And there is always one more story

by Simon Ortiz

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501

“And there is always one more story” begins with an italicized preface that places the poem within a long line of oral narration. Simon J. Ortiz declares “It must be an old story” since it eventually came to him from his mother, who heard a woman “telling/ about her grandson who was telling the story/ which was told to him by somebody else.” The chain of connection is linked by “All/ these voices,” Ortiz says, establishing the generational process of transmission that provides the material for the poem.

Continuing the personal tone that his introduction has initiated, the story begins with the classic opening “One time,” but Ortiz displays the operation of oral transmission by parenthetically inserting his daughter Rainy’s comment, “You’re sposed to say, ‘Onesa ponsa/ time,’ Daddy,” before actually moving into the tale. There is a shift into another realm as the central characters of the poem, “some Quail Women grinding corn” and Tsuushki (“Coyote Lady”) are presented, with a final authorial comment about Tsuushki—“I don’t know why she wasn’t grinding corn too”—before the world that the story creates completely absorbs the poet’s attention.

The details of the narration continue in a mix of description (“It was a hot, hot day, very hot”), dialogue, and action. The nearest water is “at the top of a tall rock pinnacle,” and the women lend Tsuushki feathers so she can fly with them. Once there, they decide to reverse familiar practice by playing “a trick, a joke/ on Coyote Lady,” and they strand Tsuushki by taking their feathers from her. Pondering the problem, Tsuushki is joined on the pinnacle by “Kahmaasquu Dya-ow—/ Spider Grandmother,” who is characterized as “always a wonderful helpful person.” True to this trait, Spider Grandmother agrees to assist, inviting Tsuushki into a basket at the end of her rope (or web), but adds an injunction: “‘While I am letting you down,/ you must not look up, not once,/ not even just a little bit.’” Tsuushki readily agrees. However, as the basket descends, the storyteller says, “Coyote looked up,” and the poet inserts another parenthesis, altering the narrative perspective by observing “At this point, the voice telling the story/ is that of the boy,” before resuming the account.

Spider Grandmother drops the basket, Coyote goes “crashing down,” and the narrator notes that the story has ended but adds, crucially, “as you know, it also goes on.” In the continuation, Shuuwimuu Guiguikuutchah (“Skeleton Fixer”) arrives, reassembles the bones, dances around them while delivering an invocation—“Skeleton skeleton join together”—twice, and is not entirely pleased to discover “Oh, it’s just you Coyote.” Tsuushki runs off, followed by Skeleton Fixer’s dismissive comment, “Go ahead and go, may you get crushed/ by a falling rock somewhere!” The somewhat inconclusive ending is an appropriate stopping point for a story that is a part of a larger story, the characters appearing at one moment in the extensive, ongoing saga of their existence in communal memory.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515

Ortiz discussed his goals concerning the poems in A Good Journey in a preface to the collection, asserting his intention to show “that the narrative style and technique of the oral tradition could be expressed as written narrative.” Recognizing that “the spoken word is so immediate and intimate,” Ortiz felt that it was important for the reader to be a participant in the process of transmission, and to this end, he inserts in the course of the poem reflective comments by what appear to be different narrators picking up the thread of the story and altering its perspective. This prevents the audience from becoming involved completely with any of the characters, or from identifying with the position of any single narrative consciousness. From the introductory musings of the poet about the fivefold pattern of transmission; to the corrective comment about appropriate form by his daughter, the next generation as participant and listener; to the story unfolding within the control of an omniscient narrator; to the informative but not interruptive comment that “At this point, the voice telling the story/ is that of the boy who said. . . .”; to the unidentified translator who takes the Acoma Pueblo language into English (“which is to say”); the story mingles individual voices with those of the characters to create a verbal collage that, as Ortiz puts it, will “show the energy that language is.”

The intricate narrative structure that Ortiz develops does not interfere with the immediate effect of the action because of the clarity of the imagery that the poem offers. The landscape of the southwestern desert is evoked in direct terms—“The water was in a little cistern/ at the top of a tall rock pinnacle/ which stands southeast of Aacqu”—while the remains of the shattered skeleton convey the harsh terrain: “The bones/ were drying white in the sun, lying around.” The specific actions of the characters are also presented in spare but evocative language, as at the moment when Coyote defies the injunction, “But Tsuushki/ looked up and saw her butt,” or when Skeleton Fixer performs the reorganizing ritual, “And he joined the bones together,/ very carefully,/ and when he had finished doing that,/ he danced around them while he sang.”

To further individualize the characters, and to connect the Laguna community with the reader, Ortiz mingles Acoma language with standard English, using both the Native American tribal name and its English equivalent for the characters, as well as introducing other objects (“u-uuhshtyah—juniper berries;”) and at key moments putting an entire phrase in the Acoma tongue. “Nahkeh-eh,/ bah aihatih eyownih trudrai-nah!,” Skeleton Fixer says at the poem’s end, before repeating—for additional emphasis—the words in English. For those who do not hear the poem spoken, these linguistic variants are an inducement to speak the sounds of the unfamiliar language, contributing to the participatory element that Ortiz regards as an important aspect of the oral tradition. The occasional interpolation of conversational devices—“Well, at this point” and “But, pretty soon”—also helps to suggest a storyteller in action before a group of listening faces.

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