Cibola 37

This entry is part 37 of 119 in the series Cibola


Shiwanna (1) (conclusion)

These swallowers of men plant prayer sticks

bereft of feather-tufts

fitted with crosspieces like plucked wings

the larger ones are stained white

& hung with twisted human limbs

a living cadaver

It bleeds from the scalp the side

its eyes turned inward leave little doubt it’s a witch

A medicine man rapt in his own power

One who denies death

As the boy draws back, his vision expands –
A line of these cross-boned prayer sticks

positioned like a raiding party along the main road north

arrowing toward Shiwanna

the sorcerer loads his reed
                                         & here
the slow toneless voice of Datura halts.

The priests, watching intently, see
the boy’s eyes under his lids
float upward & lie motionless
like minnows in a poisoned spring.

His uncle shouts for the antidote,
blows it up his nostrils, pumps his chest.
At last they feel his heart flutter
& he coughs, once, twice, three times

& ends with a sigh. Time
to sing him back, to begin
four days & nights of healing.
Let the Twins mutter

in their six grottoes, in their seven caves.
Let them howl.
They’re war gods: they can wait.


prayer sticks: As mentioned earlier, Zunis and other southwestern peoples use small effigies, fashioned by almost every adult male at set times and for set purposes, instead of sacrifices. These consist of willow wands from a hand span to half an arm’s length in height, tied with feathers of various birds and planted on the outskirts of the village with appropriate prayers.

In Zuni belief, someone practicing witchcraft will often employ corrupted versions of prayer sticks.

the sorcerer loads his reed: The witch or sorcerer (I use the terms interchangeably) uses a hollow reed as a sort of symbolic blowgun to fire “bullets” of disease-carrying contagion into the bodies of his victims (or their fields), often from a great distance.

war gods: this is in fact the term preferred by modern Zunis themselves when speaking in English about the carved wooden icons of the divine twins. They attribute the theft and subsequent misuse of many of these icons by museums and collectors as a primary cause for the world wars and other disasters of the 20th century.

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