8 : Kachina Doll


I wind up the road that hangs on a cliff
My heart fills with excitement
My breath empties it

At last reaching the top of the steep narrow mesa
A young Indian boy not much older than you
Runs out of his house shouting words I don’t know

I think I have trespassed
Has he come out to chase me?
Then his two tiny hands reach my window to show me

A small wooden doll as he shouts out, “Kachina!”
One hand holds the doll
The other raises one finger

“One dollar?” I ask, as I show him one finger
But he’s quick and he raises his other four fingers

“Five dollars?” I ask, as I show him five fingers
But he’s quick and he raises his other five fingers

“Ten dollars?” I ask, as I show him all fingers
He nods with excitement and smiles bright and wide

“Five dollars?” I grin, as I lower five fingers
His smile remains bright as he hands me the doll

I reach for my money and thank him profusely
For the doll that he made with his ten little fingers
And the smile that he gave to remind me of you


Why I wrote Kachina Doll:


Not only did my trip to Arizona bring me sentimentally and spiritually closer to my dad, but it was also an opportunity for me to spend some time to visit with my mother.

As you know, your grandmother doesn’t live in Arizona, and by the time you were old enough to remember, she lived out west with us. But when you were born and growing up, she still lived at the opposite end of the country from us, and as grown up and independent as I was, I often deeply missed spending time with my mother and having her close by to chat with every now and then.

She flew out with a few friends from her end of the country, and I flew out by myself from mine. We both met in the middle further down south. Some of our day trips (such as my hike into the canyon) were spent apart, but many days were spent together. The day we drove up the mesa, which led to this poem, was one of the days your grandma and I shared together.


How I wrote Kachina Doll:


I wind up the road that hangs on a cliff
My heart fills with excitement
My breath empties it

The road leading up to this unknown destination was very much like the South Kaibab Trail – just as narrow and filled with quick unexpected turns, but very different too, since we were heading up and not down.

I felt a sense of exhilaration being in the driver’s seat with this small group of women, including my mother, up and along this unknown road. The occasional sudden drop made it feel like a roller coaster ride and had the passengers, as well as myself, exhale with surprised oohs and aahs, quickly followed with laughter as our hearts rushed up and down with the road.


At last reaching the top of the steep narrow mesa
A young Indian boy not much older than you
Runs out of his house shouting words I don’t know

We reached the end of the road at the top of the hill, known as a mesa, which instantly flattened as though a knife had been sliced through the top of it. Still not knowing where we were, but realizing this was someone’s property, I began to turn the van around when the voice of a young child filled the air. I looked through the side view mirror to see a cloud of dust behind him as he ran towards us.


I think I have trespassed
Has he come out to chase me?
Then his two tiny hands reach my window to show me

The thought and slight discomfort of having accidentally trespassed came to me prior to what is implied in the poem, but from a story-line point of view, I though it fit well here.

I have to admit though, the sense of discomfort remained. It was only after his small hands pulled him up along the side of the door and I saw his bright jovial face reach my window did the tension subside.


More on how I wrote Kachina Doll:


A small wooden doll as he shouts out, “Kachina!”
One hand holds the doll
The other raises one finger

To this day, I remain uncertain whether he initially intended to scare me off, but once face to face, his demeanor convinced me otherwise. The “doll”, through most eyes, might conjure images of rosy cheeks, silky hair and a lovely dress, but this was a different kind of doll. It was a wooden hand-carved doll, which I assume he or his father had carved.


“One dollar?” I ask, as I show him one finger
But he’s quick and he raises his other four fingers

“Five dollars?” I ask, as I show him five fingers
But he’s quick and he raises his other five fingers

“Ten dollars?” I ask, as I show him all fingers
He nods with excitement and smiles bright and wide

“Five dollars?” I grin, as I lower five fingers
His smile remains bright as he hands me the doll

The following lines are a slight exaggeration of what actually took place. Although there was a bit of a sales negotiation between the two of us, it didn’t unfold exactly as implied in the poem.

I applied the five and ten dollar increase and decrease intentionally when writing this, not only to give the poem structure, but I thought it would make a good story to introduce to a young child learning mathematical calculations.


I reach for my money and thank him profusely
For the doll that he made with his ten little fingers
And the smile that he gave to remind me of you

I did offer the young boy five dollars for the precious wooden doll which I gave to you years later. I had also purchased a couple of coloring books that we started coloring together, but I’m uncertain whether I still have those.

The intention to share memories of my trip with you somehow got lost through busy days. I had hoped (just as I had once hoped for us to take an RV trip across Canada), to someday visit this amazing and beautiful part of our continent with you.


Drawing from the poem:


Traditional Kachina dolls can be quite ornate even when created out of natural material, but the Kachina doll the young boy offered me was very simple in design and quite small. If I recall correctly, it was no more than two inches with no added colors to it but the wood’s natural tones. The only highlights on the doll were some darker lines which seemed to be slightly carved into the wooden doll.

When drawing the image for the poem, I kept the outer shape of the Kachina as it was, but unable to recall the exact details, I opted to simplify it by adding minimal decorations to it and applying only facial features.

The swirls below the Kachina and at the corner of her mouth are meant to represent the wind – which I referred to in Switchbacks – and imply how this Kachina came to us through the wind, which continuously flows through her words.


Thank you for inspiring me to create Kachina Doll


Kachina Doll

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