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.