Listening for Meaning

I don’t know what these are or what they might mean to you, reader. The messages were soft and those beyond took their turns speaking, then stepping back. I suspect incense, nightfall, and Paleowolf’s music played a role. I did my best to “translate” and organize the erratic patterns of speech on the fly. I hope it is neither too “censured” nor too “stream of thought” to be read. Enjoy.


We lived in the savanna, then, when the whole world was savanna. Gentle rolling hills with timid, parched grasses stretching off into infinity was the sum total of our horizons, and the ever-imposing mountains at the edge of the world, jagged teeth of the Grandmother. She looked over the world her Ice could not cover and grinned with that mouth that promised both death and preservation. Her cold breath blew down on cold mornings, caress or slapping your cheeks into wakefulness. A distant Sun rose above and we paid homage in our morning prayers, swift as the scurrying clouds and hopeful. “Let us find the nuts and berries, the healing herbs; let us find the game and let their spirits be honored in your golden palace,” we prayed.


In frozen lakes, Grandmother cackled with our footsteps, warnings and threats: the ice may break. Bundled up, you can’t swim and sink. On frozen lakes we tread lightly, or went around.


I remember Ebiti giving birth, how she howled in the night for her baby, but in the morning light we greeted a darling corpse. She was crying, her wails woke us up from the night’s exhausted sleep, turbulent. Some say her family said their farewells… Soon Ebiti died as well and the cunning woman scratched at her head and frowned. She’d set the wards, the helpful spirits had been given meals. Everyone had been present, but the girl had simply slipped away to join her stillborn child. They said Father Earth had called them to a still and dark realm of comfort, where there are no hurts. We buried them, and wept, and no one hunted or foraged that day. I talked to Zania that night. We shan’t have our future babes be taken. She’ll drink the moon tea until a true omen appears.


Korza says the path through the jagged peaks is open now, a little stream running through it like cold, clear tears. Grandmother is weeping and the sky darkens with rain more often. Somewhere, a travelling band said, somewhere the ice buckled and collapse across a valley, buried now in whiteness. I hear the world is changing and the people talk about moving again, but this is my last winter. By the Face of the Grandmother I will stay and say goodbye to kin and kith. I’ve bid them to forget me. I don’t want to enter the next life with all the weight of this life pressing on my shoulders.


The elders speak of a parched land to the East, where we came from. It was huge and grand with mountains as tall as the sky and taller, gone beyond the clouds. The gods lived on those mountains. They were giants who rumbled and crashed with deafening suddenness. Here there are gentler gods, in this green land. The river is deep and wide and everywhere there is abundance of game and fruits and fish. We’ve laid down for three generations and seen none of the struggles the elder speak of. We forget the ways of thanksgiving because what we have will never end.


Neighbors to the north came near our hunters and there was a brief, heated exchange of threats and hollers. Then, one of their youth emerged from the bushes, tall and gangly, and his voice rose high into the sky. One repeated phrase, over and over. He was shaking like twigs and his hair was a shock of red. Our hunters sent their own youth, soon a man, with a flint knife flashing in his palm. Nothing else. The neighbor’s kid recoiled and pissed himself, but from beyond the bushes came harsh shouts. He stood his ground until the knife was offered in greeting. He looked between the knife and our boy, unsure, trembling, then very hesitantly took it by the handle. There were smiles all around.


Sharp bites of frost have come again and did not lift as we expected. Moons passed, frost clinging to trees and over the water, thankfully liquid still inside. There hasn’t been much hunting, but we’ve scraped the carcass of many beasts caught in the cold, unable to move beyond the valley before it killed them. Not a herd, but stragglers, like us. Their old, tough meat is almost finished now and we still hunger in the covering whiteness. The spirit touched sing the fire to life and warmth floods over us, but there is never quite enough.


Remember… Remember… Remember that Grandmother is unforgiving and lives in every drop of water. She snaps her jaws when you least expect it. Reckless fools are broken under the heavy snow. Remember… Remember… She teaches what matters, what hurts, what you cannot live without, and what you will die for. Remember… Remember… She lives inside you. We all become her companion skeletons, ghastly jewels of teeth around her neck.

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