Prayer for Words

- 1934-

         My voice restore for me.

Here is the wind bending the reeds westward,
The patchwork of morning on gray moraine:


Had I words I could tell of origin,
Of God’s hands bloody with birth at first light,
Of my thin squeals in the heat of his breath,
Of the taste of being, the bitterness,
And scents of camas root and chokecherries.

And, God, if my mute heart expresses me,
I am the rolling thunder and the bursts
Of torrents upon rock, the whispering
Of old leaves, the silence of deep canyons.
I am the rattle of mortality.

I could tell of the splintered sun. I could
Articulate the night sky, had I words.

A Benign Self-Portrait

A mirror will suffice, no doubt.
The high furrowed forehead,
The heavy-lidded Asian eyes,
The long-lobed Indian ears.
Brown skin beginning to spot,
Of an age to bore and be bored.
I turn away, knowing too well
My face, my expression
For all seasons, my half-smile.

Birds flit about the feeder,
The dog days wane, and I
Observe the jitters of leaves
And the pallor of the ice-blue beyond.
I read to find inspiration. I write
To restore candor to the mind.
There are raindrops on the window,
And a peregrine wind gusts on the grass.
I think of my old red flannel shirt,
The one I threw away in July.
I would like to pat the warm belly of a
Beagle or the hand of a handsome woman.
I look ahead to cheese and wine,
And a bit of Bach, perhaps,
Or Schumann on the bow of Yo-Yo Ma.

I see the mountains as I saw them
When my heart was young.
But were they not a deeper blue,
shimmering under the fluency of skies
Radiant with crystal light? Across the way
The yellow land lies out, and standing stones
Form distant islands in the field of time.
here is a stillness on this perfect world,
And I am content to settle in its hold.
I turn inward on a wall of books.
They are old friends, even those that
Have dislodged my dreams. One by one
They have shaped the thing I am.

These are the days that swarm
Into the shadows of legend. I ponder.
And when the image on the glass
Is refracted into the prisms of the past
I shall remember: my parents speaking
Quietly in a warm familiar room, and
I bend to redeem an errant, broken doll.
My little daughter, her eyes brimming
With love, beholds the ember of my soul.
There is the rattle of a teacup, and
At the window and among the vines,
The whir of a hummingbird’s wings.
In the blue evening, in another room,
There is the faint laughter of ghosts,
And in a tarnished silver frame, the
likeness of a boy who bears my name.

Remembering Milosz and Esse

                She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with
                the immensity of existing things. A sponge,
                suffering because it cannot saturate itself, a river
                suffering because reflections of clouds and trees
                are not clouds and trees.

                                        Czeslaw Milosz, “Esse” 


A season of breeze-borne light,

And, in your phrase, “the immensity of existing things,”

                        Enclosed us there.

Among listeners you read almost in confidence,

Almost in the apology of creation,

                        And the chord of conscience.

What was it that “Esse” meant to you?

Your voice was grave, in the timbre of loss.

You recited in the measure of the heart’s broken pulse.

I wanted to know you, to have known you

For many years

                                In the immensity of existing things.

Afterwards you returned to yourself ;

You were definitively Milosz, gracious and at ease,

An old man of an old Europe, a gentleman

Of languages.  You attempted to name the world,

And in precise syllables you succeeded.

                        Outside, among the elder trees

And beside the grassy banks of a slow, transparent stream,

You seemed to contemplate an unforgiving history,

and the difference between clouds and their reflection.

The Snow Mare

In my dream, a blue mare loping,
Pewter on a porcelain field, away.
There are bursts of soft commotion
Where her hooves drive in the drifts,
And as dusk ebbs on the plane of night,
She shears the web of winter,
And on the far, blind side
She is no more. I behold nothing,
Wherein the mare dissolves in memory,
Beyond the burden of being.

Related Poems

Navajo Mountain

If you close your eyes
and take a deep breath
you can hear the green sage sing

The gray stones beneath you
feel young again
The breeze watches
it all with her Mona Lisa smile

Naatsis’áán takes it all in

The thunder of a hundred hooves,
whoops and hollers of the crowd,
the intensity of the riders
as in the day of wild warriors 
on the warpath.

There are chicken pulls, children’s foot races,
Navajo cake, kneel-down bread, drum songs

K’é shakes the roots of the mountain,
which gives the people her blessing

as does Sun God
with gentle warm breath.

The story I heard
was that the people
returned from Hwéeldi
and found strangers in their home.

Ashiih Litso just a boy, risked everything
on one horse race
and was blessed by the Holy People.

Another story goes that the mountain protected the people,
keeping soldiers away
and they never had to make the Long Walk.

Whichever story you live by,
the mountain remembers.
Eehaniih celebrates her,
head of the earth.

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