Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ewa-Yea! My Little Owlet

"Saw the moon rise from the water,
Rippling, rounding from the water,
Saw the flecks and shadows on it,
Whispered, “What is that, Nokomis?”
And the good Nokomis answered:
“Once a warrior, very angry,
Seized his grandmother, and threw her
Up into the sky at midnight;
Right against the moon he threw her;
Tis her body that you see there.”

- Hiawatha’s Childhood, by Henry W. Longfellow

Once again I found myself in the People’s Park at dusk with Xi’an. We took a long walk along the cobblestones and I placed the camera around her neck and just let her take pictures. Dogs with funny Dr. Seuss haircuts, women in mismatched patterned dresses, and the strange collection of Bull statues placed all the way down to the Fine Arts Museum in honor of the Lunar Year of the Cow. She has a good eye and a quick sense of humor and I like that her fingers and nose get all smudgy with dirt and ink and she wants to know why the cicadas are so loud she has to plug her ears. It’s a good question, full of sweet innocence and wonder. I’ve always liked that in people, when they just want to know, whatever the truth. I’ve come to relish that when raising these girls.
We stopped on the way back for some juice, just me and Xi’an lounging in the prickly grass and looking up at the moon. She asks why the grass is sharp like teeth, and why cars won’t stop when you try to cross the road, and why the people with white faces don’t turn and wave when she says hello. I give her an answer for each. I have those sometimes. Then we just lie on our backs and stare at the moon.
The moon has always been an answer for people. How it lays over the world for everyone to see. Every time, no matter where you go, it is the same. People anywhere can look up and see its face and know that another person is looking up and seeing it too. The moon covers us in the same way that feelings are universal and individual.
Sometimes in these moments, when it is just Xi’an and I in the quiet of the night and she is asking me to explain the universe to her, I think about Longfellow’s poem Hiawatha. Not the Disney version of the pudgy, little Indian brave who couldn’t keep his pants up, but the budding warrior, the one who listens to the sounds of the world, who asks the questions that will give him knowledge, who befriends the animals and trees and water and stars and who in return bless him and strengthen his life.
That has always been an untruth of the universe to me, that I can do anything in the world, that nothing will ever hold or stick to me or seek revenge against me, that I am invincible. I know that in the true world, the owls will not tell you why they squabble, the beavers not share why they block rivers, the deer never whisper how they run so swiftly. Hiawatha has to figure these things out on his own.
That is why I tell Xi’an of magic. I say this grass has teeth because it wants you to find the softer blades to lazily rest upon, and the cars don’t stop because machines have no heart, and the white people don’t wave back because they are scared you will reveal their secrets.
“What are their secrets, Daddy?”
“That they believe in lies.”
“What is that called, when you want to believe a lie?"
“It’s called poetry, Xi'an, and it's this fragile magic we need the most."

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