the same, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and you better be ready to be teased. When I speak to Black elders, it’s very similar to talking to elders on the rez. Their first language is wisdom. Their wrinkled skin tells me they’ve been through hard times and were strong enough to make it through— I know they’ve seen just as many glorious times as well. When my generation speaks of history, these elders have lived it. My church here in Memphis served at a community center, and watching the kids run and play was reminiscent of kids running and playing in the reservation community halls. 

While in Tennessee, as long as I have powwow music, country music, and community Wyoming doesn’t feel that far off. It’s a comforting feeling, yet it makes me homesick. It’s a beautiful oxymoron.

The beautiful and most assuring part of all this is knowing that one day God will tell me to return to Wyoming. When He does, I’ll be ready. Until then, I’ll enjoy my time in the city. And I believe God is good enough and sovereign enough to take care of my family while I’m away.

Black folk sang the blues in the South to cope with their situations. The emotional expression through stretched syllables, the bending of guitar strings, repeated phrases, and whining voices allowed them to release their grief and find strength. So, here I am singing my own Homesick Blues. Why? Because, like my Indigenous and Black relatives who came before me, I’m trying to find a place to settle without my heart being split in two.

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