The Silent Prayer Stick

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

The old man scoured the ground below the largest piñon tree looking for the perfect stick. He needed strong wood, not rotten. About the thickness of his little finger. As long as his elbow to his middle finger.

He felt light-headed and weak. For two moons, he and his family had eaten only tiny rations of corn cakes or corn mush. Their beans and dried squash had given out, and they had already pulled every edible wild plant they could find from the canyon. There’d been no game, even desert rats, for two seasons.

He bent and picked up a stick that felt good to him. The right thickness and length. He gave thanks to the big tree and turned back home.

There he sat in the dim light of the single boxy room where his entire family slept to keep warm. With rough stones, he scraped the bark off the stick, exposing its white flesh.

Using a broken shard of arrowhead stone, he carved a spiral down the length of the stick, then carefully painted the groove he’d cut using a single strand of his own gray hair as brush.

For four days he worked on the stick, beginning the night he judged to be the longest of the year, the winter solstice. The first full moon after the longest night was what spurred him to find the stick and work it so carefully. It was an auspicious time for prayer, and he and his family needed a blessing.

He made a fine string of dried yucca fibers, and tied a single hawk feather, his most pristine, to dangle from the stick. Finished, he held it up and made his family listen.

“This prayer stick is for all of us. Take it and put your spirit into it and pass it on.”

Each member of the family, even the baby, held it a moment. Then the old man took it and said words so ancient no one understood them, and he went outside. He watched the moon grow in size each night until it rose full.

Slowly, he marched in a one-man procession to the opening of a small cave beside the spring where the women gathered water. He raised the prayer stick to the full moon, then crawled into the cave placed it upright between two stones. He backed out of the tight space and stood a moment, as if to speak, but no sound emerged from his mouth. He swallowed, glanced longingly at the full moon, then returned to his starving family.

# # #

Most Anasazi skeletal remains show signs of malnutrition and starvation. Only the highest elite citizens escaped the ravages of occasional hunger.

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3 Comments

Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Ancient Americans, Historial Fiction

3 responses to “The Silent Prayer Stick

  1. KjM

    “…and said words so ancient no one understood them…”

    The sense of history with which you imbue your stories is palpable, in such a happy phrase as above, or in the details you carefully sprinkle throughout.

    I remain in awe of your ability to keep the sense of the world you’re creating across all these stories.

    Very well done.

  2. Beautiful story, well told, infinitely sad.

  3. Description so vivid that I knew exactly how long the stick was by looking at my arm.

    Heartbreaking to know that so many Anasazi people starved to death. And to imagine that they might have performed ancient rituals to attract the blessings.

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