Cibola 103

This entry is part 102 of 119 in the series Cibola


Pekwin (a.k.a. Sun Priest, Word Priest) (conclusion)

As they pass south of Kyakima,
a boy herding turkeys on the hillside
hears the commotion, looks,
scrambles down to head
off the mask. He tackles it,
the others help him wrestle the man
to the ground, this poor thing
with no words
of his own remaining.
A mind given over
wholly to the elder brothers,
the eaters-of-raw-food.
They have the mask down but it won’t
come off. They pull & tug
& it screams curses in
the sacred language of the East:
it’s stuck fast.
The masker gasps for breath,
he’ll suffocate! They tug
& pull & stretch.

With one last scream the mask
comes loose, a layer of flayed skin
sticking to its back.
The mummer has become the Man
Without a Face, an impossible being.
Despite all the doctors can do
he dies four days later.

They try to clean the Shumekuli mask
as they would any other, scrubbing off
the paint, the pattern of raincloud steps.
Does a masker keep the god’s
turtle-shell rattles on his legs,
the spirit gourd in his hand
for everyday use?
The sacred & the common must be kept apart.

Except this mask,
the White Shumekuli–
a mask that should never
be worn lightly–
it won’t give up its newest
layer of skin.

The story about the White Shumekuli mask comes from Zuni oral tradition, as presented in two separate sources.

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