evenki: the last speakers

evenki: the last speakers

dedicated to the evenki people of siberia &
speakers of the evenki language

the silence hard upon me now
last run of a river forgotten
last hunt of the bear
long rolled over
into earth
last story
of the tongue
that calls
out to
those of us
long gone

we are the last speakers.

children grand-children
lost to the cities
that tear away
at the waters
rip down
the holding back
of trees
that frighten
the bear
dynamite fish
in the soaring
quiet of the sun
on a valley
of fir trees
the river a cold vein
of vanishing ore
between them
the firs
darkness in the morning
darkness in the noon
lit trunks in
the evening
slip of sun
down between them

we are the last speakers.

the natural breath of our stories
broken into pieces for
another tongue
a subject of
underfunded study
the long root of
our tongue
cut dead
the stories wither there
our fathers’ fathers told
the crackling sticks of breath
they burned on hushed long nights
under the shadow of
the hunted bear
the beat on the broad skin drum
as the shaman rode
the bird of the hand’s
shadow into the
smoke through
the gap at the peak
of the frame and
skins up
to the stars
brought us down
a difficult, bitter
healing

man was i-le*
the sound he came as in
our legends our firelight
telling of the start
of the dark woods

man was i-le
i will not know
another man
as other word
the man of
those who rightly
buried the bear
honoured every
single bone
the tooth and hide
of him

the man was i-le
who left
the dark woods
in tact keeping
first meat for
the fire, and
blade to himself
in respect
of all that wandered
on the evening
moving among
trees, slapping
the waters a sound
above their run
the crossing
of animals, or
ghosts

the fingers were u-mu-ko-shor
fingers that played
the breasts of
my young wife
that tightened in
the hunt that
gutted fish
that stole
a drum beat
on the sacred
skin one time
and dreamed
a nightmare of
hot stones in my
gut my mouth
sewn closed

i will not take
the root of this hand
and put it into
the well-meant
glove offered
me the
pension of another
tongue* paid to
me at the
killing of
that my own
our own with
little else
left to us.

we are the last speakers
having spoke.

beijing
july 2009

*The pronouncations of ‘ile’ and ‘omukushor’ were as phonetic as I could make out from the Russian website where sound bites of the Evenki language were posted.

*that is, the Russian language.

 

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2 thoughts on “evenki: the last speakers”

  1. Thank you, John. I got myself to the point that I was going to apply for a visa and go up the Lena river to Yakutsk in northern Siberia. This was as far as I got, that is, I did the reading but nothing else…

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