To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shaking the Pumpkin (1): Four Poems for Coyote

(by Simon Ortiz)

Old Coyote …
“If he hadn’t looked back
everything would have been okay
… like he wasn’t supposed to,
but he did,
and as soon as he did, he lost all his power,
his strength.”

“… you know, Coyote
is in the origin and all the way
through … he’s the cause
of the trouble, the hard times
that things have …”

“Yet, he came so close
to having it easy,
But he said,
“Things are just too easy …”
Of course he was mainly bragging,
shooting his mouth.
The existential Man,
Dostoevsky Coyote.

. . . . . . .


One day when Coyote
was walking through Snoqualmie Pass,
he met a young woman.

What do you have in your pack?
she said.

Fish eggs.

Can I have some?

If you close your eyes
and hold up your dress.

The woman did as she was told.

Hold your dress over your head.

Then Coyote stepped out of his trousers
and walked up to the woman.

Stand still
so I can reach the place.

I can't.
There's something crawling between my legs.

Keep your dress up.
It's a bumble bee. I'll get it

The woman dropped her dress.

You weren't fast enough.
It stung me.

English version by Carl Cary


In the old times women's cunts had teeth in them.
It was hard to be a man then.
Watching your squaw squat down to dinner.
Hearing the little rabbit bones crackle.
Whenever fucking was invented it died with the inventor.
If your woman said she felt like biting you didn't take it lightly.
Maybe you just ran away to fight Numuzoho the Cannibal.

Coyote was the one who fixed things.
He fixed those toothy women!
One night he took Numuzoho's lava pstle
To bed with a mean woman
And hammer hammer crunch crunch ayi ayi
All night long.
"Husband, I am glad," she said
And all the rest is history.
To honor him we wear our necklace of fangs.

English version by Jarold Ramsey

Nez Perce

Ravening Coyote comes,
red hands, red mouth,
necklace of eye-balls!

Mad Coyote
madly sings,
then the wind roars!

Daybreak finds me,
eastern daybreak finds me
the meaning of that song:
with blood-stained mouth
comes mad Coyote!

Translation by Herbert J. Spinden


Coyote appears here & elsewhere in the familiar role of primordial shit-thrower, cock-erupter, etc., to satisfy the need for all that in the full pantheon of essential beings. No merely horny version of a Disney character, he is (like other tricksters in tribal America: Rabbit, Raven, Spider, Bluejay, Mink, Flint, Glooscap, Saynday, etc.) the product of a profound & comic imagination playing upon the realities of man & nature. Thus, as Jung writes about the Winnebago Trickster in that now-famous essay: he is “absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness … a psyche that has hardly left the animal level … [but] god, man and animal at once … both sub- and super-human … an expression [therefore] of the polaristic structure of the psyche, which like any other energic system is dependent on the tension of opposites.” Like any genuine poetry system too.

The good-of-him, which should be more apparent after the “counter culture” [now forty years & more in the past – J.R.], is at least three-fold:

(1) to find a place for what – as animals, children, etc. – we were & are: to be aware of, even to enjoy, the very thing that scares us with threats of madness, loss of self, etc.

(2) to ridicule our ordinary behaviors by breaking (vicariously at least) their hold on us: to punch holes in established authority ( = the way things are) so as not to be its forever silent victims.

(3) where Trickster is creator too, to explain the dangers inherent in reality itself – of a world, that is, that must have such gods at its inception: or as an old Ten’a Indian said to John Chapman: “The Creator made all things good, but the Raven ( = Trickster) introduced confusion.”

[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years. While I’ve been engaged with other projects, big & small, I haven’t been able to work toward getting it back in print. But that may now be changing, & in the meantime excerpts will continue here. – J.R.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This might be a day late and a dollar short but thanks for posting these. I was just browsing your site and noticed. I love these old Indian tales of coyote - read *some* of them to my daughters.