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Jeffry J Brickley

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The First Rattlesnake
by Jeffry J Brickley

Saturday, December 14, 2002

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Before Nah-chu-rú-chu married the moon mother fair,
He had many adventures and there are more to share.
So sit down and listen close, here is one with you to take:
For this is from his youth, the tale of the first rattlesnake.

See, at this time, Nah-chu-rú-chu had one he called friend;
But this friend was of the evil road and often, the truth, would bend.
Now these two would often play in the nearby hills,
And often with games these days would be filled.

So it was of little surprise to the young Nah-chu-rú-chu
That his friend had brought along a game that was new.
His friend brought out a beautiful magical hoop:
Bright colors and designs decorated the loop.

“That is such a beautiful design, what is it we shall play?”
Almost hypnotized by the design, this was all our hero could say.
“Oh it is a simple game, we won’t play anything to win.
I will roll the hoop past, you just catch it; shall we begin?”

And so the game began, it was rolled to Nah-chu-rú-chu,
Though a young man caught it, he was turned to a coyote true .
The friend laughed, “Now you are no more than I thought you to be,
And you shall now live your last days as a mere coyote.”

“You may travel anywhere north south or west,
But to the east the dogs will chase you without rest.
You will never return home, for that now is mine
We do this to each other; this is your fate for all time.”

Nah-chu-rú-chu longed for his home in Isleta pueblo,
So as near as the curse would allow was where he would go.
Though true to the words spoken, the dogs chased after.
But they would not bite him: they sensed his was a gentle manner.

Now Nah-chu-rú-chu was of a true and pure heart,
And coyote's habit of stealing, he would have no part.
Nor was the young boy used to hunting without a bow.
Thus was our hero was starving, because all this was so.

Finally wandering off, his path took him far away to the west.
Proving in humility that as a coyote he was far from the best.
As much out of loneliness as in hunger he looked for aid,
And in a Shepard’s hut he found for what he had prayed.

Now the boy watched the sheep and strangely did see,
A coyote wandering through his flock fearlessly.
He counted quickly and found all of the sheep still there,
Yet here was a hungry coyote passing without a care.

Though this was very strange anyone could plainly see,
The boy thought it not worth telling his grandfather immediately.
Yet the coyote returned for two more days,
So the young boy told his grandfather of the coyote's ways.

The grandfather thought and decided what was to be done:
They'd release the dogs and off the strange coyote would run.
Yet once the dogs were released they ran to the coyote its true ;
But they ran wagging tails and curious of Nah-chu-rú-chu.

This is indeed strange the grandfather then said,
And puzzled briefly and scratched his head.
Finally he said to the animal, “Are you people or coyote?”
But Nah-chu-rú-chu tilted his head, for he knew not how to say.

“Are you people?” the grandfather then asked.
The coyote nodded “yes” and the old man knew what he was tasked.
It is good that you came to us, for I am Quarai, I know your cure.
Come with me now and we shall see if your heart is pure.

Nah-chu-rú-chu followed the old man to his home.
The coyote was fed, as a short prayer the old man did intone.
“Now son, think of the creek where you go, mark two branches of willow.
When you go out tomorrow you will bring one back for this poor fellow.”

When they woke the next morning and the boy was about to go out,
The world was wrapped in a white manta, for there was snow all about.
“Now son, you must go in only moccasins and breeches, as a man.
Pray to one willow and bring the other one back as fast as you can.”

The young boy then left in breeches and moccasins to the willow,
And fell to his knees to pray in the recently fallen snow.
He prayed his thanks for fulfilling what they sought,
Returning with the willow branch that he brought.

The old man quickly fashioned the stick into a small hoop,
And said that before it stopped, the coyote must put his head in the loop.
The coyote gave a big jump and suddenly he was people again.
He was fed and rested and dressed in clothes for a journey to begin.

“Ah,” said the old man, “there now is the road,” and handed him a well-crafted belt.
Take this faja back with you to the village where you have dwelt.
He who did this to you will surely be there, but you must not talk of the past;
He will follow you out again thinking your memory did not last.

With this faja you shall repay his most evil of deeds to you.
Remember to do this, but remember also to keep your heart true .
And so he returned to his pueblo home near the river,
Yet the sight of what was there did make his soul shiver.

For great was Nah-chu-rú-chu's medicine power:
He controlled the clouds that did make the land flower.
Yet what was eight days to him changed, was eight years in the land,
And he was not there to bring the life giving rains by his hand.

The great river out of the north had completely run itself dry,
And all the creatures were dying of thirst from the low to the high.
Yet with our hero's return, rain fell, and the river again did flow.
Telling all that of his departure, the reason he did not know.

Accepting this, the people celebrated their young leader’s return,
And his friend returned not realizing his future to earn.
So hunting they went, as friends, and to the hills again they did run.
Without knowing it the false friend’s fate had just begun.

When they got there he noticed the belt Nah-chu-rú-chu did wear
You should give me that belt; as a gift of our friendship, it is only fair.
But Nah-chu-rú-chu said, “I promise now, if this game you win,
My belt you may have; you’ve nothing to loose shall we begin?”

“I shall roll the belt, and if you can catch it before it is straight
You shall have the gift you deserve; this is now is our fate.”
His friend agreed though his first try he did not succeed:
“That was but practice, one chance more I will need.”

So Nah-chu-rú-chu gave one chance more to his false brother,
And when he touched the belt became a fanged snake, no other.
Nah-chu-rú-chu placed sacred food to be the snake’s meal,
And corn pollen on its head, taming and completing the wheel.

“This is your fate my friend: we do this to each other.
You shall now warn all of your treachery my false brother.
Look now, your tail has the sacred rattle, with this you wear,
You shall warn all before you strike; this fate is truly fair.”

“For you did not warn me of your jealous and cruel heart,
It is here that I leave you, and our friendship to part.”
And from Nah-chu-rú-chu's false friend, whose fate did now end,
Was the first of the rattlesnakes, from whom all did descend.


Retold from the folk tales of the Tewa Pueblo at Isleta in New Mexico, USA.

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