Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Poetics of an Indian Elder (Part One)

I grew up speaking the language of my people. It wasn’t until school I had to learn English. They just marched us into the classroom and started talking English. We had to learn.

I remember how funny it sounded when I first heard it. There were so many words. The teacher could talk for an hour and not even stop. She could talk about anything. She didn’t need to move her hands, even. She just talked. Some days I would sit and watch her just to see all the words she said. One other boy once told me he thought she said as many words in a day as there were stars in the sky. I never forgot that.

When I learned English I realized it was a trick. You could use it to say the same things a hundred ways. What was important to Indian people was saying something the best way. In English you had to learn to say things a hundred ways. I never heard anything like it. I still watch white people talk and I’m surprised at all the words. Sometimes they will say the same thing over and over and over in different ways. They are like a hunter who rushes all over the forest hoping to bump into something instead of sitting quietly until he can capture it.

~as told to Kent Nerburn in Neither Wolf Nor Dog


Loren said...

A bit of an oversimplification, but I love it anyway, Greg.

Stuart Greenhouse said...

The beautiful statement about as many words in a day as there are stars reminds me of when, one day, my son said to me "you have more ideas than a tree has branches."

Anonymous said...

I'd say its an accurate description of English. But where he might have meant it as an insult or slight against the language, I take it as a badge of pride.

Anonymous said...

We should all try to remember that it truly is important to say something in the the best way AND to think before we speak. What a wonderful world it would be.

aum dada said...

Loren, as opposed to over-complex, I'll take it.

Stuart, I guess children haven't been exposed to enough English yet to dilute their thought.

Andrew, well at least it helps with the poetry.

b, why think when we can let our words do it for us?