Writers both local and international gathered in Sitka this weekend to celebrate the power of language. Among them was Alaska state writer laureate Ernestine Hayes. Born in Juneau, Hayes returned to Alaska in her 40s and earned a degree for creative writing in her 50s. Now a published author, she read from her work during the Island Institute’s Wild Language Festival.
At the Sheldon Jackson Museum on Saturday (11-18-17), Hayes read from her new book the Tao of Raven, which intertwines the story of the trickster Raven “stealing the light” with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, personal memoir, and elements of fiction. Her except began with the image of a koo.éex‘, a ceremony meant to bring healing after the loss of a loved one.
I gather my owned things. I send a deer inviting you to help me push away my sorrow. When you agree, the time is arranged.
You arrive. I sing my cry song. You arrive, I sing my cry song. You arrive. I sing my cry song.
The song to end sorrow hasn’t yet been written. The song to end my sorrow hasn’t yet been sun. The song to end this sorry warms my hands.
Remove the signs of your grief. Wash the sorrows from your face. It is time to sing a love song to my opposites. It is time to bring out my loved ones and show them to my guests. Their spirit resides in these owned things. Their spirits live in these owned things. Their names are carried on. I carry their names and burn good food for their robust meal so they will be warm and full and will know that I continue to carry them. I push away my sorrow. While they stand here with me, I stand in for them.
You are served plates full of my best food. Sit! Eat! Receive my thanks! At the time for laughter, I race bowls full of my best fruit for you to play and pretend to struggle. We can both use some laughter.
I speak and sing. You answer. I bring out my wealth. You answer. We reminisce. We remember. We laugh and push away our sorrow.
You are served plates full of our best food. Sit again! Eat again! Receive again my thanks! Laugh and sing and talk and receive this wealth. You wiped away my tears and I repay you. You carried my loved one to her grave and I repay you. You opened the ground for the ashes of my loved one. And I repay you with my songs and my food and my laughter and my wealth. I repay you with this fire and this light.
As part of the Wild Language Festival, Hayes will teach a writing workshop at the Island Institute on Sunday, November 19th from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Suggested donation $1 – $20.