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From The Wishing Bone Cycle
by Jacob Nibenegenesabe, tr. Howard Norman

Swampy Cree


One time I wanted two moons

in the sky.

But I needed someone to look up and see

those two moons

because I wanted to hear him

try and convince the others in the village

of what he saw.

I knew it would be funny.

So, I did it.

I wished another moon up!

There it was, across the sky from the old moon.

Along came a man.

Of course I wished him down that open path.

He looked up in the sky.

He had to see that other moon!

One moon for each of his eyes!

He stood looking

up in the sky

a long time.

Then he suspected me, I think.

He looked into the trees

where he thought I might be.

But he could not see me

since I was disguised as the whole night itself!


I wish myself into looking like the whole day

but this time

I was dressed like the whole night.

Then he said.

"there is something strange

in the sky tonight."

He said it out loud.

I heard it clearly.

Then he hurried home

and I followed him.

He told the others, "You will not believe this,

but there are ONLY two moons

in the sky tonight."

He had a funny look on his face.

Then, all the others began looking into the woods.

Looking for me, no doubt!

"Only two moons, ha! Who can believe you?

We won’t fall for that!" they all said to him.

They were trying to send the trick back at me!

This was clear to me!

So, I quickly wished a third moon up there

in the sky.

They looked up and saw three moons.

They had to see them!

Then one man

said out loud, "Ah, there, look up!

up there!

There is only one moon!

Well, let’s go sleep on this

and in the morning we will try and figure it out."

They all agreed, and went in their houses

to sleep.

I was left standing there

with three moons shining on me.

There were three … I was sure of it.



One time

all the noises met.

All the noises in the world

met in one place

and I was there

because they met in my house.

My wife said, "Who sent them?"

I said, "Fox or Rabbit,

yes one of those two.

They’re both out for tricking me back today.

Both of them

are mad at me.

Rabbit is mad because I pulled

his brother’s ear

and I held him up that way.

Then I ate him.

And Fox is mad because he wanted

to do those things first."

"Yes, then it had to be one of them,"

my wife said.

So, all the noises

were there.

These things happen.

Falling-tree noise was there.

Falling-rock noise was there.

Otter-mud-sliding noise was there.

All those noises, and more,

in my house.

"How long do you expect to stay?"

my wife asked them. "We need some sleep!"

They all answered at once!

That’s why now my wife and I

sometimes can’t hear well.

I should have wished them all away

first thing.



  1. Trickster stories go far back in Cree culture (as elsewhere), but the figure here is the invention, specifically, of Jacob Nibenegenesabe, "who lived for some ninety-four years northeast of Lake Winnipeg, Canada." Nibenegenesabe was also a teller (= achimoo) of older trickster narratives, the continuity between old & new never being in question. But the move in the Wishing Bone series is toward a rapidity of plot development & changes, plus a switch into first-person narration as a form of enactment. In the frame for those stories, the trickster figure "has found the wishbone of a snow goose who has wandered into the Swampy Cree region and been killed by a lynx. This person now has a wand of metamorphosis allowing him to wish anything into existence; himself into any situation." Howard Norman’s method of translation, in turn, involves "first listening to the narratives over and over in the source language, then re-creating them in the same context, story, etc., if notable, ultimately to get a translation word for word."
  2. Writes Norman, further: "The Swampy Cree have a conceptual term which I’ve heard used to describe the thinking of a porcupine as he backs into a rock crevice: usá puyew usu wapiw (‘he goes back ward, looks forward’). The porcupine consciously goes backward in order to speculate safely on the future, allowing him to look out at his enemy or just the new day. To the Cree, it’s an instructive act of self-preservation. Nibenegenesabe’s opening formula for the wishing bone poems (and other tales) consisted of an invitation to listen, followed by the phrase: ‘I go backward, look forward, as the porcupine does.’"

The act of telling, then, is one in which traditional ways (as process) do not imprison but free the mind to new beginnings & speculations. This is the basis in fact of the "oral" as a liberating possibility: an interplay that preserves the mind’s capacity for transformation — as important in an ecological sense as that other preservation (of earth & living forms, etc.) that we now recognize not as nostalgia but a necessary tool for our common survival.

Reprinted from Jerome Rothenberg, Shaking the Pumpkin and Howard Norman, The Wishing Bone Cycle.

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