(Bedrock: the fundamental principle on which something is based.)
“There’s beautiful artwork up there.” I’m told.
Entering the rotunda in my elk tooth printed top, I glanced at the paintings that stood larger than the walls of my small home. All praising colonization.
For the briefest of seconds,
I felt my heart harden.
Not into the pristine white marble that surrounded me.
Or the opulent gold like I saw in the hallway.
No, it was a simple stone that my heart became.
Nothing pretty or palatial.
I remembered the word for stone right away.
I rolled it over in my mind.
nvya. nvya. nvya.
I imagine reaching inside my chest to pull my newly hardened heart out past my ribcage, raising it above my head, running past the guides and guards, and then leaping like a “savage.” Animalistic. Unrespectable. Uncivilized. Angry. Wounded.
I imagine sinking my heart stone deeply into the top of the canvas and letting the weight of my body drag a gash downward. I see myself destroying the narratives of De Soto and Columbus before anyone can reach me. Marring the images of conquest and glory. The paint would stain me, but I wouldn’t mind the markings.
I scrambled to recall the word for paint
galonedi. galonedi. galonedi.
I imagine using my heart stone to carve out the images of Matoaka and her family from “The Baptism of Pocahontas,” removing them from the gaze of the tourists that smile widely for photos with Opechankanough’s anguish as their backdrop. I picture myself wrapping their images around my heart before returning the canvas-coated stone to my chest. Tucking it safely away and fleeing the city.
…But my rescue mission was only a daydream. The guide gathers us to leave. I took no photos.
My heart softened back to flesh and now,
Now I ache.
Tiffany Pyette is a two-spirit writer, artist, and activist for environmental and human rights living in the Appalachian mountains. She is an emerging poet that weaves her tribe’s language in much of her work.
© Tiffany Pyette
Photo Credit: © Gessy Alvarez / Image: Lobby of the Modern Museum of Art, NYC