“Come gather, children, and I will tell how
We came to be the people we are now,”
The old man drank from a vessel of clay
And smoked from a pipe, he molded that day.
The children gathered to listen again
To the tribal tale of mud-covered men.
“A full moon had risen, early that night,
But then, the dark clouds invaded its light.
And then came the thunder, shaking the ground;
The animals panicked, stampeding around.
Lightning lit up the tumultuous sky,
Frighting the people, who thought they would die.
“The shaman led them, a murmuring choir,
To a tree the lightning had set afire.
They ate of the buds and drank of the vine,
Which raised their senses about the divine.
He told them to sing and dance in the rain
And let not the fire wobble or wane.
“They quickly made sheds, to keep the drums dry;
The drumming and chanting and dancing ran high.
Long into the night, the rain and the flame
Sizzled and crackled, alive and un-tame.
The feet of the dancers stirred up the clay;
They sloshed in the mud, like children at play.
“Indeed, there was laughter and cries of glee,
Declaring to all that could not there be.
They spun on their toes and leapt in the air,
Their voices soaring without any care.
Then came a moment in that rainy wood,
When words were uttered and not understood.
“‘Keep up the drumming! Continue the dance!
Add wood to the fire! Sing louder the chants!’
The shaman knew there was something coming,
The fervor mounted amid the drumming,
A dancer fell crazed and thrashing away,
And soon he was clad in rain and in clay.
“And others followed, in the mud they fell;
T’was clear to see they were all in a spell.
O, the crackling blaze lashed out at the rain,
And the rain, in turn, fell without restrain.
And the drummers played, caught in their own trance,
But soon they saw no one left in the dance;
“And no one singing, ev’ry one a-daze,
No one adding wood to the waning blaze.
The drummers quit playing, in mid refrain;
They, like the others, collapsed in the rain.
Now, only the sounds of drizzle and snorts,
And a flame reporting its last retorts …
“The shaman grinned widely and blessed the mess;
And what he did next is anyone’s guess.
The people slept, as the sun brought the day,
And lifted the rain, and hardened the clay;
And it was high noon, when the first ones woke
And rose up stiffly, in the humid smoke.
“They checked each other, all covered in clay,
And thought it striking to posture that way.
As they moved about, the mud peeled and cracked,
So they slinked around, to keep it intact.
Soon, they had mastered the way of the mud;
In time, they would mix it with tears and blood.
“They cherished the clay; it freshened their skin,
And drew out the ailments lurking within.
Now, every year, they gather again,
To light up the night and dance in the rain.
This is the way of your ancestral kin;
So will you be of the mud-covered men.”
The children ran off to frolic and play
And fashion their toys with water and clay.
Someday, they would learn to make up a fire
And dance like a troupe and sing like a choir.
And, in those long days of laughter and sighs,
They fondle the earth and look to the skies.