After a stone and sand exhibit in Portland
A man is leading the animals.
A man is leading the ones that float on water.
A man is leading the winged ones.
A man is leading the ones that swim.
Maybe he’s St. Francis,
the long-robed man who calls the animals to him now.
Maybe he’s Noah,
the one who gathered the animals.
and sailed away with them, they say.
Who was there to witness their leaving?
To sing a song for their journey?
Where are they going?
their faces turned northward,
taking their songs,
taking their maps,
taking their languages.
Are they leaving with joy in their hearts?
Or is sadness eating at their star hearts?
In the wake of their leaving a small wind
stirs the empty hands of the tree branches above us.
What I will remember—
footsteps left like dinosaur tracks
pressed between Sky Woman and Mother Earth.
When they leave,
I will weep.
I will weep.
Copyright © 2019 by Laura Tohe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 11, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This poem, first written in Navajo, was inspired by an exhibition in the Japanese Garden in Portland. The placement of the objects and the narrative it was telling—in the exhibition a human seems to be leading the animals—took me to the Diné/Navajo stories from time immemorial about how the animals led humans away from strife into new worlds and gave them teachings, songs, and medicine. In the age of global warming, what would happen if the animals abandoned this world? What would our response to such a horrific event be?”