20 January 2006

I Tell You Now

As part of my morning reading selection, I've recently added a book called I Tell You Now ( Amazon). It's a collection of autobiographical essays by Native Americans. I have now read five of the essays, and they have all been extremely impressive, interesting, and distinct from one another. This morning I found a particularly beautiful passage written by Carter Revard. He is described (and describes himself) as Osage, which is a name I haven't run across before. Here is an excerpt from Walking Among the Stars :

[T]here was a mockingbird singing out in the catalpa just past our back yard, in the alley, and I got to wondering about a bird that would sing loudly at night when the owls would be just hunting by ear for such prey, and this began to get together with the black hole thing, the way something in us sings or shines out for the strangers, friend and foe, though in theory it is not possible. So I was thinking too that it is not only people who are so in the dark to each other, but people and rocks, clouds, trees, birds, and creatures, and of how the memories in us both stay and go the way water stays and goes in a beaverpond, the fish in it like our strange unseen theories and perceptions and memories, time flowing on through the dam of molecules in our brain and our "self" drifting there for a while. And how dangerous it is to let out the energy, how at risk we are if we do sing to the owls, like the mockingbirds.

One of the interesting things about this collection of essays is that it is not exactly the norm to talk about oneself in most Native American cultures. In fact, it is more the norm not to do so, lest you sound boastful. The people who put the volume together realized this when they requested these authors to write for it, and so took a very open view of "autobiographical." The piece from Carter Revard is more a series of vignettes from his early life, and thoughts on them. He has sentences worthy of Dickens and descriptions worthy of Walt Whitman, and a flavor all his own. (Though I don't recommend reading him when you have a headache, as those long sentences don't help any. ;-)

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