V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





    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



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