Anthropocene: A Dictionary

definitions provided by the Navajo–English Dictionary by Leon Wall & William Morgan

dibé bighan: sheep corral 

juniper beams caught charcoal in the late summer morning
night still pooled in hoof prints; deer panicked run from water 

ooljéé’ biná’adinídíín: moonlight

perched above the town drowned in orange and streetlamp
the road back home dips with the earth
                                                                    shines black in the sirens 

bit’a’ :  its sails or—its wing (s)

           driving through the mountain pass
                       dólii, mountain bluebird, swings out—
           from swollen branches
I never see those anymore, someone says 

diyóół        : wind (

                         wind (more of it) more wind as in (to come up)
                         plastic bags driftwood the fence line 

nihootsoii 

            :             evening—somewhere northward fire 
                                       twists around the shrublands; 
                               sky dipped in smoke—twilight 

        —there is a word for this, 
                                                    someone says 

                                        :           deidííłid, they burned it  
    
                                        :           kódeiilyaa, we did this

Buffalograss

Barely-morning pink curtains
drape an open window. Roaches scatter,

the letter t vibrating in cottonwoods.
His hair horsetail and snakeweed.

I siphon doubt from his throat
for the buffalograss.

Seep willow antler press against
the memory of the first man I saw naked.

His tongue a mosquito whispering
its name a hymn on mesquite,

my cheek. The things we see the other do
collapse words into yucca bone.

The Navajo word for eye
hardens into the word for war.

Eating Wild Carrots with My Brothers on the Mesa

cicada wane
water and sun race every infinite evening
fall exists for the dock root to oxalate
each roof of every mouth
            each winter with its obsessed wind
                        each spring that sees storm after storm
                                                    each wild that wilds

pasqueflowers open their palms to straight rain

Let There Be Coal

I.

A father hands a sledgehammer to two boys outside Window Rock.
The older goes first, rams a rail spike into the core, it sparks—

                                      no light comes, just dust cloud,
                                                       glitterblack.

The boys load the coal. Inside them, a generator station opens its eye.
A father sips coal slurry from a Styrofoam cup, careful not to burn.

II.

train
tracks
and
mines
split
Gallup
in two

Men 
spit
coal
tracks rise
when Drunktown 
kneels to the east

III.

Spider Woman cries her stories coiled in warp and wool. The rug now hung
in a San Francisco or Swedish hotel.

We bring in the coal that dyes our hands black not like ash
but like the thing that makes a black sheep black.

IV.

This is a retelling of the creation story where Navajo people journeyed four worlds
and God declared, "Let there be coal." Some Navajo people say there are actually
five worlds.

                                                                                                 Some say six.

A boy busting up coal in Window Rock asks his dad, “When do we leave for 
the next one?”
His dad sits his coffee down to hit the boy. “Coal doesn't bust itself.”

Related Poems

Babejianjisemigad/Gradual Transformation

Chigaming gii jiisibidoon mikwambikwadinaa
The great sea was pinched by the glaciers

neyaashiiwan, neyaakobiiwanan, neyaakwaa
land reaching, water pointing, trees leaning

biindig zaaga’iganing, agwajiing akiing
inside the lake, outside the land.

Omaa zhawenjigejig zhaweniminangwa
It is here we are loved

epiichi agwaayaashkaa mii dash animaashkaa
by the slow swell of tides

gaye baswewe zisibimaadiziyang.
that echo the rasp of our lives.

Maampii gidanishinaabemotawigoonaanig
This place speaks to us

ginwenzh biboon, nitaawigin niibin
of long winters, summer growth

babejianjisemigad apane.
and slow constant change.

Red Language

If I heard the words you once used
in our wild place rough with scrub roses
in sand—if your words came back
gray and kind as mild winter
believe me I’d still understand
offer my own red language
my tongue to your tongue
so we recall what we once said
that made us live
                        made us choose to live

Thanksgiving in the Anthropocene, 2015

Thank you, instant mashed potatoes, your bland taste 
makes me feel like an average American. Thank you, 
 
incarcerated Americans, for filling the labor shortage 
and packing potatoes in Idaho. Thank you, canned 
 
cranberry sauce, for your gelatinous curves. Thank you, 
Ojibwe tribe in Wisconsin, your lake is now polluted 
 
with phosphate-laden discharge from nearby cranberry 
bogs. Thank you, crisp green beans, you are my excuse 
 
for eating apple pie à la mode later. Thank you, indigenous 
migrant workers, for picking the beans in Mexico’s farm belt, 
 
may your children survive the season. Thank you, NAFTA, 
for making life dirt cheap. Thank you, Butterball Turkey, 
 
for the word, butterball, which I repeat all day butterball
butterball, butterball because it helps me swallow the bones 
 
of genocide. Thank you, dark meat, for being so juicy 
(no offense, dry and fragile white meat, you matter too). 
 
Thank you, 90 million factory-farmed turkeys, for giving 
your lives during the holidays. Thank you, factory-farm 
 
workers, for clipping turkey toes and beaks so they don’t scratch 
and peck each other in overcrowded, dark sheds. Thank you, 
 
genetic engineering and antibiotics, for accelerating 
their growth. Thank you, stunning tank, for immobilizing 
 
most of the turkeys hanging upside down by crippled legs. 
Thank you, stainless steel knives, for your sharpened 
 
edge and thirst for throat. Thank you, de-feathering 
tank, for your scalding-hot water, for finally killing the last
 
still-conscious turkeys. Thank you, turkey tails, for feeding 
Pacific Islanders all year round. Thank you, empire of 
 
slaughter, for never wasting your fatty leftovers. Thank you, 
tryptophan, for the promise of an afternoon nap;
 
I really need it. Thank you, store-bought stuffing, 
for your ambiguously ethnic flavor, you remind me 
 
that I’m not an average American. Thank you, gravy, 
for being hot-off-the-boat and the most beautiful 
 
brown. Thank you, dear readers, for joining me at the table 
of this poem. Please join hands, bow your heads, and repeat
 
after me: “Let us bless the hands that harvest and butcher 
our food, bless the hands that drive delivery trucks 
 
and stock grocery shelves, bless the hands that cooked 
and paid for this meal, bless the hands that bind 
 
our hands and force-feed our endless mouth. 
May we forgive each other and be forgiven.”