To My Students, Perhaps All Students
Sit around this circle, imagine a dead pig or something
fresh at the center, and I am the old hunter, and you are back from an early outing.
You are young hunters—and terrible. Iragiwi shot Momou in the foot, good thing
he forgot the curare. And most of you broke silence and laughed
as he tumbled through the branches—
while it’s my job to worry about our numbers and the rest.
What the hell, yours is an ancient laughter, I know, old as cruelty, cruel as mercy,
and I know there are other words, other lip-bared teeth called smiles;
I know that the spirits can name only when they fight and tell each other lies;
I know we are finite, I know I got this pig in the head when I’d aimed for his haunch.
I know Momou will replace me in a year, if he survives his training; and that Iragiwi
will take us to war, and half of you will die because he never could stand up
to the ritual club on the pate, never understood where to slip the pain, the pride, the rage—
even his hand, like all our hands—if only he had pockets.
These hands the spirits think resemble varmints in a cage,
all aflutter and aflow—the very hands that shape and send prayers.
I know even what I’ll never need to know, that comes of being this old hunter—Doesn’t
concern me, I say as I step around some piece of metal fallen from some other world. Pretty,
and cuts well, but introduces a useless magic, in my opinion; and step over this other piece
of ludic thing, brown and quick but enduring. Like little bits of lake, hard as nail.
This they call a mirror, where the mimi spirits sneak to its portal then dart away,
return, shift, and finally take on one’s own eye. A nasty sort of fish. And limited, too
cornered in the dream pot—someone’s dream sure lies shattered here; those giant
crumpled shields some say are the fallen wings of hollow birds harboring gods.
I ask you, who doesn’t know when he sees the spirit snatch his eye thus,
that it’s not a trick? If you don’t know that, age won’t help.
So, knowing all this I say to you, my young hunters,
what can you expect, third time out?
Don’t feel bad, it’s practice. I can still feed us.
Have some pig. But Iragiwi, to you I say:
When it climbs like a maumau, flashes white sole of foot like a maumau,
signals not to shoot like a better mamau than most—most
would break silence and shout Not me, you stupid fuck!, then,
brave but mole-eyed Iraqiwi, maybe it is a mamau? Your brother, Momou maybe?
And you should not split your cheeks and send the dart at his thickest part,
which, seeing come up like a termite wasp, he deflected with his foot,
then fell, heavy as a mandril, bringing branches, leaves, startling an acre of forest—thud!
Was he dead? Were they using the juice?
He opens his eyes right into mine, and I see he’s my successor.
This is a story we will tell only after Iragiwi has nearly destroyed us,
and now, only now, thirteen men and four women later, all replaced only now,
when I am old as cured hide, nurse grandchildren with a useless tit,
it is only now, Momou, that you and I can laugh, but O, a laugh
that soars above the land, swallows seas and shouts down cataracts,
makes mimi spirits doubt themselves, because it knows.
It knows. We know, little brother, and laugh, and return to our husk of days.
Kent H. Dixon