Tag Archives: magical realism

The Dance of the Crow Mother

When they tell me I will dance the Crow Mother, I cannot breathe.

I have practiced in the dark, in the wild grass of the hills, far from the glows of our fires. I have crushed the stalks beneath my feet, the bruised-green smell rising into the sky. I have held out my arms just-so and arced my body in circles. I have raised my voice to Her in song.

Since I was a small child, I have done this. For as long as I could remember the dance from one day to the next, from season to season, I have done this.

And now I will dance it in the circle.

I am not as light as I thought I would be, not as joyous. My heart is as tight as it is glowing.

I am afraid. Afraid I will fail. That my practiced feet will stumble. That She will not accept me as her dancer and will rain her displeasure down on my people.

I sit very still while they prepare me. My skin is dark, but the paint is darker. It runs in soft, curving lines across all of my body. My arms and legs. My breasts and stomach. Ne’hma paints my face, draws the patterns down my forehead and cheekbones, covers my eyelids in black. It is her honor to bestow because she holds the village to her bosom. She holds the village up to the gods. When she was younger, she was the Crow Mother.

They lay the shawl of feathers across my shoulders. I take a breath that shudders up my body. I step out into the glow of our fires.

The circle is clear, the faces of my peoples no more than shadows at the edges, lit in pieces by the moving flames. The air smells sharp and cold. It prickles against my naked skin. The silence presses against my ears. I am not sure I remember how to dance at all.

I raise my shaking arms to the night sky.

Hear me, Crow Mother, and welcome me into your dance.

My first steps are tentative. The ground feels foreign beneath my feet, though I have walked it all my life. The wind springs up hard enough to burn me with its cold, and I tremble. If She rejects me, we will have no new growth. I will doom everyone.

I close my eyes and pretend I am not in the circle. I am in the hills. I am standing on the wild grasses. I am in the dark, far from sight.

And my feet remember.

I stomp on the earth of the circle. I hold out my arms just-so. I arc my body in circles.

I raise my voice in Her song, and it does not sound like my voice. It is strong and clear and wild.

It is Her voice.

I open my eyes, and the fires leap up, stretch for the sky. I sing and I whirl, and my joy bursts out of me, catches all of my people in its embrace.

I am the Crow Mother. And the Crow Mother is me.

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When the Night Belonged to Lissy

Everybody in the family knew what Cousin Lissy could do, but nobody talked about it.

Ma said that’s because there was nothing to talk about, that Lissy was just the same as any other of us kids and we weren’t to treat her any different.

But really, I think nobody talked about it because none of us could really pin it down. It was like trying to describe the sea. You could throw words at it, but the sea would just gobble them up, throw them against the breakers at the feet of the cliffs, and then change itself again.

When Ma weren’t around, my older brother John would say Lissy was touched, slow, on account of her having gotten tangled up on her way to being born, but it wasn’t really true. John just didn’t like trying to learn how to talk to Lissy right — said sign language was slow, and John always wanted to be fast. Fastest runner, fastest tree climber, fastest everything.

There were a lot of us kids running around, dodging between the family houses, spreading out across the connected yards — especially that summer. Lissy and me were the youngest two except for Bobby who barely had his first couple teeth. All the other cousins were bigger and louder. They ordered us around and talked over us and ran around outside on summer night way after the Aunts sent us to bed, so I didn’t really mind hanging out with just Lissy a lot of times — even though she was almost two years younger than me — because at least it was quiet and I got to say what I thought without someone elbowing me around and telling me to shut up.

Lissy actually liked to watch me sign, to hear about my day or the comic book I was reading. She told me it was a lot more fun to listen to someone who listened back

It’s why I was the only one who got to see what she could do.

The Uncles had made a fire in a pit back a little ways in the woods, this blossom of orange against a pitch-dark summer night, but they’d gone back toward the house, to grab more beers, to sit with the wives while us kids ran around in the dark. The other cousins had started a game of Cat-and-Mouse and scattered into the trees where the darkness could hide them. I wanted to go play, too, but Lissy hated Cat-and-Mouse because she couldn’t hear anyone sneaking up on her, so they always scared her halfway to hell. So I sat with her by the fire instead, listening to the shouts and laughter echoing all around us.

Lissy nudged me and signed thanks for staying with me, and I just shrugged because I wished I wasn’t the cousin stuck sitting with her and I hated myself for thinking that. I didn’t want to be a Bobby. I really didn’t.

She nudged me again. You want to see something neat?

I frowned at her, and she smiled just a little, with half her hair covering her face because she never bothered to pull it back. I shrugged again.

Lissy turned her eyes to the fire. She tapped her bare feet against the ground — bum, bum-dum, bum, bum-dum — and she nodded along with the beat she created. Her hands drifted in front of her, her fingers moving like she was signing things but they weren’t any signs I’d seen before and they didn’t mean anything as far as I could see and I thought maybe she might just be playing and that nothing would really happen. Nobody’d ever seen her do anything on purpose before — not even Aunt Beth and Uncle Arnie. It’d only always been accident.

But then the fire flared up high, throwing sparks like new stars, and the smoke curled thicker overhead. And Lissy stared, so I stared too, and I started to see…something. A butterfly made of flames. A circle of fiery faeries dancing. A giant wolf of orange and white, calling to his pack. The fire surged up, and the smoke twisted around, became a head, became wings, became an enormous bird with a comet tail of flames. It swooped down, brushing our heads, and I laughed. Which made Lissy laugh.

“Samuel Benjamin!” Aunt Beth’s voice was still loud enough to give me a jolt, even from all the way on the other side of the yard. “What’s going on over there?”

I tapped Lissy’s arm, and she took her eyes off the fire to look at me. The bird and the wolf, the butterfly and the faeries all disappeared. The flames dropped down into the logs.

“Nothing, Aunt Beth!” I hollered, my hands moving for Lissy so she could see what I was saying. “Just put too much wood on!”

There was a tense moment, and then she yelled, “Well, don’t do that again. You kids singe your eyebrows off, no one’s taking you to the hospital.”

“Okay. We won’t.”

“Fifteen more minutes, and then you and Lissy come back to the houses for bed.”

“Yes, Aunt Beth.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as silence fell again. Just the singing of night bugs and the crackling of logs burning slow. Lissy giggled a little, signed she was sorry she got us in trouble, and I told her don’t be because that was amazing.

She blushed a little.

We stared in the fire, the shouts of our cousins bouncing back and forth around us, and I swear I saw a knight charging through the flames.

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