The Hocking Hills Festival of Poetry

Keeper of the Stories


Before the laser printer; before Güttenberg’s press; before the monks, quill in hand, sitting in deep silence at their copying desk; before dancing Arabic swirls; before Greek vowels animating the wine dark sea; before the calligraphy of Pali sutras; before the solid Hebrew block like aleph-bet; before Sumerian wedges in wet clay tablets; before delicate hieroglyphs illuminating papyrus scrolls; before the elephant god Ganesh invented letters; before the oracles saw the yin and yang in cracks on turtle shells; before the Neolithic artist, so taken by the beauty of an object, that he incised it onto a femur; before the earliest hunters rubbed their hands in fat and charcoal, pressing them against a flickering tallow-lit wall deep inside the earth; before the antler of a deer flaked a flint point to deadly edge; there was story.

In Burkina Faso , the Dagara embrace minerals as one of the five essential elements of their cosmology. Rocks, shells, bones. Calcified knowledge and wisdom dating back into the mists of time. Holding all that has been known and all that will been known. A wise man sees the past by reading the rocks, imagining the history of the land unfolding; tosses the cowries to divine the future; and sustains himself by living life to the bone. Knowing that he is made from these very minerals, cycling back to the explosions of long ago stars. An affinity with story is the blessing bestowed to one born into the mineral clan.

The stories we need live in the mineral world. They must be mined by going deeply into the realm of the earth, and into the realm of ourselves. They must be carried to our people, and told again and again, serving as mirrors for our lives and our culture. Animated by the fire of the living breath they cross worlds and vast stretches of time, spark us into action, or lead us along the path of self-reflection. They may have never happened, but they are happening all the time. And for as long as this is so, they will live in the world of man.

But we tend to forget – the flower of the lotus a constant temptation. And some of the stories go underground, below the surface of memory. Like the myriad shelled creatures of the sea, they die, but their shells sink to the bottom of a deep and vast ocean. Eons upon eons. Deposited in thick layers, and under the weight and pressure of the waters above, they once again become stone. With patience they wait for upheaval of the shifting plates below. And they rise.

Some of us, those in tune with the minerals inside and out, seek the stories, gather them and hold them close, and tell them, whatever the risk. With the embers of their hearts they warm them, until they crack, and reveal the treasure within – Beauty, that opens the eyes of others wider than before, endowing them with the chance to see what has never and has always been. Igniting their hearts and minds and awakening the ancient stories echoed in their own bones; and bringing what is needed into light.

Like an ancient tribe of hunters, savoring the riches of their labors, in communion around a small fire that shelters them from the night; the keeper of the stories cracks the rich marrow from the bones, and lovingly nourishes his people.