Open Letter to Naia1

Natanya Ann Pulley

Dear girl, you thought you had escaped it — head resting on your arm, the weight of your torso slouched. Let the fight for survival go and absorb the quiet of the cave. The fall you took, the pelvis a snap and echo. You thought it was over after no water was to be found and the remains of creatures spelled your future. But you weren’t a fortuneteller.

When they found you, you glittered. Deep-water crystals along your bones. Like those images of beach sand and tears and snowflakes magnified, a pattern of beauty and chance and some mythic equation.

They named you nymph so you would stay there, as if you would speak from those depths. You see, we took to naming the world. And throwing lines and contours throughout the earth. And setting up stock in what lay where and around whom. So easy it is to fit the philosophy of ownership into all nooks and crannies and winds and bodies. But I bristle each time I read that you are proof of the Native Americans’ journey across the Bering Strait. And I fall as well; I fall deep down into myself to a place of tired and fear. A place of cave-lore and the lost. A place someone else wants to name.

Science wants to tell us from which earth we came and everyone else wants to tell us why that matters. As if just being born means you’ll live your life waiting to become part of the exhibit after you die. For many years I thought this was the way of things. I thought you and I were always falling down into underground caves and loosening our bodies in order to die. I thought when the news came up … when the study appeared … when the evidence was uncovered, we would both be propped up in a glass case, much later. Or we would be read by lasers and rubber-gloved hands.

What I want to say (to both sides fighting to prove our journey or our claim) is fuck it. Fuck the lines that read and demand a true home (as if there is such a thing). Because it is not we that really care to know. We know, you and I, only 12,000 years between us — which is not that much considering the stars — we know that the placing of us on a map, on a timeline, on a globe has never been our way of things, but that of a movement made of fear. It is the last stand of a guilty conscience. The question isn’t whether we began here in America or not, the question is: Why must we continually fight to prove we have a commitment to our homeland? Not a dedication to location, not a contract with the landscape, and not a claim on the soil — why must we prove our kinship to the earth and be tested by blood and paper and numbers and data?

I know my origin not from any map or document. I walked along a sand dune in the early morning hours when the Arizona night was still heavy in the shadows. I came to a deep hollow in the sand where the bedrock and glint of once-sea rocks and loose dirts made solid still lay. No time existed and I remembered that all the sands of my people have been lifted and sung into new places and back again. This rotation heavy within us as well. Covering and uncovering our stories. In the deserts of my mother’s mother, I only see that I am a thing of remarkable chance held together among the cedar trees and sagebrush. I need nothing of declarations.

And neither do you. When the stretches and contours, and the dating of your bones comes with an argument that honors only ownership and citizenship, then you and I together fall into the infinitely miniscule spaces of being. I fall into the same black hole, as if to wait out my death, as if to wait for the beings to descend, a floating genocide to reach us and pull us out and tell me and you, dear Naia, who we really are.

  1. Naia is the human skeleton of a teenage female found in an underwater chamber called Hoyo Negro (Spanish for “Black Hole”) in the Sac Actun cave system in Mexico. Naia was named after the Greek water nymphs (Naiads). Her bones are 12,000 to 13,000 years old. (Wikipedia)
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