by Chelsea Niewald
In her poem, “Equilibrium,” Mandy Smoker contemplates and describes one of many challenges that people on Indian reservations face daily. Although the poem is dedicated to Mandy’s nephew, who passed away, many readers, especially Native American readers can relate. The raw truth and brutal reality of loss leaves a reader contemplating the meaning of life.
Growing up on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, I find myself missing home and the reservation more than I thought I ever would. Mandy’s poem leaves me missing the atmosphere of the reservation, even with the heart wrenching reality. Mandy’s poem exemplifies the connection a person can have with a place they call “home.” Although the experiences in the poem are about loss and the strife people often experience on the reservation, I find myself able to connect with the words, and more importantly, the meanings behind them.
Having lost countless friends and family members due to suicide, accidents, and drug overdoses, I have a tainted heart when it comes to death on reservations.
An excerpt from “Equilibrium” brought me back to an internal place I have not visited in quite some time: “And what of all the other warnings, of all the family lost because their hearts were too heavy for them to carry?” I was forced to revisit emotions of watching my younger sister lose her best friend due to what some believe was suicide, but what the people on the reservation said was an accident. Having witnessed countless warning signs, the people of the reservation were blind to see a young heart screaming out for help. The cold, stone-hard words and images of a lonely, death-stricken town bring back memories of resenting the place I call “home.”
Mandy creates visual descriptions of the emotional baggage she and others carry while they try and make sense of such a cruel reality. I find myself pleading for those who have left my life to return to me, but after reading Mandy’s poem I find myself unable to be angry with what people describe as a “higher power.” Having found a sense of closure with the amount of losses I have experienced, I am able to encourage others to seek help before it is too late.
I encourage everyone to read Mandy Smoker’s work, people of any race or background, because the fact is: we have all experienced, or known someone who has had to deal with, the loss of a loved one. Mandy’s work brings closure and healing through her words and visual descriptions.
Chelsea Niewald is a freshman at the University of Montana, Missoula, pursuing a double major in Psychology and Native American Studies. Her hometown is Keller, Washington, on the Colville Indian Reservation.