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Culture and the Universe

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Two nights ago
in the canyon darkness,
only the half-moon and stars,
only mere men.
Prayer, faith, love,
existence.
                       We are measured
by vastness beyond ourselves.
Dark is light.
Stone is rising.

I don’t know
if humankind understands
culture: the act
of being human
is not easy knowledge.

With painted wooden sticks
and feathers, we journey
into the canyon toward stone,
a massive presence
in midwinter.

We stop.
                       Lean into me.
                       The universe
sings in quiet meditation.

We are wordless:
                       I am in you.

Without knowing why
culture needs our knowledge,
we are one self in the canyon.
                                                                    And the stone wall
I lean upon spins me
wordless and silent
to the reach of stars
and to the heavens within.

It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness
we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.


Simon Ortiz, “Culture and the Universe” from Out There Somewhere. Copyright © 2002 by Simon Ortiz. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.
Source: Out There Somewhere (University of Arizona Press, 2002)
Culture and the Universe

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  • A leading figure in the Native American literary renaissance that emerged in the 1960s, Simon J. Ortiz has published short fiction and non-fiction prose in addition to poetry. Whatever form his writing takes, though, it is concerned with modern man’s alienation from others, from himself, and from his environment—urging as a solution our meaningful re-connection with the wisdom of ancestral spirits and with our Mother Earth.
    Ortiz, who is an Acoma Pueblo Indian, was born and raised near Albuquerque, New Mexico and grew up speaking the Acoma tongue. “This early language from birth to six years of age in the Acoma family and community,” he has written, “was the basis and source for all I would do later;” ironically, he was punished for speaking it at school. Nicknamed “the reporter” by his father for the absorbed attention he paid as a child to tribal elders’ stories, he has continued to base...

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