Tag Archives: Amherst writers

Magic Words

After lunch with a friend, Finn and I made the figure eight: Jackson to Maplewood to Dudley, then home. It was almost three, so cars lined up on Cypress in front of the school and mothers with babies in slings and dogs on leashes walked past. Being so near the solstice, the sky was heavy with twilight. It will be dark long before five.

The mechanics of Tuesday writing class continue to be challenging — time and weather and whatnot, but the coalescing around words is powerful, so it all seems worthwhile. Zoom came to the rescue again.

Here is one of two poems that provided a writing prompt yesterday. From a publication (unknown) dated May 1981. Found in the clip file.

MAGIC WORDS (after Nalungiaq)

In the earliest time, / when both people and animals lived on earth, / a person could become an animal if he wanted to / and an animal could become a human being. / Sometimes they were people / and sometimes animals / and there was no difference. / All spoke the same language. / That was the time when words were like magic. / The human mind had mysterious powers. / A word spoken by chance / might have strange consequences. / It would suddenly come alive / and what people wanted to happen could happen — / all you had to do was say it. / Nobody could explain this: / That’s the way it was.

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Just found this online (not including the link because it’s not secure):

Nalungiaq, an Inuit (Eskimo) woman, reported that she learned the song “Magic Words” from an elderly uncle named Unaraluk. Unaraluk was a shaman, a kind of sorcerer or priest. The song was first written down by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who was part Inuit and spoke the Inuit language, lived for some time with the Netsilik people during his expedition across arctic America, known as the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–1924). He collected many Netsilik legends and tales in the desire to learn about the unique view such an isolated people had developed of their world and the universe. Poet Edward Field translated many of these stories. “Magic Words” is also included in Jerome Rothenberg’s collection of traditional Native American poetry, Shaking the Pumpkin.

You can also find the poem in Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos, edited by Edward Field. Published by Education Development Center (1968).