Friday, 27 March 2009

Ancapagari - by Carolyn Forché

View from Bear creek trail, Ancapagari: Uncompahgre Wilderness
In the morning of the tribe this name Ancapagari was given to these mountains. The name, then alive, spread into the world and never returned. Ancapagari: no foot-step ever spoken, no mule deer killed from its foothold, left for dead. Ancapagari opened the stones. Pine roots gripped peak rock with their claws. Water dug into the earth and vanished, boiling up again in another place. The water was bitten by aspen, generations of aspen shot their light colored trunks into space. Ancapagari. At that time, if the whisper was in your mouth, you were lighted.

Now these people are buried. The root-taking, finished. Buried in everything, thousands taken root. The roots swell, nesting. Openings widen for the roots to surface.

They sway within you in steady wind of your breath. You are forever swinging between this being and another, one being and another. There is a word for it crawling in your mouth each night. Speak it.

Ancapagari has circled, returned to these highlands. The yellow pines deathless, the sparrow hawks scull, the waters are going numb. Ancapagari longs to be spoken in each tongue. It is the name of the god who has come from among us.

-- from her first chapbook Gathering the Tribes. (Yale University Press 1976, poems about her experiences among native women) online at Poetry Foundation. Forché's extraordinary body of work includes The Country Between Us (1981, about the genocides in El Salvador), Against Forgetting (1992, an anthology of other poets of witness), The Angel of History (1994), and Blue Hour (2003). She was deeply influenced by her Slovak immigrant grandmother, some of whose family were sent to the death camps of Ravensbrück and Theresienstadt.

In 1776 when the Spanish Empire was exploring Colorado, Escalante reported the Native American name for the region as Ancapagari (from Ute Uncompahgre) meaning "dirty water" or "red water hot spring" from which its waters came. Forché's poem explores the deep spirituality of the people who were rooted in this land. See also Colorado Wilderness map. The Ute, like many other native peoples, were invaded, massacred, and forced onto tiny reservations. See Wikipedia for brief notes about their traditional art, culture, and use of native minerals and plants.

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