Long Time Ago by Leslie Marmon Silko


[Long time ago]
by Leslie Marmon Silko Long time ago
in the beginning there were no white people in this world
there was nothing European. And this world might have gone on like that
except for one thing: witchery. This world was already complete
even without white people. There was everything
including witchery. Then it happened. These witch people got together. Some came from far far away
across oceans across mountains. Some had slanty eyes
others had black skin. They all got together for a contest
the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays except this was a contest
in dark things. So anyway
they all go together witch people from all directions
witches from all the Pueblos and all the tribes. They had Navajo witches there,
some from Hopi, and a few from Zuni. They were having a witches’ conference,
that’s what it was Way up in the lava rock hills
north of Canoncito they got together
to fool around in caves with their animal skins. Fox, badger, bobcat, and wolf
they circled the fire and on the fourth time
they jumped into that animal’s skin. But this time it wasn’t enough
and one of them maybe Sioux or some Eskimos
started showing off. “That wasn’t anything,
watch this.” The contest started like that. Then some of them lifted the lids
on their big cooking pots, calling the rest of them over
to take a look: dead babies simmering in blood
circles of skull cut away all the brains sucked out. Witch medicine
to dry and grind into powder for new victims. Others untied skin bundles of disgusting objects:
dark flints, cinders from burning hogans where the
dead lay Whorls of skin
cut from finger tips sliced from the penis end and clitoris tip. Finally there was only one
who hadn’t shown off charms or powers. The witch stood in the shadows beyond the
fire and no one ever knew where this witch came
from which tribe
or if it was a woman or a man. But the important thing was
this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals
or red ant-hill beads. This one just told them to listen:
“What I have is a story.” At first they all laughed
but this witch said Okay
go ahead laugh if you want to
but as I tell the story it will begin to happen. Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery to work for us. Caves across the ocean
in caves of dark hills white skin people
like the belly of a fish covered with hair. Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun then they grow away from the plants and animals. They see no life
When they look they see only objects. The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive the mountains and stones are not alive. The deer and the bear are objects
They see no life. They fear
They fear the world. They distroy what they fear. They fear themselves. The wind will blow them across the ocean
thousands of them in giant boats swarming like larva
out of a crushed ant hill. They will carry objects
which can shoot death faster than the eye can see. They will kill the things they fear
all the animals the people will starve. They will poison the water
they will spin the water away and there will be drought
the people will starve. They will fear what they find
They will fear the people They will kill what they fear. Entire villages will be wiped out
They will slaughter whole tribes. Corpses for us
Blood for us Killing killing killing killing
And those they do not kill will die anyway
at the destruction they see at the loss
at the loss of the children the loss will destroy the rest. Stolen rivers and mountains
the stolen land will eat their hearts and jerk their mouths from the Mother. The people will starve. They will bring terrible diseases
the people have never known. Entire tribes will die out
covered with festering sores… vomiting blood. Corpses for our work
Set in motion now set in motion by our witchery
set in motion to work for us
They will take this world from ocean to ocean they will turn on each other
they will destroy each other Up here
in these hills they will find the rocks,
rocks with veins of green and yellow and black. They will lay the final pattern with these
rocks they will lay it across the world
and explode everything. Set in motion now
set in motion To destroy
To kill Objects to work for us
objects to act for us Performing the witchery
for suffering for torment
for the stillborn the deformed
the sterile the dead. Whirling
Whirling Whirling
Whirling set into motion now
set into motion. So the other witches said
“Okay you win; you take the prize, but what you said just now –
it isn’t so funny It doesn’t sound so good. We are doing okay without that kind of thing. Take it back. Call that story back.” But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur
and feathers. It’s already turned loose. It’s already coming. It can’t be called back.

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