– Nadia Colburn –


In the Wantu language, which was spoken in North California for thousands of
years, there is no word for the right or left side of the body.

If you go up river and the hills are on your west, the mosquito bites you on what
you call your west arm. When you return, the mosquito bite is on your east arm.

The self changes, the language that is used.

But this language can only work if you know your place, hills on your west, hills
on your east, sky above you, water below.

We may learn to speak one another’s languages,

languages that also fade, as the Wantu language slips back into silence,
the last fluent speaker dead in the summer of 2003,

but place is not negotiable. Going up to the bus stop I am yes, and going back I
am no; No, I want to yell, no. But that was my childhood.

Or maybe my childhood was yes. Yes! Body of the earth. Wanting nothing to do
with any of it. Wanting so much.


Thanks to Rebecca Solnit's wonderful A Field Guide to Getting Lost for information about the Wantu language.



A Face Staring At You


 “I tell you,” the mother says, “I never loved this child.
Whenever I remembered what his father did to me, I wanted to kill him.”

I’m trying, halfway across the world,
to understand. “The boy is too stubborn
and bad,” the mother says. “It’s not because
he knows I don’t love him. It’s that blood in him.”

On the breakfast table, in the magazine staring out:
two faces almost the same age, two faces
almost the same face: the boy’s face, open, his hand in his
mother’s open hand, the mother’s face hard on the page.

What does it mean to be unlikeable?
Blood in my body. Blood in my body that is

“When the baby is first taken
from the body it is all body, all sensation,”
the book I have been reading says.
“When the body feels cold, that is bad, and when it feels a warmth that is sufficient,
that is good.” What the body knows.

In the story of my life
something happens. Something comes
and I become a host.
My God, I say, and I am addressing no one
in a tongue that is not
my own, and the body—

I have also given my body readily,
body in love given, then body given to the body
of my son that would become:

And now how many thousands of miles
away, how many hundreds of millions, how many
billions of people away, how many hosts,
this image: what do we do with evil in the world
or with what we do not understand, the son unloved, his beautiful open face
staring out into the day that the camera
will steal, will take and transport to my
table where I sit talking
to my son, both of us, this morning,


---after images and a story in Mother Jones spring 09, Sudan