Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ramón Medina Silva, "How the Names Are Changed on the Peyote Journey," trans. Barbara Myerhoff

Well, let's see now. I shall speak about how we do things when we go and seek the peyote, how we change the names of everything. How we call the things we see and do by another name for all those days. Until we return. Because all must be done as it must be done. As it was laid down in the beginning. How it was when the mara'akáme who is Tatewari led all those great ones to Wirikuta. When they crossed over there, to the peyote country. Because that is a very sacred thing, it is the most sacred. It is our life, as one says. That is why nowadays one gives things other names. One changes everything. Only when they return home, then they call everything again what it is.

When everything is ready, when all the symbols which we take with us, the gourd bowls, the yarn discs, the arrows, everything has been made, when all have prayed together we set out. Then we must change everything, all the meanings. For instance: a pot which is black and round, it is called a head. It is the mara'akáme who directs everything. He is the one who listens in his dream, with his power and knowledge. He speaks to Tatewarí, he speaks to Kauyumari. Kauyumari tells him everything, how it must be. Then he says to his companions, if he is the leader of the journey to the peyote, look, this thing is this way, and this is how it must be done. He tells them, look, now we will change everything, all the meanings, because that is the way it must be with the hikuritámete. As it was in ancient times, so that all can be united. As it was long ago, before the time of my grandfather, even before the time of his grandfather. So the mara'akáme has to see  to everything, so that as much as possible all the words are changed. Only when one comes home, then everything can be changed back again to the way it was.

"Look," the mara'akáme says to them, "it is when you say 'good morning,' you mean 'good evening,' everything is backwards. You say 'goodbye, I am leaving you,' but you are really coming. You do not shake hands, you shake feet. You hold out your right foot to be shaken by the foot of your companion. You say 'good afternoon,' yet it is only morning."

So the mara'akáme tells them, as he has dreamed it. He dreams it differently each time. Every year they change the names of things differently because every year the mara'akáme dreams new names. Even if it is the same mara'akáme who leads the journey, he still changes the names each time differently.

And he watches who makes mistakes because there must be no error. One must use the names the mara'akáme has dreamed. Because if one makes an error it is not right. That is how it is. It is a beautiful thing because it is right. Daily, daily, the mara'akáme goes explaining everything to them so that they do not make mistakes. The mara'akáme says to a companion, "Look, why does that man over there watch us, why does he stare at us?" And then he says, "Look, what is it he has to stare at us?" "His eyes," says his companion. "No," the mara'akáme answers, "they are not his eyes, they are tomatoes." That is how he goes explaining how everything should be called.

When one makes cigarettes for the journey, one uses the dried husks of maize for the wrappings. And the tobacco, it is called the droppings of ants. Tortillas one calls bread. Beans one calls fruit from a tree. Maize is wheat. Water is tequila. Instead of saying, "Let us go and get water to drink," you say, "Ah, let us take tequila to eat." Atole, that is brains. Sandals are cactus. Fingers are sticks. Hair, that is cactus fiber. The moon, that is a cold sun.

On all the trails on which we travel to the peyote country, as we see different things we make this change. That is why the peyote is very sacred, very sacred. That is why it is reversed. Therefore, when we see a dog, it is a cat, or it is a coyote. Ordinarily, when we see a dog, it is just a dog, but when we walk for the peyote it is a cat or a coyote or even something else, as the mara'akáme dreams it. When we see a burro, it is not a burro, it is a cow, or a horse. And when we see a horse, it is something else. When we see a dove or a small bird of some kind, is it a small bird? No, the mara'akáme syas, it is an eagle, it is a hawk. Or a piglet, it is not a piglet, it is an armadillo. When we hunt the deer, which is very sacred, it is not a deer, on this journey. It is a lamb, or a cat. And the nets for catching deer? They are called sewing thread.

When we say come, it means go away. When we say "shh, quiet," it means to shout, and when we whistle or call to the front we are really calling to a person behind us. We speak in this direction here. That one over there turns because he already knows how it is, how everything is reversed. To say, "Let us stay here," means to go, "let us go," and when we say "sit down," we mean, "stand up." It is also when we have crossed over, when we are in the country of the peyote. Even the peyote is called by another name, as the mara'akáme dreamed. Then the peyote is flower or something else.

It is so with Tatewarí, with Tayaupa. The mara'akáme, we call him Tatewarí. He is Tatewarí, he who leads us. But there in Wirikuta, one says something else. One calls him "the red one." And Tayaupa, he "the shining one." So all is changed. Our companion who is old, he is called the child. Our companion who is young, he is the old one. When we want to speak of the machete, we say "hook." When one speaks of wood, one really means fish. Begging your pardon, instead of saying "to eat," we say "to defecate." And, begging your pardon, "I am going to urinate" means "I am going to drink water." When speaking of blowing one's nose, one says "give me the honey." "He is deaf" means "how well he hears." So everything is changed, everything is different or backwards.

The mara'akáme goes explaining how everything should be said, everything, many times, or his companions would forget and make errors. In the later afternoon, when all are gathered around Tatewarí, we all pray there, and the mara'akáme tells how it should be. So for instance he says, "Do not speak of this one or that one as serious. Say he is a jaguar. You see an old woman and her face is all wrinkled, coming from afar, do not say, 'Ah, there is a man,' say 'Ah, here comes a wooden image.' You say, 'Here comes the image of Santo Cristo.' Or if it is a woman coming, say 'Ah, here comes the image of Guadalupe.'"

Women, you call flowers. For the woman's skirts, you say, "bush," and for her blouse you say "palm roots." And a man's clothing, that too is changed. His clothing, you call his fur. His hat, that is a mushroom. Or it is his sandal. Begging your pardon, but what we carry down here, the testicles, they are called avocados. And the penis, that is his nose. That is how it is.

When we come back with the peyote, the peyote which has been hunted, they make a ceremony and everything is changed back again. And those who are at home, when one returns they grab one and ask, "What is it you called things? How is it that now you call the hands hands but when you left you called them feet?" Well, it is because they have changed the names back again. And they all want to know what they called things. One tells them, and there is laughter. That is how it is. Because it must be as it was said in the beginning, in ancient times.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gerrit Lansing, "The Curve"

how one incurs
                           the burden of a city
                                                                                 and Indians!

                  this is where I came in

                                    by the pest-house, through the old woods
                                    (not over that flubbery span no sentinal owns

                  comes into one’s own                                    reality
                                    making the place by pacing the place, live
                                    (or live,         change vowel eye,          heart

                  the stature commensurate
                  to the gist of the nation,
                  imagination                                                                . . . . .

again the curve, the way it slants in,

                  the lay of the land
                  unseen but by
                                                                                 Indians!        then
(thanks ever be to Charles Olson for “Indians!”                   then

                                                                                                         . . . . .

                  the alien eyes, mine eyes have seen the,

         mine eyes alien
                  not Indian!
                                                               outer planetary!

                  were keener for the curve,
                  how wolves and lions came in
      (“some affirme that they have seene a Lyon
         at Cape Anne which is not above six leagues from Boston”

                                                                                                           . . . . .

so I round another man’s measure to round out my own:

                                                      to speak of “discovera”

         the pristine we work to inherit,

                                                                 native lode

                                                                                   to shoot out again,

         is not to make up,
                                                                 some queer hemisphaera,

         it is to smell
         to dig with the hand
         to demonstrate

                                             and at least

                           to reclaim
                           to come in

                                             like Indians!

                                                                            on this curve

from the ravening wood

                                                   to a city

                                                   we once could be citizens of.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Josh Stanley, "Werewolf With," from Cinema Trip

Werewolf With:       Each of us has the little name of a god,
                                    non-money in love barking over the sod.
                                    At the end of my teeth is another way to live:
                                    star muesli shared, we receive each time we give.
                                    I keep needing it beyond the infinity,
                                    name names name, oil the joint you give to me
                                    broken like a T of red and black money
                                    gargoyle snort farm land in simple fee
                                    gave do past part market dominance
                                    luck not the name of prophecy –
                                    for all the dead to life do in fire dance,
                                    hell-bent utile res household life negativity.
                                    Putting spirits in the angels. The clouds. Head out at first chance.
                                    Searchlight comes early with Old Capital’s advance.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Robert Kelly, "The Extense"

deer leaping
in the field we
walk through
such a day
such a sight
Sunday the
white tail a
brown eye
full of fright

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Joseph Ceravolo, "Transmigration Solo"

               See the black bird
               in that tree
               trying out the branches, puzzled.
               I am up here with you
               puzzled against the rain
               blinking my eyes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hilda Morley, "The Lizard"

The lizard’s heart throbs
faster than mine through his
green spots.
                           With prehistoric
claws he seeks his shelter
in the shadow of the vine,
                                             his head
to one side in watchfulness.
                                               Measure it:
observe the suspense. He is
anchored to it—the fear of danger—& we are
anchored to nothing.
                                    Though the Spaniard finds
in San Juan Bautista’s effigies his satisfaction
without knowing why,
                                      we seek out the mystery: to learn
                                                               to care
and how much,
                              for even the bicycle
on the white wall may be a glyph
                                                                   and magical
                                             But my heart
beats slower than the lizard’s,
the dead to rise up
our own tears to bewilder us.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Frank Herbert, from Soul Catcher

It had begun when his name was Charles Hobuhet, a good Indian name for a Good Indian.

The bee had alighted, after all, on the back of Charles Hobuhet’s left hand. There had been no one named Katsuk then. He had been reaching up to grasp a vine maple limb, climbing from a creek bottom in the stillness of midday.

The bee was black and gold, a bee from the forest, a bumblebee of the family Apidae. Its name fled buzzing through his mind, a memory from days in the white school.

Somewhere above him, a ridge came down toward the Pacific out of the Olympic Mountains like the gnarled root of an ancient spruce clutching the earth for support.

The sun would be warm up there, but winter’s chill in the creek bottom slid its icy way down the watercourse from the mountains to these spring-burgeoning foothills.

Cold came with the bee, too. It was a special cold that put ice in the soul.

Still Charles Hobuhet’s soul then.

But he had performed the ancient ritual with twigs and string and bits of bone. The ice from the bee told him he must take a name. Unless he took a name immediately, he stood in peril of losing both souls, the soul in his body and the soul that went high or low with his true being.

The stillness of the bee on his hand made this obvious. He sensed urgent ghosts: people, animals, birds, all with him in this bee.

He whispered: “Alkuntam, help me.”

The supreme god of his people made no reply.

Shiny green of the vine maple trunk directly in front of him dominated his eyes. Ferns beneath it splayed out fronds. Condensation fell like rain on the damp earth. He forced himself to turn away, stared across the creek at a stand of alders bleached white against heavy green of cedar and fir on the stream’s far slope.

A quaking aspen, its leaves adither among the alders, dazzled his awareness, pulled his mind. He felt abruptly that he had found another self which must be reasoned with, influenced, and understood. He lost clarity of mind and sensed both selves straining toward some pure essence. All sense of self slipped from his body, searched outward into the dazzling aspen.

He thought: I am in the center of the universe!

Bee spoke to him then: “I am Tamanawis speaking to you. . . .”

The words boomed in his awareness, telling him his name. He spoke it aloud:

“Katsuk! I am Katsuk.”


It was a seminal name, one with potency.

Now, being Katsuk, he knew all its meanings. He was Ka-, the prefix for everything human. He was –tsuk, the bird of myth. A human bird! He possessed roots in many meanings: bone, the color blue, a serving dish, smoke… brother and soul.

Once more, he said it: “I am Katsuk.”

Both selves flowed home to the body.

He stared at the miraculous bee on his hand. A bee had been the farthest thing from his expectations. He had been climbing, just climbing.

If there were thoughts in his mind, they were thoughts of his ordeal. It was the ordeal he had set for himself out of grief, out of the intellectual delight in walking through ancient ideas, out of the fear that he had lost his way in the white world. But a spirit had spoken to him.

A true and ancient spirit.

Deep within his innermost being he knew that intellect and education, even the white education, had been his first guides on this ordeal.

He thought now, as Charles Hobuhet, he had begun this thing. He had waited for the full moon and cleansed his intestines by drinking seawater. He had found a land otter and cut out its tongue.

Kuschtaliute—the symbol tongue!

His grandfather had explained the way of it long ago, describing the ancient lore. Grandfather had said: “The shaman becomes the spirit-animal-man. God won’t let animals make the mistakes men make.”

That was the way of it.

He had carried Kuschtaliute in a deer scrotum pouch around his neck. He had come into these mountains. He had followed an old elk trail grown over with alder and fir and cottonwood. The setting sun had been at his back when he had buried Kuschtaliute beneath a rotten log. He had buried Kuschtaliute in a place he never again could find, there to become the spirit tongue.

All of this in anguish of spirit.

He thought: It began because of the rape and pointless death of my sister. The death of Janiktaht… little Jan.

He shook his head, confused by an onslaught of memories. Somewhere a gang of drunken loggers had found Janiktaht walking alone, her teen-aged body full of spring happiness, and they raped her and changed her and she had killed herself.

And her brother had become a walker-in-the-mountains.

The other self within him, the one which must be reasoned with and understood, sneered at him and said: “Rape and suicide are as old as mankind. Besides, that was Charles Hobuhet’s sister. You are Katsuk.”

He thought then as Katsuk: Lucretius was a liar! Science doesn’t liberate man from the terror of the gods!

Everything around him revealed this truth—the sun moving across the ridges, the ranges of drifing glouds, the rank vegetation.

White science had begun with magic and never moved far from it. Science continually failed to learn from lack of results. The ancient ways retained their potency. Despite sneers and calumny, the old ways achieved what the legends said they would.

His grandmother had been of the Eagle Phratry. And a bee had spoken to him. He had scrubbed his body with hemlock twigs until the skin was raw. He had caught his hair in a headband of red cedar bark. He had eaten only the roots of devil’s club until the ribs poked from his flesh.

How long had he been walking in these mountains?

He thought back to all the distance he had covered: ground so sodden that water oozed up at each step, heavy branches overhead that shut out the sun, undergrowth so thick he could see only a few body lengths in any direction. Somewhere, he had come through a tangled salmonberry thicket to a stream flowing in a canyon, deep and silent. He had followed that stream upward to vaporous heights… upward… upward. The stream had become a creek, this creek below him.

This place.

Something real was living in him now.

Abruptly, he sensed all of his dead ancestors lusting after this living experience. His mind lay pierced by the sudden belief, by unending movement beneath the common places of life, by an alertness which never varied, night or day. He knew this bee!

He said: “You are Kwatee, the Changer.”

“And what are you?”

“I am Katsuk.”

What are you?” The question thundered at him.

He put down terror, thought: Thunder is not angry. What frightens animals need not frighten a man. What am I?

The answer came to him as one of his ancestors would have known it. He said: “I am one who followed the ritual with care. I am one who did not really expect to find the spirit power.”

“Now you know.”

All of this thinking turned over, became as unsettled as a pool muddied by a big fish. What do I know?

The air around him continued full of dappled sunlight and the noise and spray from the creek. The mushroom-punk smell of a rotten log filled his nostrils. A stately, swaying leaf shadow brushed purple across the bee on his hand, withdrew.

He emptied his mind of everything except what he needed to know from the spirit poised upon his hand. He lay frozen in the-moment-of-the-bee. Bee was graceful, fat, and funny. Bee aroused a qualm of restless memories, rendered his senses abnormally acute. Bee. . . .

And image of Janiktaht overcame his mind. Misery filled him right out to the the skin. Janiktaht—sixty nights dead. Sixty nights since she had ended her shame and hopelessness in the sea.

He had a vision of himself moaning beside Janiktaht’s open grave, drunk with anguish, the swaying wind of the forest all through his flesh.

Awareness recoiled. He thought of himself as the had been once, as a boy heedlessly happy on the beach, following the tide mark. He remembered a piece of driftwood like a dead hand outspread on the sand.

Had that been driftwood?

He felt the peril of letting his thoughts flow. Who knew where they might go? Janiktaht’s image faded, vanished as thought of its own accord. He tried to recall her face. It fled him through a blurred vision of young hemlock… a moss-floored stand of trees where nine drunken loggers had dragged her to… one after another, to. . . .

Something had happened to flesh which his mind no longer could contemplate without being scoured out, denuded of everything except a misshapen object that the ocean had cast up on a curve of beach where once he had played.

He felt like an old pot, all emotion scraped out. Everything eluded him except the spirit on the back of his hand. He thought:

We are like bees, my people—broken into many pieces, but the pieces remain dangerous.

In that instant, he realized that this creature on his hand must be much more than Changer—far, far more than Kwatee.

It is Soul Catcher!

Terror and elation warred with him. This was the greatest of the spirits. It had only to sting him and he would be invaded by a terrible thing. He would become the bee of his people. He would do a terrifying thing, a dangerous thing, a deadly thing. Hardly daring to breathe, he waited.

Would Bee never move? Would they remain in this way for all eternity? His mind felt drawn tight, as tense as a bow pulled to its utmost breaking point. All of his emotions lay closed up in blackness without inner light or outer light—a sky of nothingness within him.

He thought: How strange for a creature so tiny to exist as such spirit power, to be such spirit power—Soul Catcher!

One moment there had been no bee on his flesh. Now, it stood there as though flung into creation by a spray of sunlight, brushed by leaf shadow, the shape of it across a vein, darkness of the spirit against dark skin.

A shadow across his being.

He saw Bee with intense clarity: the swollen abdomen, the stretched gossamer of wings, the pollen dust on the legs, the barbed arrow of the stinger.

The message of this moment floated through his awareness, a clear flute sound. If the spirit went away peacefully, that would signal reprieve. He could return to the university. Another year, in the week of his twenty-sixth birthday, he would take his doctorate in anthropology. He would shake off this terrifying wildness which had invaded him at Janiktaht’s death. He would become the imitation white man, lost to these mountains and the needs of his people.

This thought saddened him. If the spirit left him, it would take both of his souls. Without souls, he would die. He could not outlast the sorrows which engulfed him.

Slowly, with ancient deliberation, Bee turned short of his knuckles. It was the movement of an orator gauging his audience. Faceted eyes included the human in their focus. Bee’s thorax arched, abdomen tipped, and he knew a surge of terror in the realization that he had been chosen.

The stinger slipped casually into his nerves, drawing his thoughts, inward, inward. . . .

He heard the message of Tamanawis, the greatest of spirits, as a drumbeat matching the beat of his heart: “You must find a white. You must find a total innocent. You must kill an innocent of the whites. Let your deed fall upon this world. Let your deed be a single, heavy hand which clutches the heart. The whites must feel it. They must hear it. An innocent for all of our innocents.

Having told him what he must do, Bee took flight.

His gaze followed the flight, lost it in the leafery of the vine maple copse far upslope. He sensed then a procession of ancestral ghosts insatiate in their demands. All of those who had gone before him remained an unchanging field locked immovably into his past, a field against which he could see himself change.

Kill an innocent!

Sorrow and confusion dried his mouth. He felt parched in his innermost being, withered.

The sun crossing over the high ridge to keep its appointment with the leaves in the canyon touched his shoulders, his eyes. He knew he had been tempted and had gone through a locked door into a region of terrifying power. To hold this power he would have to come to terms with that other self inside him. He could be only one person—Katsuk.

He said: “I am Katsuk.”

The words brought calm. Spirits of air and earth were with him as they had been for his ancestors. He resumed climbing the slope. His movements aroused a flying squirrel. It glided from a high limb to a low one far below. He felt the life all around him then: brown movements hidden in greenery, life caught suddenly in stop-motion by his presence.

He thought: Remember me, creatures of this forest. Remember Katsuk as the whole world will remember him. I am Katsuk. Ten thousand nights from now, ten thousand seasons from now, this world still will remember Katsuk and his meaning.