These riddles were inspired by An Annotated Collection of Mongolian Riddles by Archer Taylor, American Philological Association, 1954 and a chapter on riddles in Homo Ludens or “Man the Player” (alternatively, “Playing Man”) by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga,1938. I wrote one riddle a day for thirty days.
In 1977 Singing Bone Press published twelve of these poems (several with corresponding visual riddles by Phil Sultz) in an edition of 101 copies. Among other reasons that I like riddles is that I enjoy letting the reader experience the shift from “perplexity” to “knowing”, an inherent part of the riddle and a feature that is sometimes a part of poetry–“figuring it out.” The reader naturally has to think about what the hints add up to. Not hidden meaning, but a form in which meaning means a lot. They call for and reward cogitation.
You can see how different your response would be to these riddles if, instead of letting you come to the answer by your wits, I gave you the answer as the poem’s title.
To discover the answer to each riddle, go backward in the alphabet to the next letter for each letter given.
I name the
two named in
turn name me.
Spears and arrows branch and river.
When it splits a dome it changes oxygen.
A sacred spot grows the best corn.
It could suck its own feet if it had any.
When it travels, the land passes through it.
It can mother or father;
its children are born from a ring.
Its shadow hugs its belly.
To falter, to give way.
On the hearth or on a path it lays
Scaled from cliffs like flaking skin.
Sometimes it’s called soap
(Which nothing washes in.)
A third way:
Limp when the air is, still, it flutters
and flaps when the air flutters and flaps
and tells a message then.