What I wouldn't give for a good Navajo murder mystery,
but Tony has shuffled off to the spirit world.
Sure, his daughter has continued writing the stories,
but, no offense, it's not the same. Kind of like the Old
Testament versus the New - Yahweh versus Jesus
- Abraham's Almighty evolved to The Holy Trinity.
The series became a family business which is great
and means his apples didn't fall far from the tree.
Most of our orchards stand on slopes, and gravity
has its effect on roll. How can you know where
you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?
It's just that I'm sitting here trying to grade
adolescent BS turned in for a college lit course,
and it's taking three fingers of bourbon. So I end up
staring at the bookcase where there's a box set
of Tony's mysteries, "Skinwalkers" and "Thief of Time"
among them, but the point has to do with the source
of things, the spirit of the creator, the guy who invented
Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Tribal Police
who solved the crimes and navigated the nuances
of the Diné and made their spirituality real
for me. Tony took pains to understand their legends,
perceiving a commonality with Christian mysticism
that suggests shared truths and wisdoms about
creation and being. His daughter made it a trio
giving Bernie Manuelito a bigger role on the team.
It's not as if there aren't plenty of shape shifters
from D.C. dreaming up real crimes like walls
to keep brown skins out, as if such a thing would
have kept the Athabascans, who became The People,
from migrating south from what everyone calls
Canada long before white men drew lines on maps.
The Pueblo called them apachu, enemy strangers;
Spaniards called them Apaches de Nabahu which became
Navajo. No Tribal Police then, just the Diné worrying
about rain and rituals - Yeibichai - Talking God - creation
stories about First Man and First Woman, Coyote,
the Giants, the Five Worlds, venerating the sacred
Four Mountains that marked East, South, West and North
of Dinetah in the Four Corners region, although those
are just lines drawn by the belagaana, too.
Most important was hozho - or what Christians might
consider grace - the proper harmony with nature and
each other, the ability to forgive and forget. Sickness
stems from imbalance with creation. Shaman on the Rez
- more white man lines - know the legends' lessons,
even as their teens turn to basketball - someone else's
legend - bootleggers and meth to distract from
the hunger and poverty of living in cold trailers,
backs turned to tradition's words.
Legends are words,
and words are identity - who we are inside the skin.
Not knowing these things means losing your way
which is why it's so worrisome that these community
college lit students don't know about The Prodigal Son.
Eric Chiles is the author of the chapbook "Caught in Between," and his poetry has appeared in such publications as The American Journal of Poetry, Big Windows Review, Canary, Chiron Review, Main Street Rag, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, and Third Wednesday. In 2014 he completed a 10-year section hike of the Appalachian Trail.
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