Thursday, March 15, 2012

Howard Norman and Jacob Slowstream, The Wishing Bone Cycle (Cree and Ojibwa)

(Then the Wishing Bone said)

I try to make wishes right
but sometimes it doesn't work.
Once I wished a tree upside down
& its branches were the roots
& all the squirrels
had to ask the moles
how do we dig down there
to get home?

One time it happened that way.

Then there was the time
oh I rememberr now
I wished a man upside down
& his feet were his hands
& in the morning
his shoes had to ask the birds
how do we fly up there
to get home?

One time it happened that way

*     *     *     *     *

One time I wished myself
into a moose deer
& was lying down & sleeping
with my own shadow
& then you came along
saying the sun was in your mouth
saying you were thirsty!
I wished you to where you drank tears.
It was a lake
everyone cried into
full of people's tears.
At night some of the tears left
to look for sad faces.
Then the whole lake cried.
Some said it was the loons.

*     *     *     *     *

One time I wished myself in love.
I was the little squirrel
with dark stripes.
I climbed shaky limbs for fruit for her.
I even swam with the moon on the water
to reach her.
That was a time little troubled me.
I worked all day to gether food
& watched her sleep all night.
It is not the same way now
but my heart still sings
when I hear her
over the leaves.

*     *     *     *     *

There was a storm once
& that's when
I wished myself into a turtle.
But I meant on land!
the one that carries a hard tent
on his back.
I didn't want to be floating!
I wanted to pull everything inside
& dry.
Here comes the waves
shaking me
& I'm getting sick in the insides.
I wanted to be the turtle
eating buds & flowers & berries.
I've got to wish things exactly!
That's the way it is
from now on.

*     *     *     *     *

One time I saw
a tree with no animals in it.
I started walking around.
That's when each of my eyes
saw a different animal --
a bird & a porcupine.
So I wished them up in that tree.
But only one animal got up there.
He was a porcupine & bird in the same body!
How did that happen?
He flew up & got stuck in the clouds
with his quills.
Then he came down into some bush thorns
& lost some feathers.
The only place he could live
was in that tree.
He made friends with the wind there.
When the wind came
to shake the tree
the wind cleaned his quills.
When the wind came
looking for someone to fly with
under the clouds
the animal went.

*     *     *     *     *

I'll tell you what it's like
being the biggest fish
in the lake.
I know this now
since I wished myself
to be a sturgeon.
Their smaller fish calle me
with their voices
& the water birds too.
"Your big mouth,
use it to eat up our enemies!"
That's what they say.
But then I get hungry for them too!

1 comment:

  1. Howard Norman (Torch Lake, Michigan, 1972/1973):

    "Workings," as in first listening to the narratives over & over in the source language, then re-creating them in the same context, story, etc., if not able, ultimately, to get a translation word for word.

    These narratives are from a linguistic region now of mixed Cree & Ojibwa. Gathered over the summers of 1969-70, some were told in a singular tongue, most in a composite tongue. The character seems to be Cree in origin: the "wishing bone" who is capable of wishing himself into various circumstances "in order" to relate the narrative.

    It's been almost 4 1/2 years now since I first heard Jacob Slowstream tell some of them up in Canada with just four or five other Swampy Cree elders around & a few children whose ears leaned. They helped me re-learn my own ears. Jacob fully realized I was to write them down but he made certain I could tell them first. He, again & again, said "You can't know them until you tell them." Thus we worked out a sort of personal phonetic system so I could carry them with me when the distance between us widened. Ultimately, after the batch that follows was completed, I recorded them & sent them up to Canada. Jacob heard them & again commented. They were in Cree & English on tape. Jacob was/is concerned with telling episodes which exemplify certain cultural particulars not dealt with in other oral forms. Thus the Wishing Bone becomes the first-"person" narrator (trickster) capabale of wishing things into existence, etc...