The Discovery and Resolution stay on at Nootka|
for almost a month, the first extended contact
between these peoples: 193 aliens amid
4 or 5 thousand inhabitants of the sound,
and more arriving every day as word travels
north and south along the coast. There is much
suspicion and speculation. Do the savages
eat human flesh? Why do the strangers
have no women, or do they confine them
deep in their floating houses? Why have they
come? What will happen next? As yet
there is no common language between them,
no instrument to hone and polish
the crude points of communication. And so
they experiment, gesture, probe, learn.
Klee hos'meet, a'ook tuh sheetl
To taste or smell, to eat, to weep
Wa'suk' sheete, ashee ack sheetl, Quao okl, wa'eeteh
To cough, to yawn, to sit down, to sleep
Ma'cook, pa'cheetle, aptsheetl,
To exchange or barter, to give, to steal
Tsook, kluts'hlaee, kluk'eezhl, seeh'sheetl
To cleave, to strike, to rise up, to kill
Amulet, Nootka Sound. Vancouver collection.
Does language overcome the discontinuity of space and time? Can it fill
the gaps of reference and consciousness? These remarkable
ordinary people have come together to generate in words a situation
which is gradually taking us in.
But where are you now?
What time is it?
What is happening, chronologically speaking?
I am probably dead, or at least doing something quite apart from what is going
on here between us, between you and me and these others, who are most certainly
Yet the words engage us all, as we perceive aspects of the same experience.
You are not impressed.
You scan the fine print, read one or two of my screens, focus on excerpts of Cook
or Clerke or Samwell or Ledyard.
What you bring to this occasion I do not know.