GIFT OF MORNING WATER
After the long night with a cold wind riffling the
scrim of the teepee lit like a lantern in the deserted prairie, a night
of chills in the small of the back, aches in crossed legs, after all
the hours of chanting from Indians and Anglos, after their drumming on
the iron kettle stretched with hide, its water-filled belly bellowing
when tipped, after the prayers sung for forgiveness, for guidance from
the grandfather peyote on the crescent of sand, after chewing bitter
buttons, swallowing dry powder, after the drumming and the singing and
the sweet sage thrown on the image-dancing fire, as the embers died and
dawn finally rinsed the top of the tent, the Road Chief, an elderly
Tiwa who throughout the night had asked "Him" to show us the right
road, said: "A woman is coming with morning water. Listen to
her. She is your mother."
An old, pueblo woman crawled through the tent flap,
short of breath and shoving before her on the teepee sand a steel
bucket, water sloshing, ladle clanking, and I turned with exhaustion,
with disappointment, for all night long I had sat eating the
"medicine," going out only once under the huge, roaring stars to take a
piss and return, and nothing, really, had happened.
And then she spoke with puffy, tired lips, said,
"You have done a good thing here tonight. Drink this water and be
refreshed" and every syllable that came from her was perfectly the
voice of my own mother, dead for many years. Stunned, sitting
there hunched as the bucket came around to me, I raised its ladle and
drank and then wept hard at hearing her voice again.
I have a friend in Vermont who, for a full week
after his father's death, kept calling the family answering machine,
just to hold on a bit longer to his father's voice. And here I
was made a gift I hadn't known how much I wanted, the voice that called
my name on the first morning of my life.
© by John Balaban