This change in consciousness took hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, yet some were aware of it in their individual lifetimes.
-from the anonymous unwritten History of the Capricaur
In those days we had barely separated
from the herd. We would know
in the muscles when we needed
to move, the prairie stretching flat
running long to salt marsh.
Oh mother of the dangerous steps,
make me agile when the need
is upon me, the prayer
would form itself unbidden.
Syntax in the muscles on the outer
edge of becoming, the moment
of extremity just before the point
of pain, the high strong rim unfurling
to the ridge before the long swift descent
deeper to open stretch. Wind
in the legs, a heavy singing
in the muscles, and close
to imminent danger of dying
by more than life.
In those days we moved
like a hundred birds wheeling
in a turn. The prayer unbidden,
Oh mother of the wind,
oh wing of long feathered legs,
oh thin grass that runs ahead.
Oh words of flight. It still sounds
down my deep plains.
Later on, when we forgot
how to move as one and built many fires
like reflected stars, the night would light
with our separateness.
First published in Ghosts, Empty Bowl Press, 1984
Judith Roche, poet, editor, arts educator and translator, is the author of three collections of poetry, the most recent of which, Wisdom of the Body, Black Heron Press, 2007, won an American Book Award and was nominated for a Pushcart, Myrrh, My Life As a Screamer, Black Heron Press, 1994, Ghosts, Empty Bowl Press, 1985. She has edited a number of poetry anthologies and has co-edited First Fish, First People, Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim, University of Washington Press, 1998. This American Book Award winner is a collection of salmon stories from all around the North Pacific Rim, all written by indigenous writers, including Ainu writers from Northern Japan, and writers from the Amur River region and Sakhalin Island in Siberia, as well as Native writers from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. She is a fellow at the Black Earth Institute and edited the first issue of About Place, A River Runs Through Us.