Leslie Marmon Silko
Larry Evers, Producer
Dennis Carr, Director
Michael Orr, Post Production Supervisor
In Cooperation with the University of Arizona Radio-TV-Film Bureau
© Arizona Board of Regents 1978
Compiled by Dr. Larry Evers, Department of English, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721 email Dr. Evers
|You should understand the way it was
because it is the same
Long ago it happened
|"You better have a damn good story," her husband said,
"about where you been for the past
10 months and how you explain these
twin baby boys."
"No! That gossip isn't true.
She didn't elope.
She was kidnapped by
at Seama Feast.
You know my daughter
that kind of girl."
in the summer
T.V. news reported
Four Laguna women
and 3 Navajo men
headed north along
the Rio Puerco River
in a red '56 Ford.
And the F.B.I, and
state police were
hot on their trail
of wine bottles and
size 42 panties
hanging in bushes and trees
all along the road.
|"We couldn't escape them," he told police later,
"We tried, but there were four of them and
only three of us."
Seems like it's always happening to me.
Outside the dance hall door
late Friday night
in the summertime,
and those brown-eyed men from Cubero
They usually ask me
"Have you seen the way stars shine
up there in the sand hills?"
And I usually say "No. Will you show me?"
He told me
Porch Talk with Joy Harjo amd Sandy Johnson
When I talk about the oral tradition or about the way the people at Laguna take delight in relating stories of incidents that happened either recently or in the past, people say, "Well, that's gossip." And in an Anglo-Saxon tradition one of the things that religious leaders are always warning the people about is, "Don't gossip, gossip is bad." Even now I run into people professionally who feel that way. They don't like to talk about things and people. They like to talk about the weather and the stock market or something—something not having to do with people. But it's very important to understand the function that this kind of telling and retelling of incidents has. It's what holds the community together in a way that goes beyond clan relations and blood relations.
If you listen closely when someone is talking about something that happened two weekends ago at Paguate after a dance, very quickly, other stories that occurred in other places or incidents that occurred in that same place ... in other words, whenever a place or a family or a kind of activity, whenever some things like that are related, at the same time, all other kinds of stories are remembered and told. And it's very important. It's not just a matter of it being gossip or idle. There's nothing idle . . . oftentimes the two words are linked: idle gossip. There's nothing about this at all that's idle. It's a very intense sort of thing, this recalling.
By recalling these other stories which are somehow linked to this place or to this person or to this kind of activity, it begins to put everything into kind of ... not just into a context, but it puts things into proportion, and it begins to link the people, individuals. It begins to link the individual to the rest of the people in a kind of very essential way so that the same kind of thing that just happened to you last week, well, we'll tell you about the other people it happened to and other people and all of a sudden you're not alone in what happened.
You can begin to laugh at things that happened. I guess another function in all this is helping, enabling, the individual to begin to see things not just as me, alone kind of way, but to begin to see one's experiences, one's fate, one's tragedies in terms of something not just yourself but everyone else, so that it brings everyone closer, and it makes you seem much more like a part of the stories. And the next time something happens, your story's going to be right there with all the others, and so these things link and it helps the individual right now. It brings the individual in touch with things and people that happened a hundred years ago." There's sort of a continuity. In other words, this telling is a creating of a kind of identity for you so that whatever kind of situation you find yourself in, you know where you are and you know who you are. It's that whatever you do, you never feel that you're alone, or you never feel at a loss for. , . . You're never lost, you're never lost.
Laughing and Laughing About Something That Happened at Mesita
|But down at Mesita
they always remember
the night at Laguna
when a man was walking up the hill
to the toilet
and he heard
one of those
across from the parish hall.
he better check up on things
just in case
some animal was trapped in there
or something like that.
So he opened the door
shined his flashlight in there
and here was this man
really respected in the community
always working hard
and never even drunk.
Well there he was
with this big fat woman
she was married too
and had twelve kids.
And there they were in
the middle of winter with
no clothes on.
This poor man who found them
Toe'osh; A Laguna Coyote Story for Simon Ortiz
In the wintertime
But the Navajos say he won a contest once.
Some white men came to Acoma and Laguna a hundred years ago
Charlie Coyote wanted to be governor
The Trans-Western pipeline vice president came
They were after the picnic food
Howling and roaring
With the Coyote story ... I wrote it after I came back from Wisconsin. And I had some other things in there. At first it started out to be something just about Simon and about that Writers Conference back in Wisconsin, and then I started remembering all these other things.
There's one way you deal with a Coyote story, see, the way I deal with it in Toe'osh. You can strip it down to sort of the bare details. And the way that piece is structured, the rest of the episodes of Coyote give you the kind of background that you need to have for Coyote. All the different parts work together so that one piece can stand in its sort of bare bones state, all by itself. But the way I have to tell the Coyote story to the kids is very different and it takes a lot more time and it takes a lot more space and it's a lot more fun too.
Telling Coyote Story to Sons, Robert and Cazimir
Look where all the Marmon houses are, down below the village here. We're closer to the river than the rest of the village. I always thought there was something symbolic about that placement, sort of putting us on the fringe of things. So when I was a kid growing up, the river was really close by.
I was always fascinated with the river. I loved the river very much, but I knew it was a small river and I didn't make great demands upon it. There were always stories, I don't know, you just start hearing about things. The river's the one place where things can happen that can't or won't ordinarily happen in the middle of the village obviously. What gradually happens with the river is that you begin to know the river in many different ways sort of simultaneously. And it's not clear to me which comes first, the way the river is or the Yellow Woman stories about the river, which controls, which makes. I sometimes think that it's the Yellow Woman stories that make the river so seductive and sensual and not the way the river is that adds to the story. There was one point when I began to see, when all those things began to come together and I think it was in the writing. All of these stories and all of these things come together and the river takes on a kind of identity and becomes a very special place.
When I think now about how I've written in the stories or in that sort of poetry piece, "Storytelling," suddenly I realize my sense or my feeling of the river comes from all these places, that identity.
You know, a lot of people make a mistake when they hear me talk and they hear me laugh about the storytelling and I think they're confused, they don't understand. If people can't listen to you without being pompous about it, they don't deserve to hear what you have to say anyway. But it's very important, and it's not just gossip and those aren't just stories. It's the whole basis for what keeps the people together. Everything that they know, they know through all time about each other and about themselves.
Indian Song: Survival
|We went north
to escape winter
we paused to sleep at the river.
Cold water river cold from the north
I sink my body in the shallow
sink into sand and cold river water.
You sleep in the branches of
pale river willows above me.
I smell you in the silver leaves, mountainlion man
green willows aren't sweet enough to hide you.
he is warmer than any man.
I have slept with the river and
I heard ice on the cattails.
Mountain lion, with dark yellow eyes
you nibble moon flowers
while we wait.
I don't ask why do you come
on this desperation journey north.
I am hunted for my feathers
I hide in spider's web
hanging in a thin grey tree
above the river.
In the night I hear music
song of branches, dry leaves scraping the moon.
and I know he is waiting.
Green spotted frogs sing to the river
Mountain lion shows me the way
path of mountain wind
up to Cloudy Mountain.
It is only a matter of time, Indian
you can't sleep with the river forever.
Smell winter und know.
I swallow black mountain dirt
while you catch hummingbirds
trap them with wildflowers
pollen and petals
fallen from the Milky Way
You lay beside me in the sunlight
— "Storytelling" is published in Leslie Marmon Silko, Storyteller (NY: Seaver Books, 1981), p. 94.
— The two women with Silko on the porch of her house are Joy Harjo, poet and author of Last Song (Las Cruces, N.M.: Puerto del Sol, 1977), and Sandy Johnson, a Laguna woman from Paguate village, Harjo's daughter Rainy Dawn also appears in some of the porch scenes.
— "Laughing and Laughing About Something that Happened at Mesita" has not been published in this form. See Storyteller, pp. 89-93 for another version.
— Elsie Clews Parsons' work at Laguna may be seen in a book edited by her mentor Franz Boas in Keresan Texts and in her collection "Laguna Tales." See Related Readings.
— BAE refers to the publications of the Bureau of American Ethnology, one of the major series in which Boas and his disciples published their work on American Indian story and song.
— Caz is Silko's youngest son Cazimir.
— "Toe'osh: A Laguna Coyote Story" is published in Storyteller, p. 236. It is dedicated to Acoma poet Simon J. Ortiz, author of Going for the Rain (Harper and Row, 1977), Howbah Indians (Blue Moon Press, 1977), and The Good Journey (Turtle Island, 1977)
— The conference Silko refers to was "the National Center for Audio Experimentation Writers' Workshop." It was held at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Selections from poets at the conference were published in The Greenfield Review, 3 (1973).
— "Indian Song: Survival" is published in Storyteller, p. 35