Writer in Residence · 09/14/2010

Artifact 17: When She Spoke

“Our language can be seen as an ancient city.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

When First Woman told her daughter the story of her life, the world split open. They say, clouds bloomed black and pumice rained. Rivers roared red. This was the Awakening. The People singed singing, they say. Just like that, they say. Everywhere the archival dust of skin.

For many years, First Woman’s childhood marked the seasons of the earth. The roots of her skirt snaked across the land, they say. Wolves suckled her breasts, and sparrows drank from the starred wells of her eyes. She made no sound, they say. Only gestured, palms up. Her mouth was the mouth of a hungry bird. Her heart volcanic. Threatened by its silence, the People made offerings.

First Woman carried a knife, they say. Obsidian, they say. When the Voice said, take this. Sharpen your knife.

First Woman loved once, they say. The tongue’s tracings she could not voice, they say. She felt the soft curves of an alphabet, the round “O” of the mouth in awe. And like this she quaked, they say. And the world flowered, they say. Before the birth squat. Before the new cry. Before the angry hiccup of her heart. Before First Woman’s breath broke over the City.

You-are-the-book, First Woman said to her daughter. And as she spoke, the People dispersed. Into the wind, they say, like wishes from a dandelion stem, they say. With these words, First Woman built a house for her daughter. And like this, word by word, she built a new city.

Vanessa Ramos is the author of many unpublished books and the Coordinator of Creative Writing at Salem State University.

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posted by Amber Sparks