Cibola 8

This entry is part 8 of 119 in the series Cibola


Beginnings (cont’d)

But the dry lands survive
through concentration. The original
nations persist, despite the epitaphs
their would-be partisans have
so often composed. Though the dreams
served up on satellite dishes are more
& more entrancing, a few old-timers
still share stories around the stove
on a winter’s evening, whenever
their grandchildren start to get
too wild:

Back when newness was made–
they say–the earth was still soft
& yielding as the crown
of an infant’s head.
anyone stepped, the footprints
would fill with water. Back
when the spirit beings still mixed
freely with the people–the Zuni,
A.K.A. Ashiwi, or Ashiwanni–who
after years of wandering, had
discovered & settled the very
center of this six-
faceted world at
Shiwanna . . .

The Flood had come & gone
& the people newly made were talking,
chittering & chattering all the time
like mockingbirds, so that even
Coyote couldn’t sleep, & the God
the O’odham used to call Earth Doctor
divided their hearts, half for the day
& half for the night, & gave
the power of dreaming to
the dark half, so they could travel
in their sleep & gain wisdom. And
so they would have something
of greater note to mull over
in the heat of the day.

as the crown of an infant’s head: This simile is my only departure in this selection from the recorded myths of the Zuni and O’odham as they appear in the scholarly literature. Outright metaphors are exceedingly rare in their respective oral traditions, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t present in a more hidden form. As with Sufi teaching stories, part of the considerable art of Native songs, stories and oratory lies in the way their lessons slowly ripen in the listener’s mind over the course of months or years. When metaphors are made explicit, meaning is channeled in one, main direction – a direction that may be right for part of the audience, but can’t possibly be what every listener needs to hear. (The notion of One Best Truth for Everybody is, let’s remember, unique to the totalizing World Religions, and foreign probably to over 90 percent of all other belief systems ever invented.) I am quite sure that my interpretations in this poem are, at best, woefully inadequate – an outsider’s glib attempt to reveal a single facet in order to communicate at least the potential value of a gem.

this six-faceted world: the Zuni – like the O’odham, but unlike some of their closer neighbors – include zenith and nadir for a total of six sacred directions. Sometimes they also include Center as a seventh “direction,” and thus the number seven appears to be a more perfected form of six in Zuni numerology.

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