I've been immersed in the work of the Scum of the Earth for the last several years—reading and listening to the work of artists fleeing persecution by the Nazi. Artists joined the ranks of other scum: homos, the infirm, the criminal, the Roma (Romani) and the Jewish.
During this immersion what I rarely talk about is Silko. Yet her work holds the key to everything I write. Specifically two pieces: The Witches Convention in Ceremony and the Storyteller's Escape in Storyteller.
In these pieces she illustrated what I knew, but didn't have the words for: the trasformative power of language.
We were both raised in a world where words were not signs that stood in for objects. Words were life. My grandfather fed us, every season, with stories, not metaphors, but rabbits, squash, chili, and corn. What could be more powerful than his stories. They kept us alive, and they helped us navigate the city. As long as I kept telling stories I knew I would survive what the world was coming to.
I don't think about Silko. She is the Rain and Sacred Water (Flood Plain Press) she writes about in her self-published chapbooks. Her memoir is the clearest statement of what it is to live an artist's life today.
She never failes, she follows where the language leads, even if it leads to places many readers may not feel she has a right to journey to: Europe, the stars, and the static in the television. She writes in languages she does not speak. She draws with light. She lets her mistakes reveal parts of the art and the artist that she would never reveal willingly—parts usually proofread and edited to oblivion.
It's there, in every piece she's written. It's all there—in the rocks she paints white and leaves in the national park, read by settlers and developers as gang signs. Gangs of visionaries. Gangs of scum. Gangs of creatures who still believe in the power of one word to realign the cosmos.
In the end, Silko reminds us, that we linger but a moment, while the land remains.
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