Gahé Dzíł / Mountain Spirits

always for my family

Circling around flames and dancing with the blazes
Encumbering sparks take flight into the night sky,
A swirling twinkle resembling a star crown
Moving into empty canopies resembling ghosts

A threshold colossal structure with rusty bells shakes
the sound of fire sings lingering beyond the flames
sent across the mountain and valleys

These spirits come from the mountains and move towards
the south, between the sacred narrow canyons,
The Sierra Madre Canyon walls sing in their echoes

A medicine reveals a stick and brings the wall down
For the Ndé—the people who wandered into night
Ascending towards the ending sky and onto the lost land

Losing their tongues and eyes they consume the mountain
Air and waters trying to heal all their lungs that bellowed
Outward against the slow breezes and heavy breaths

A hundred years the spirits protected them from
the sixteenth calvary who then believed, in all their hearts,
a good Injun was a dead Injun. Even then the spirits protected
the people for another twenty-seven years until they reached
                                    —their forced destination

A place where cutting their hair died as the spirits watched
The people searched the underground catacombs of St. Augustine
While hearing the waves crash against the stone walls

Outside the thick walls, the people were exposed
To yellow fever and malaria, they died and died
                                    —some survived

After thirty more years the people returned to their homeland
closer to the Skeleton Canyons where an epic scribed
on the mountain walls called back their ancestors

At night the drumming echoed like the murmur inside
Their bodies hearing the loud thumps come and go

In 1986 the people returned to their original place
                                                —entering the ancient canyons
                                                —honoring those killed
                                                —remembering the mountains

At night the sparks fly high as the people hear those rusty bells
and hollow songs        —they feel the drums and footsteps reverberate
Inside their veins every time, they look to the mountains


Copyright © 2022 by Crisosto Apache. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem has been in constant revision for some time now. At the time I originally wrote this poem, I had just watched a short video about the Geronimo family returning to the original burial place of their ancestor Geronimo (Goyáła) in 1986. The video had me thinking about my writing, where I have never written about my culture. This was one of the first poems dedicated to my culture. The original poem (before the heavy revision) was read as part of MTV’s thirty-second short ‘Expand Your Mind’ video promo back on May 6, 1993. This version is clearer.”
Crisosto Apache