For the old ones used to say

Aspen Rock Lichen

The stories have been told in whispers
down through the ages
around campfire circles and
even today intimated around certain dinner table gatherings

But nowhere spoken more softly
were these tales of transformation
than in camps of ancient hunters
as they prayed for success on the morrow
being sure to make offerings of gratitude and propitiation
acknowledging the great reciprocities and cycles of Life
knowing with intimacy in their own bones veins and flesh
they too someday would be the one making the sacrifice
and giving back

For the old ones used to say
you never know who might be listening in
unseen or just unrecognized
yet present still
aware and taking in the conversations and jokes uttered
the spirits and attitudes of eaters and speakers
as they dismiss or honor the venerable tales
of the time before words

When people could become trees
and trees too could become people
sometimes either too might just become
an owl or a raven a deer a boar or rabbit
with toads and lizards good for hiding in
but especially rocks for such

They are the quietest listeners you know
and have the longest memories
for it is told that even after
these solid beings dissolve into living soil
they yet bear witness
to whether and how their human brothers and sisters
honor them with respect and love
or treat them like some inanimate dirt

So be wise my friend and remember
to look again
at that tree or neighbor of yours
or even the soil underfoot
to see if they really are
who they might pretend to be
for just perhaps
you might wish to make some offerings too
and maybe you also shall be privileged to witness
a man dressing up like a tree
or a deer dressed up as a woman

“The entire universe can be seen in a flower,”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth

“In the very earliest times, when both people and animals lived on earth, a person could become an animal if he wanted to and an animal could become a human being.  Sometimes they were people and sometimes animals and there was no difference.  All spoke the same language.  That was the time when words were like magic.”
Magic Words, translated from the Netsilik Eskimo

I offer Tich Nhat Hanh’s quote here with the intention of suggesting that the capacity of perceiving ourselves, each other and indeed the entirety of the world through such a lens of mystery and enchantment, of ‘interbeing’, to use his phrase, is yet available to us here and now.

I also offer a bow of acknowledgement here to Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen; he wrote down the original words to the song/poem that became known as “Magic Words”, as he heard them from a Netsilik Eskimo woman, Nalungiaq. The modern version of the poem, quoted above, as I understand it, was translated by the poet Edward Field and appears in Jerome Rothenberg’s collection of traditional Native American poetry, Shaking the Pumpkin.

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