Moth Madness

Moths circle the kerosene lamp
     on the floor that
     sheds a dim light on our night work.
     My cousin and I keep carding the wooly clumps.
     Twigs and dirt that clung to the sheep
     from their wanderings among sagebrush and thistle
     drop into our laps.
     We card and card to transform them
     into layers of soft clouds for Nalí’s spindle.

Iich’ąhii says Nalí, almost in a whisper,
     like she was afraid to stir the name,
     like the name might release something formed from night.

Iich’ąhii, the word flutters
     in the shadows and cautions
     against all that is unbalanced in the Glittering World,
     the reckless, the violators, the amoral,
     evil floating all around
     that must be righted with songs and prayers.

Baa’hádzid! She exclaims, no longer whispering.
     Harsh caution against a suicidal jump into the fire.
     I would learn what it means to yearn
     for the fire burning in a stranger, the coup de foudre,
     that matched my own moth madness.

Nalí’s spindle tilts, like the earth’s axis,
     she places against her thigh
     spins intensely,
     as she transforms clouds of wool
     into layers upon layers of streaks
     for her canvas that becomes her world.
     She calls the earth and sky;
     She calls stories of female mountains;
     She calls stories of male mountains;
     She calls geometric designs to her
     to balance the world against
     the moth madness.


Nalí–paternal grandmother
Iich’ąhii–moth insect
Baa’hádzid–used to denote something fearful

Copyright © 2020 by Laura Tohe. This poem was first printed in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Winter 2020). Used with the permission of the author.