The Teller of Tales
When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.
And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.
Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.
The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.
But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me...
The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.
Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.
In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.
The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.
To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.
When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.
Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.
I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.
(translated by Ursula K. Le Guin)