Fluency

By Timothy P. McLaughlin

In the effort to become more like water,

I’ve taken to walking the dried arroyos of New Mexico.

Gliding along their twisting, sandy trails,

following the water’s worn tracks round trees and brush

and endless rock,

 

my blood flushes itself through,

my spine rises back into an aery float,

my eyes moisten and relax their glare,

my fixed notions and fine judgments blur

into the total.

 

The soft, pebbled sand lends my legs

a boyish bounce and the walking rather does itself—

fueled by the ghosted river current

still running strong between

the shallow banks.

 

Sometimes, I’m sure I spot a flash of trout

just ahead wriggling its fins

or feel a misting rise off the grainy riverbed

and fill my nose.

 

But the dryness offers its own comfort

and its truth—cracked and thirsting—

reminds me why I came and what I might

need carry home lest my skin turn pale and brittle,

my air go stale.

 

Once, in a prairie land still full of voices,

where the plants and roots have never fallen silent,

I shook hands with a stooped, wizened Lakota grandma

at a feast. Her gnarled fingers curled round my hand

and the space between our palms

glowed like fire.

 

She hardly grazed my skin; it was the gentlest of touches.

And yet my whole form felt embraced by her warmth,

a lightness rippled through as if I’d been dipped

                                                            in a cool brook.

 

Life was there—full up and rushing!—and not held bound

but given so freely, I yearned to know what Source her cords

led to and fed from.

 

Surely, she spoke to the waters at dawn, called on them,

her bucket bathing more a soaking in than a washing off.

Her coffee was seeped as precious medicine,

her food boiled in holy rain

over a talking flame.

 

And her patchwork trailer house—with no TV or books—

was ever filled with fluid visitors—legged or winged, furred or scaled—

streaming in the bright doorway

of the wood stove.

 

I know by now she’s gone beyond, but sometimes, on my walks,

I find her shadow sitting beneath the knotted fingers

of a piñon pine. I unshoulder my pack and kneel; and when

she’s nodded me in,

 

I settle and offer her water. She breathes on it and sips

then gives it back, Drink, grandson, she tones.

And when I’ve swallowed and made my prayer

and tasted deep communion, she slips off again—around the bend

into the rolling winds.

 

I leave some bread, a slice of fruit, a bite of chocolate,

a pinch of tobacco, and know we’ll meet again—

in an arroyo bed or on a prairie bluff—and let our hands entwine;

and I’ll learn anew to let my waters dance and sparkle long into the night,

however cold and arid

it may become.


Timothy P. McLaughlin is a poet, spoken word artist, and teacher. He founded the Spoken Word Program at the Santa Fe Indian School and he and his students received numerous awards and were featured in many media publications and programs, among them The New York Times and The PBS New Hour. He is the editor of the award-winning book Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth and the producer of a poetry album and documentary film both titled Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling through Performance Poetry. McLaughlin received a Lannan Writing Residency Fellowship in 2011 and his writing has appeared in a variety of journals. His debut collection of poems, Rooted & Risen (Hiraeth Press 2016), chronicles an inspired intimacy with the still wild places & presences of the Earth. He is best known for his powerful style of embodied recitation and his commitment to revitalizing ancient oral traditions in fresh contexts. Visit him on the web at www.TimothyPMcLaughlin.com.

Timothy is part of our Becoming a Nature Evolutionary Teleseminar Series.  You can listen to his talk, "Rooted and Risen: Oral Poetry in Dialogue with the Earth" on July 24th at 3 PM EST.  For more information go to: http://www.natureevolutionaries.com/teleseminars/