She falls from the ledge, a rocky outcropping in an otherwise featureless tundra, breaks her thigh bone in two places. No one comes. The sun rises twice. Dehydrated, delirious, she senses a yellow panther circling her, smells its yaw, feels only resignation. But it is the wind above her dying breath that sustains her, a great swan, wingspan touching both horizons, inner and outer, at the same moment.
Then the band, the people, come back for her, worried, frantic. The old woman sets the bone, but of course she’ll walk with a limp for the rest of her life. But she is changed. Everyone has seen the paw prints of the panther. No one has seen as much as a feather from the wing of the swan.
She is changed. She has been an auntie, neither young nor old, childless, neither important nor unimportant. Loved, accepted, teased, desired—but nothing special. Now she can heal. Mostly bleeding and fevers. Most of all, madness. She can’t heal tumors or blindness. But those possessed, she can release. Those possessed by the spirits of people-eating panthers or bears, those who go into delirium, biting flesh, cutting with a stone knife, killing relatives or strangers. These she can stop, can heal with smoke and trance, with tattoo.
She is not a happy woman, by nature. None of her names describes her laughter or her jokes, or calls her a bubbling stream. But her hair stays black. She has enough to eat. She has a necklace of shells from far away.
The people migrate in a huge half circle, like the wanderers in the sky. But a few years later they settle closer to the lake, where it is easy to fish, to collect. The herds of deer wax and wane. It seems better to rely on fish, and waterfowl, and their delicious eggs. There, she loses her monthly blood, and a child grows within her. One of his names will be “Child-at-the-last-possible-
Old, she paddles out to a strange group of rocks towards the farther shore. Carves the swan no one else saw, or knows of. A huge striped swan who has not fallen from the sky but who is the sky. It’s getting warmer. The deer have moved but the people stay. The waters of the lake rise. The swan is more remote, further off, glittering, the crystals in granite, as dawn breaks.
Death to the Muslims, Death to the Jews. Death to the Ukrainian Catholics. Russia for the Russians. A can of spray paint. A sharpie pen. These tools from the west let the people speak. A wall defaced. Swastikas spray painted on the tombstones that are already marked with six-pointed stars.
This DNA fell from a ledge, and lived, because the people came back for her. This DNA was swept by the wing of a wild swan, chipped a striped swan on a rock rising from a Siberian lake.
The swan is more remote, further off, glittering, the crystals in granite, as dawn breaks.
Miriam Sagan blogs at Miriam’s Well. She is the author of 25 books, including the recent collection from Sherman Asher, Seven Places in America: A Poetic Sojourn. She recently won the New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award in Poetry, and has received the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Sagan also does text and grassroots installations–most recently at Salem Art Works and at The Betsy Hotel.