Study Guide

Ceremony Poem XXIV

By Leslie Marmon Silko

Poem XXIV

  • This poem is Tayo's song for the sunrise. It's both a song and a prayer.
  • It begins and ends with the word "Sunrise!" because Tayo knows that that's what the Dawn people do.
  • Tayo's song is intuitive. He just feels like he's saying the right thing.
  • The sunrise seems really significant to him. It seems everything is gathered into the same moment: the stars, the mountaintops, the clouds, and the winds.
  • Tayo ties up the horse and walks back toward the house, which has beautiful flowers planted below the windows.
  • Back in the house, Tayo eats breakfast while the woman works with bundles and pouches filled with animal teeth and small, colored rocks. Is she a medicine woman?
  • The woman looks Tayo in the eye to make sure he's watching her. Then she matches freshly gathered plants with the colored stones. Is the woman doing something to help Tayo on his journey?
  • The silence of the room is warm and comfortable as Tayo watches the woman.
  • When Tayo finishes his coffee, he thanks the woman and leaves.
  • Tayo and the mare climb a narrow trail to the top of the mesa. From there Tayo can see mountains and valleys in all directions, but he can't see any sign of white civilization.
  • Tayo is headed toward a mountain. Is this the mountain from Betonie's vision?
  • The pine trees get thicker, and soon Tayo is riding through a pine forest.
  • The white ranchers call this place North Top. The Laguna people have always hunted up here.
  • Josiah once told Tayo a story about this place. A hunter found a mountain lion cub in a meadow. As long as the hunter sang a song to the cub, he continued to play. But as soon as the hunter thought of the cub's mother and got scared, the mountain lion cub ran away.
  • Now most of the mountain has been "taken" by the National Forest and white ranchers. There's only a little bit that remains part of the reservation.
  • In the '20s and '30s, loggers came to the mountain and cut down a lot of the trees. The logging companies hired professional hunters, who overhunted in order to feed the men at the logging camps.
  • The loggers also hunted the bears and mountain lions for sport.
  • These events led the holy men in Laguna to warn the people that the balance of the world was disturbed. They should expect more droughts in the future.
  • The white ranchers raise cattle on the mountain. This is the last place Tayo would expect to find Josiah's cattle, but he's trusting Betonie's vision.
  • It seemed weird when he saw the stars in the north. After all, the cattle had always wandered south.
  • When he set out following Betonie's stars, Tayo hadn't really expected to find anything. But all of a sudden, "Betonie's vision was a story he could feel happening" (XXIV.11).
  • The story seems to have a momentum of its own. Tayo is sure that "from the stars and the woman, the mountain and the cattle would come" (XXIV.11)
  • Tayo Tummy Update: Notice how Tayo hasn't felt sick since he started his quest? Now he's having a snack, and his belly is full of "urgency and excitement" (XXIV.12). Much better than nausea, if you ask us.
  • The Texan ranchers who bought this land have put up fences and hired armed riders to protect their boundaries. But Native American hunters and Mexicans tend to ignore the "No Trespassing" signs.
  • Still, Tayo knows he has to be careful. He has the bill of sale for the cattle in his shirt pocket, just in case.
  • Tayo is feeling really optimistic about finding the cattle and successfully realizing Josiah's dream to raise a new breed of badass-survival-cows.
  • Tayo rides in search of the cattle until he comes to a really heavy-duty fence. It's very high, made of steel, and has three strands of barbed wire along the top.
  • The white man who owns the land—or who thinks he owns it, anyway—calls the fence "wolf-proof." But everyone knows he's already poisoned or shot all of the wolves in the area.
  • The fence is really to keep Indians and Mexicans off of his land, so that he can "lock the mountain in steel wire, to make the land his" (XXIV.15).
  • Tayo is examining the fence when out of the corner of his eye he sees them. It's the spotted cattle!
  • The cattle have worn a path along the south boundary fence. They've been pacing back and forth, waiting for something to tear open an escape route.
  • Fortunately, Tayo has a pair of fencing pliers with him. Way to be prepared, Tayo!
  • That's because his uncle Josiah had taught him that he never knew when a fence might get in his way . . . and he had nodded toward Mount Taylor when he said it. (This is when we learn the "white" name for the mountain Tayo is climbing, the name given to it by the U.S. government.)
  • Tayo starts to cut the fence's wires, but he realizes he's being hasty because he's so excited. There's no reason to rush, he tells himself. Better to stay cool and make sure he doesn't make any mistakes.
  • Tayo decides to wait until it gets dark to go after the cattle. In the meantime he has a snack and looks for a good place to make an opening in the fence.
  • Tayo finds a spot by a dead pine tree that's been split by lightening. He goes to work on the fence.
  • Cutting the wire is hard, uncomfortable work. Tayo gets cramps in his hands and wears out the knees of his Levi's on the rocky ground.
  • While he works, Tayo thinks about how the cattle might have wound up on Floyd Lee's land. If he had seen the cattle on Native American or Mexican land, he wouldn't have hesitated to say the cattle were "stolen" (XXIV.24).
  • But because the cattle are on a white man's land, Tayo hesitates. He feels funny accusing a white man of stealing.
  • That's when Tayo realizes he has internalized ""The Lie"." ""The Lie"" goes like this: "only brown-skinned people were thieves; white people didn't steal, because they always had the money to buy whatever they wanted" (XXXIV.24).
  • In other words, Mexicans and Native Americans steal because they don't have anything. White people don't steal, because they already have everything.
  • Tayo begins to cut at the wire as though he's cutting away ""The Lie"" inside himself.
  • Tayo reflects that "the liars" have fooled everybody—not just Native Americans, but white people too. (XXIV.25)
  • Who are "the liars"? We associate them with "the destroyers" and the people who practice witchcraft. They're kind of an invisible, anonymous force of evil.
  • The liars have successfully turned white people and Indians against each other, making it impossible for anyone to see what's been done to them or what they are doing to each other.
  • Tayo realizes that it's really, really important that white people understand "The Lie." It's essential that they understand that they have built their nation on stolen land.
  • If white people don't learn this, they will never understand how they are being manipulated by witchery.
  • If this doesn't happen, white injustice and the resulting anger and hatred of the nonwhite people will one day destroy the world.
  • All the destroyers have to do is set the conflict in motion, like a chain of dominos. Then they can just lean back and watch the bloodbath. (Insert evil laughter here.)
  • OK, world destruction sounds bad enough, but there's another good reason white people need to understand "The Lie."
  • "The Lie" has "devoured white hearts," Tayo thinks to himself. This leaves white people feeling empty and soulless. Patriotic wars, technology, and the accumulation of wealth are all things white people do to try to fill the emptiness. (XXIV.26)
  • Finally, the hole in the fence is complete, and so is Tayo's philosophical pondering—for now, anyway.
  • Tayo tracks the cattle along a trail through the woods.
  • Hunting the cattle allows Tayo to forget all the bad things that have happened in the past few years. It's a kind of cure.
  • Tayo Tummy Update: Tayo's belly is tight with anticipation . . . until, all of a sudden, the tension snaps. Then he feels a silence inside his belly.
  • Time seems to have stopped for Tayo. The past and future sort of disappear and only exist in relation to the present moment.
  • Tayo gets impatient with the mare because she's hungry and keeps trying to graze, but really it's because he's frustrated at not having found the cattle yet.
  • This brings back memories of Josiah teaching little Tayo and Rocky how to control a horse. Josiah always taught them that violence and anger were pointless. Tayo knows that beating the mare won't make the cattle appear.
  • Tayo lets the horse drink and rest, and he realizes how tired he is. He also gets anxious because he realizes he's running out of night.
  • Tayo suddenly starts to panic. Whatever made him think he could do this? The woman under the apricot tree didn't mean anything. He's just imagining all of this mystical stuff.
  • He should get out of here quick, before the fence riders find the hole and track him down.
  • Tayo is overwhelmed by exhaustion and falls to the ground beneath a tree. He thinks this might be the end.
  • Tayo is just lying there with his face in the pine needles when a mountain lion comes into the clearing. The yellow light from the beautiful animal's eyes seems to bring Tayo back to life.
  • The mountain lion stops in front of Tayo. Tayo gets on his knees, holds out his hand, and whispers a sort of prayer.
  • Then the mountain lion disappears into the trees.
  • Tayo sprinkles yellow pollen into the mountain lion's footprints. It's an offering to the mountain lion, the hunter's helper.
  • Tayo rides in the direction the mountain lion came from.
  • At dawn, he stops to watch the sunrise.
  • When he turns away from the sun, he sees the spotted cattle again.
  • Tayo starts herding the cattle, counting on the fact that they always want to go south. They're headed toward the hole in the fence.
  • It looks like there are going to be storm clouds before noon.
  • Tayo starts to relax. He has proven that the witchery that was making him sick isn't as strong as it used to be. It's changing and unraveling.
  • Suddenly he sees a couple of riders approaching. Uh oh.
  • They're about a mile away. Tayo tries to get the mare to run faster, but the ground is really uneven.
  • It looks like he's gotten away from them. He lets the mare slow down.
  • Page break. Suddenly Tayo is looking up at the blue sky. He thinks he's still a soldier, waking up on an island in the Pacific. Fearing he's been hit, Tayo starts to call to Rocky for help.
  • Tayo starts to remember what happened. He was watching the last cow escape through the fence when his horse fell down.
  • Tayo's body hurts and he tells himself he can rest just a little while longer.
  • But then the riders catch up with him. Luckily it doesn't look like they've noticed the hole in the fence yet.
  • The cowboys try to take Tayo with them on their horse, but Tayo is way too injured to ride. So one of them sits with him while the other goes back for a truck.
  • Tayo is hoping that arresting him will be too much trouble and that they'll just let him go.
  • Page break.
  • Tayo starts to feel like he's being pulled towards "the center," closer to the earth. It sounds like he feels like he's dying. But dying feels like "a returning, rather than a separation." (XXIV.61)
  • Well, that's a relief, because Tayo fears leaving the people he loves. Good to know death won't be lonely. It feels like the earth is giving him a nice big hug.
  • The only part of his body that's resisting is his head, which hurts a lot from the fall. He pictures his skull, which feels fragile and weak. If he lets go and falls asleep, he knows he will die.
  • To die and enjoy the earth's big, warm hug, or to stay alive and keep feeling this pain in his head? What to do?
  • Tayo hears a truck. The Texan cowboy is back, but he's excited about something else. He's found mountain lion tracks.
  • The cowboys decide they can catch Indian trespassers any time. A mountain lion is way more unusual.
  • They figure they've taught him a lesson, anyway. These Indians need to learn to respect private property.
  • Page break.
  • When Tayo wakes up again, the cowboys are gone. The sky is full of storm clouds.
  • Tayo isn't feeling at the top of his game, but at least the pounding in his head has stopped. He follows a deer trail to a place where deer make their beds. He lies in one of these beds and heaps leaves on top of himself to stay warm.
  • It looks like it's going to start to snow soon.
  • Tayo Tummy Update: The smell of snow makes Tayo's belly stir like it used to when he was a little kid. You know how excited you used to get when it snowed for the first time in the winter (especially if it meant you got to stay home from school)? Yeah, that's how Tayo feels now.
  • While he rests, Tayo formulates his harshest and most coherent critique of white culture yet. It's a pretty significant paragraph, with lots of great quotes, and it helps us understand Tayo's developing philosophy. Check it out. (XXIV.74)
  • Tayo hates the white cowboys for what they're doing to the mountain and the animals. He's afraid the earth might not know that he's not one of the destroyers.
  • Tayo has violent thoughts about kicking "the soft white bodies into the Atlantic," and shooting the patrolmen with their own guns before they can kill the mountain lion (XXIV.74).
  • But Tayo's criticism isn't limited to white people. He also wants to yell at people like Harley and Helen Jean and Emo, who desire the things white people have, that these things have been stolen. (This is a reiteration of "The Lie" from earlier in this section. XXIV.26)
  • Indian people think they have nothing, but in fact it's the white people who have nothing, since everything they have is stolen.
  • Only a few people understand that "The Lie" is destroying white people even faster than it's destroying Indian people.
  • There's evidence for this fact. Just look at white art, he thinks. It's completely sterile. White artists have to rob ideas and meaning from other cultures. (Ideas like this one are part of the reason Ceremony is a postmodern work. Check out our discussion of this in the "Genre" section.)
  • OK, Tayo's criticism is over for now. He's given us a lot to think about!
  • Page break. When Tayo wakes up again, it's dark and snowing. He starts following the trail, but very slowly. He's super sore.
  • The snow is coming down harder now, covering the mountain lion's tracks. The white men will never find him now.
  • The snow will also cover the cattle tracks and disguise the hole in the fence. It'll be days before the men can patrol the fence again, anyway.
  • Tayo Tummy Update: Everything is A-OK. Tayo's belly feels "smooth and soft . . . following the contours of the hills and holding the silence of the snow" (XXIV.77). It's turning into a regular weather barometer.
  • Tayo shakes his head like a deer and gives an animal cry: "ahooouuuh!" (XXIV.77)
  • The big snowflakes are like the gauzy curtains from "the woman's house." Which woman is Tayo referring to? Night Swan's apartment had gauzy curtains, but it seems likelier that Tayo is thinking about the woman who lives at the bottom of the mountain.
  • We think the ambiguity is intentional. Maybe Tayo only sleeps with women with funny-colored eyes and gauzy curtains. Kind of a specific type, if you ask us.
  • On his way down the trail, Tayo hears someone behind him singing.
  • Tayo Tummy Update: Tayo's stomach freezes, in a fight-or-flight kind of response.