Esteban (3) (cont’d)
When had he ever felt like this before?
was no home for him, not really . . .
Yesterday evening the village elders
had cut him off, politely–
they were always polite–when he tried
to present his credentials
by giving a full account of the Journey
From the East. It’s too late
for stories, they said.
The sun’s already past the midway
point on its northward run,
& all the banded tribes that creep
on their bellies–they’re awake,
they hear everything.
a snake can hear through its scales,
belly to belly with the earth–
where all words sink that don’t
follow paths of cornmeal
or tobacco smoke.
And like any shaman, the snake’s rattle
can bring a rain of sickness
if you cross him.
The blow tubes in his teeth
can bury festering darts, invisible
bullets, in the body of one
who gives offense, in the dirt
outside his house or in his fields.
In the Land of Summer, it is said,
the serpent thinks all beings
belong to him.
And Esteban, recalling his mother’s
stories during harmattan
about the great snake that made
& unmade Wagadu–
Four names to the city four times born
on the shores of the great Sand Sea—
finds it hard to listen to the calabash rattle
without his own head
starting to spin
along with the patients’. And feeling
as if their symptoms somehow
have something to do with him.
Whatever the complaint–
a shooting pain in the side, a tightness
in the chest, a throbbing under
the scalp, stabbings in the joints
of the hands, the wrists, the feet–
in the few moments it takes them
to tell it, it registers
in his own body.
It’s too late for stories: In much of native North America, casual storytelling – outside of a ritual context – is reserved for the winter months. The belief that snakes will punish those who tell stories is similarly widespread, and may be related to the cult of the plumed serpent.
Wagadu: Legendary capital of the medieval kingdom of Ghana. According to West African oral tradition, a large serpent once destroyed the city when regular human sacrifices were halted.