At the house of indigenous writers
a puppeteer showed us how
he taught children the names
of animals in their native language
though most of them spoke
in the tongue of the conquest.
He had an old face, one seasoned
by joy. I could tell by the lines on his face
that love had been the better part
of his days. He brought out
a painted serpent, slipped
his arm into the empty body
to animate its spirit, then pirate
and then jaguar. With each character
the man’s voice took on the cadence
of the creature. The jaguar, he said,
was very sacred. I did not know
what the word meant to him
but I understood that without
the right words the animal
could not be known
and that some words
that had made the creature sacred
had already been lost to the world.
I’ve heard of a tribe that lives
at the confluence of two rivers
in Colombia. For them all creatures
are people. Jaguar is a person
wearing jaguar skin. So people
are obligated to the animal world
as to one’s family. That’s
what I wish we had become.