The world has a navel, or sipapu, through which the people emerged. Some say the Hopi emerged from the Grand Canyon’s sipapu, a calcified mound formed by a natural spring. The Hopi and Pueblo people who use kivas as ceremonial chambers always include a golf-size hole in the floor of the kiva to serve as a sipapu, an umbilical cord to Mother Earth, so to speak. You can see these sipapus in direct line with the fire pit in the remains at Mesa Verde and in recreated kivas elsewhere. I would never be permitted in a working kiva as I am neither male nor Native American, so I have only been in restored kivas at Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico. I climbed down a ladder into the cool, round chamber and sat by the indentation of the sipapu. I heard that offerings were sometimes made there so I left a leaf of sage and a wildflower.
Two weeks ago I was cut across the navel, what the doctor called an infraumbilical skin incision, to remove some of my insides. What am I to make of this enlargement of my sipapu? I came out of anesthesia feeling like I had expanded, and I don’t think it was just the gas they used to inflate my stomach. I let go of cysts that were strangling my organs and my mind felt freed at the same time. For a few days, I couldn’t plan ahead; I was only in the now, recovering in my Chicago bedroom.
Thirteen days later I am at the Taos Pueblo Corn Dance in New Mexico. People live at this pueblo and have for centuries. They rely on corn to live and offer drumming and dancing in gratitude and to maintain balance. That’s what I want, too, to have gratitude for my survival and to have balance as I heal. I sit near the river that runs through the village and wait for the Corn Dance to begin. It is hot and hasn’t rained in weeks. Dusty dogs come by and nudge our water bottles, then go off to play.
Some clouds drift by, one of them very dark; then suddenly it is raining over those of us waiting by Rio Pueblo de Taos. I put my arm out to feel the drops. They hit hard. We spectators bow our heads to the rain. Our feet are speckled by the brown-red dirt thrown up by the force of the drops hitting the ground, the same soil that was used to make the complex of adobe homes in front of us. This feels like a blessing to me, both the sacred earth and the reprieve from the hot, dry June we’ve been having.
After a few minutes, the rain stops and men emerge carrying drums, and two young men have eagle feathers in their hair. They are joined by women carrying bundles of flowers in each hand. The dance begins and I call the ancient prayers into my sipapu, wondering what corn I will be growing in my new life.