Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Boy Is Found

The Boy Is Found. This excerpt is from my upcoming book, Shoodii Bill.

HUNKERED DOWN BEHIND a creosote bush, his thirst and shaking limbs held him fast. With a quick jerk of his head, he flipped his greasy hair out of his face. He rocked back and forth on his haunches. The sound of the approaching wagon now carried a voice, brassy and annoyed. Cutting his eyes, he searched for an escape. Creosote bushes as far as he could see. The wagon came on. Banging and groaning. A different voice rose and fell a softer, kinder voice. Animals blew and snorted. It was too late to run. He hunkered down lower to hide.
The sunbaked wagon, loaded with goods to trade, drawn by a team of struggling mules, shadowy in the low light, hove into sight. A man sat humped in the shoulders, his hat pulled down over his hidden face, making sawing motions with the lines in his hands. A woman sat stooped on the seat beside him. She took refuge under a large straw hat more to block the blowing sand than to shield her from the light that now ran low and golden across the ground. She looked fretful. The man, his face flushed from the heat and frustration, goaded the drowsy mules with whistles and yelps. The mules pressed on against their harness.
“Whoa,” the man’s cracked voice cut through the air. The wagon rested beside the bush where the boy crouched. The wagon wheels settled into the sand.
“It smells like rain,” the woman said. Her posture stiffened as she shielded her eyes. She gazed at the distant mountains now in near purple silhouette.
Tears welled up behind the boy’s gluey eyelids. Lightness overcame him as he threw back his head and let out in a high pitched, “Yip, yip, yip. . .”
The mules reacted with jerking heads and rattling chains. The woman let out her own yipping noise, while the man, who had fetched two water buckets, cursed, dropped the buckets and struggled to bring a shotgun to bear. The boy whined.
 “Wait!” the woman said, stuttering, “That’s a child.”
The man raised his sighting eye above the notch of the shotgun’s barrel and peered at the naked boy.  “I’ll be go to hell if it ain’t . . . .,” he said.
“Don’t be throwing curses around,” the woman said.
“I could a-swore it was a coyote.” He knitted his brow and dropped the end of the shotgun barrel, pointing it to the ground.

“Don’t just stand there Horatio, do something. That poor thing looks near cooked to death. Fetch some water.”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The story of Shoodii Bill begins:

The Raven Tells Coyote, “Run To The Mountain To Be a Man.”

TURQUOISE AND SILVERY as the dying sky, a rubbery lizard skittered across the ground to mount a rock still holding heat from the mid-day sun. From the rim of the Gila Mountains, copper light poured onto the desert glinting on creosote bushes, throwing long purple shadows lacey and cool. Cicada’s raspy reverberations rode on invisible heat-waves. Sand swirled and trickled along the ground. It smelled like rain. However, it was the deceiving scent of creosote bushes in their full heat-soaked flowering.
Naked, filthy, and blackened as dark as a raven, a child scampered on all fours for shade and the promise of water. His pulse raced. His chest tightened. Like an overwrought pup, he whimpered when no water was found. The skin on his hands and feet, blistered and scraped raw from the sand no ­longer plagued him as much as the flies that teemed and swarmed the scabbed over corners of his eyes and mouth.
Just then, a raven swooped down and landed beside him. Golden light flashed off its feathers. It strutted. It humped up and fluffed out. Fanning out its tail feathers it shook off the heat.
Squinting, the child angled away from the suspect bird. Not having the strength to run, the sweltered child cocked his head to the side. He turned his gummy-lidded eyes to the bird. In a strained voice, he spoke to it in a garble. Not Apache, something else.
You said there was water here.”
Full of bluster, the raven twitched its head and blinked its beady black eyes and then it said, “Can you not smell the water, Shik’isn Ba’ ts’ose?”
The child sat back on his haunches. Closing his eyes, he drew hot air and the tricking smell of the creosote bush in through his nose.
Trickster,” he huffed, and then he rubbed his cracked lips with the back of his hand.
No more than you,” said the raven, bitingly. “But look there. I have brought you to food.” With that, the raven fluffed out its feathers, humped up again and then flew away with goading squawks and raucous laughter that echoed in the spicy air.
Reaching out, the child grabbed for a grasshopper perched on a sticky leaf. It snapped away. A leg broke off in his fingers. But then the doomed insect bounced off a yellow flower in its attempt to make for freedom, and the boy caught it. Crunching it, he chewed with his hand covering his mouth. And then he gorged on the crickets that gathered around the base of the bush.
Soon, the raven returned. The child’s stomach quivered.
Remember my kindness to you,” said the raven. “Yonder come White Eyes flush with water.”
Having never seen White Eyes, he bared his teeth and raised his head and strained his vision. His thirst narrowed his throat and squeezed his chest. It heaved with each tortuous breath. He saw no one, a mirage—yellow-green—wavered in the low light.  And then he heard the rattle of chains and the groan of a wagon and the blowing of struggling animals.
It’s time for you to change into a boy, Shik’sin Ba’ts’ose,” said the raven.
The child held out a fat, red-eyed cicada pinched between his raw fingers. “I know you hoped to eat my eyes instead, but here.”

 “I will have them soon enough.” Taking the whirring cicada in its beak and before the raven flew away, it said, “Never forget who you are, Shik’sin Ba’ts’ose, never forget…” 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today i'm posting the coyote and raven myth that comes up first in my new book, Shoodii Bill. This poem is based on a cautionary children's story that i wrote many years ago as, The Raven Shirt. After the poem, the story of Shoodii Bill begins. I'll post that later.

In the Moon of the Great Ghost Face

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the Mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
Coyotero Apache dwell.
Wiciup of willow and grass;
Bluestem, bear grass, lashed with yucca.
Hide and smoke, and vessels of clay,
Burden baskets willow woven,
Devil’s claw adorned, buckskin trimmed,
Bears all; food, wood, and swaddled babes.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
Ishkiin a boy, and a dreamer;
Dreams night and day of taking flight.
Awake, asleep, he dreams to fly.
Nighttime he slumbers among the stars.
He slumbers, he dreams, and he soars.
In dreams he blazes through the sky,
A shooting star, streaking the night.
Dawn creeps in, slides into his eyes.
A shifting feeling near his heart,
Drumming his heartbeat of longings.
A new day, a new day to dream,
Quickening breathlessness, yearnings.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
Sycamore, walnut, maple, ash,
Cottonwood, alder, and willow.
Gurgling croaks and scratchy caws;
Ravens like black seeds flung skyward,
Skyward into the gloomy face.
A face gray with winter’s warning.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
Cold, biting ice and blowing snow.
Ishkiin’s heart throbs, gallops, and flies.
Arms unfurl, fingers touch the wind.
Leaning into the swirl of snow,
To be a raven, to soar high,
Fingers aching, tingling to fly.
His heart thuds dully in his chest,
Arms too heavy to lift or move.
Heat and tears well behind his eyes,
Spill and freeze upon his brown cheeks.
Oh, to touch the raven’s wing…

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
Upon his bear grass bed he lays,
Underneath his warm, red-wolf robe.
Threads of smoke from embers trailing,
Ascend like prayers through the smoke hole.
Sleep will not come—dreams forsaken.

A rustle in the shadows move.
Ishkiin stirs live embers for light.
To the willow a raven clings.
In the shadows, feathers ruffle.
Shike’ dahnnah, you follow me.”
The raven’s eyes flash in the dark.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Upon the banks for the Gila,
Moccasin dance in the new snow.
Vapors of warm breath float and swirl,
He pulls his robe against the cold.
Upon the wiciup the bird clings.

Ishkiin, you are the boy who flies?”
The boy’s tongue lay mute in his mouth.
Hasidah, hasidah,” it said,
“You climb up there, Ishkiin, up there.”
Ba’ ts’ose, a shaman dwells,
Ba’ ts’ose, coyote knows.
Bayani’, elderly one knows.”

The boy’s heart froze, and then it pounds.
Still his tongue lay dead in his mouth.
His thoughts scramble to understand.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Upon the banks of the Gila,
The mountain’s breath stirs the hoar frost,
Grown crystalline in the snow.
Biting cold nips inside his nose,
Vapors erupt with each footfall.
His muscles clinch along his jaw.

Upon the mountain he ascends.
Laboring tracks trail in the snow.
Sycamore, walnut, maple, ash,
Cottonwood, alder and willow.
Up through the pinyon-juniper,
Through the darkness of the tall pine,
Past the feathery topped spruce-fur,
Up above the quaking aspen,
Moccasin feet tread through the snow.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
Hunkered down by a small fire,
Sheltered in an ancient dwelling,
Ishkiin unearths Ba’ ts’ose.

A shaman sheltered from the cold,
Eerie eyes in the glow of light,
Age-old eyes, eyes of dark magic.
Fragrant piney-pinion embers
Sending threads of smoke heaven bound
Mix with the smell of dried nettles,
Jimson weed, roots, and earth odor.

“You are Ishkiin, the boy who flies?”
His cracked voice carries forewarning;
A shaman, trickster, coyote.
Ba’ ts’ose tosses wood to flame,
Burning brightly in the kiva.
Quivering shadows jump and dance;
Glowing orange in the kiva.
Painted creatures and shaman show,
Painted walls of magical dreams.
The warmth settles Ishkiin’s sad heart,
Rubbing his hands and aching legs.

Ba’ ts’ose takes from the shadows
A painted parfleche he opens.
A hide shirt, quilled with raven dreams;
Dreams of magic raven rising.
Adorned with feathers black as raven,
Ba’ ts’ose holds the magic shirt.
Raven shirt, mystic shirt, dreamlike.
Ishkiin wears the magical skin,
Spreading his arms, the feathers stream.

Clay vessels born of earth and fire,
Formed and smoked and etched with outline.
Held colored sand ground for magic.
White gypsum crushed, yellow ochre,
Charcoal and gypsum render blue,
Red sandstone and charcoal yields brown,
Browns of the earth, blues of the sky.
Sandstone and gypsum makes dawn’s blush.
Flower pollen of rainbow hues,
Corn meal pigment and roots and bark.
To be a sacred dream painting.
To chant, dance, and seek a vision.

Ba’ ts’ose makes his magic.
With four sacred feathers in hand,
Ishkiin sways, hops, shuffling feet,
Chanting a song from Ba’ ts’ose.
Colored sand dances in the dirt,
Raven’s image appears slowly,
Encircled by sacred feathers,
Colors of the four directions,
Colors of the sacred sun,
Colors of the sacred moon,
Trickle between nimble fingers.

Ba’ ts’ose sings his divine chant,
Ishkiin twirls, encircles with dance,
In the orange glow of the Kiva.
Night to day and then day to night,
All the while he seeks a vision.

On the third night, the wind blows cold,
Pinion wood embers blush glowingly.
Ba’ ts’ose rises from his crouch,
His fingers stained with earth’s colors.
Trembling, Ishkiin’s eyes sparkle,
Gleaming with expectation.
Guided to the sacred painting,
He rests on the magical image.
Emptiness gnaws at his stomach.
He fights faintness, twitchy muscles,
Quivering heart, quickening breath.
Ba’ ts’ose chants and fans smudged smoke.
Purified with sage and cedar,
A new song to raven he sings,
A new song to bring the vision.

Ishkiin feels the magic power.
His eyes close, his breath comes quickly.
Soon, he is envisaging dreams.
Flight, flight enchanting and tranquil.
In his vision he’s a raven.

Mountain breath blows through the kiva
Howling low, stirring the magic.
Colors of the four directions
Swirl and drift, mix and blow away.

Ishkiin stirs, awakens, startled.
Cold wind drifts snow in the kiva.
Shimmering eyes scan the shadows.
The shaman, Ba’ ts’ose has gone.
Deserted, he stretches his arms;
Quivering arms, feathered and black.
Could it be his vision came true?

Ishkiin has become a raven?
His heart’s desire, his longings filled?
With his long feathered arms outstretched
His heart is light and he ascends.

From the kiva, the raven wings.
The raven, who was the boy, rises,
Soaring into the cold dusky sky;
A sky of gloom, a dreary sky,
A vast open sky to discover.

Over the brow of the mountain,
Above the crest, the snowy peak,
Crowning the summit with eagles.
The moon’s face watches from above.
Night to day and then day to night,
All the while he lives his vision,
Taking wing in his endless flight.

The boundless night gives way to dawn.
Morning’s blush; sandstone and gypsum.
Come the first light, Ishkiin settles,
Shivering from the bitter cold.
Into the new dawn, ice-covered,
The thrill of flight wans with hunger.

“Oh, what fate is this?” the boy cries.
“I no longer desire to fly.
I want to be a boy again!”
Tears glistening in Ishkiin’s eyes.

Taking wing he sets out for home.
Gliding down the rocky cliff face,
Soaring by the quaking aspen,
Past the feathery topped spruce-fur,
Through the snow covered tall pine trees,
Down through the pinyon-juniper;
Sycamore, walnut, maple, ash,
Cottonwood, alder and willow.

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,
The coming dawn guides his flight home.
Wiciups bathed in blue sunlight,
Smoke, heaven bound, trails through smoke holes.
Outside his wiciup, he calls,
Haighah, come out! Come out!”
Ba’ ts’ose, appears as the boy.
Wearing the red-wolf robe, he smiles.
“You are Ishkiin, the boy who flies.”

“Coyote, shaman, you trickster,
The People will see through your hoax.
Change me back, coyote, change me.”

 “The People see you, boy, not me.
And they see a raven, not you.
Now you want back what you had?
But that you will not have again.
I know the song to sing to change,
And frozen in the snow you sit.
You are Ishkiin, the boy who flies.”

In the moon of the great ghost face,
In the shadow of the mountain,
Along the banks of the Gila,

Flies a raven, who was a boy.