From their guard posts in the hills
around Shiwanna, the Twins
raise such a clamor
that the brotherhood of holy warriors,
gathering in haste, divides &
divides. Factions of three, two,
one angry voice raised against the others.
The Ahayuta–immortal teens–are always
for the extreme: the lightning strike,
the tornado, the hundred-year flood.
Their rancid breath boils in their throats,
offspring as they are of sun & foam.
But the Uwannami, the longbeards,
breathe from the bottomless ocean.
Their tobacco reed scrawls a complex
message across the sky.
From every town the rain priests gather
in their grand kiva, four walls in
from the sun. Tenatsali, six-hued
flower, herb with seven faces,
how have you passed your days?
The Word Priest inhales from the blossoms
as if they were open palms. We seek
direction. And Tenatsali in turn
calls for Datura:
Take a boy with unblemished skin,
between his first & second initiations.
Guide him to the edge of death.
(To be continued)
I’ll try and keep notes to a minimum for this section; over-explication could suck the life out of it, I think.
the Twins: Hero twins – usually male, occasionally female – are a feature of many native mythologies of the Americas.
holy warriors: In the ethnographic literature on Zuni, these are usually referred to as Priests of the Bow, which is awkward in part because it might not be immediately obvious which sort of bow is meant.
Tenatsali: The precise identification of this herb is a closely guarded secret. But its use as a kind of doorway or ambassador is reflected in the fact that the very first American anthropologist to live among the Zuni in the late 19th century, Frank Cushing, was nicknamed “Tenatsali,” and that is the name by which he is still fondly remembered in Zuni oral history.
Datura: The scientific name of this highly poisonous, psychotropic plant seems somehow more fitting than the common English name, jimsonweed.