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Laura Tohe

Laura Tohe is Sleepy-Rock People clan and born for the Bitter Water People clan. A poet and librettist, she grew up at the base of the Chuska Mountains in Crystal, New Mexico, and is the author of Tseyí / Deep in the Rock (University of Arizona Press, 2005), which received the Arizona Book Association’s Glyph Award for Best Poetry and Best Book; No Parole Today (West End Press, 1999), which was named Poetry Book of the Year by the Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers; and Making Friends with Water (Nosila Press, 1986).

Tohe is also the author of Code Talker Stories (Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2012) and co-editor of Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002). The Phoenix Symphony commissioned her to write the libretto for Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio, which made its 2008 world premiere as part of the Phoenix Symphony’s sixtieth anniversary. Her recent libretto, Nahasdzaan in the Glittering World, will make its next performance in Grenoble and Havre, France in 2021.

She is the recipient of the Arizona Humanities Dan Schilling Public Scholar Award, the 2019 American Indian Festival of Words Writer’s Award, and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Award. She is Professor Emerita with Distinction at Arizona State University and the current poet laureate of the Navajo Nation.

Read about Laura Tohe’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellowship project.

By This Poet

4

Japanese Garden

                                  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.

 

 


 

Japanese Daa'ak'e yázhídi LTohe

Female Rain

Female Rain

           Dancing from the south

                 cloudy cool and gray

                      pregnant with rainchild

 

At dawn she gives birth to a gentle mist

flowers bow with wet sustenance

                   luminescence all around

 


 

Níłtsą́ Bi’áád

 

Níłtsą́ bi’áád

             Shá’di’ááhdę́ę’go dah naaldogo’ alzhish

                     k’ós hazlį́į́’

                          honeezk’ází

                              níltsą́ bi’áád bitázhool bijooltsą́

                                  áádóó níłtsą́ bi’áád biyázhí bídii’na’

 

Naaniiniiłkaahgo

            níłtsą́ bi’áád biyázhí hazlį́į́’

                   ch’íl látah hózhóón dahtoo’bee ’ałch’į’ háazhah

                        áádóó nihik’inizdidláád

Returning

I’ve been somewhere. My mind struggles to remember the cornfields and fruit trees blooming like a young woman’s body and the place where my brothers built the shade house for our sister’s marriage beneath the slender moon where my mother wove her last blanket.

I’ve walked this empty road before in the month of the big harvest when The People left the canyon with wagons loaded with peaches and corn to take to relatives and to trade with our neighbors who live on the high windy mesas.  

I am returning to the red rocks that once cradled us and from whose arms we were torn when death marched in, surrounded us, and slaughtered everything that we loved.

I am the kidnapped one and survived to escape the enemy who feared our graceful lives because we know that Beauty cannot be captured with words or jails.

I hold nothing in my hands except the lines that tell my fate. I long for the comfort of my mother’s stories, cooking, anything.  How she roasted mutton ribs crispy and salty.  Her stories of my Amazon grandmothers who claimed and discarded husbands like ashes.

Dust clouds billow beneath my bare feet. The ground feels familiar, and I walk easily on the sand that flows from the mouth of the canyon.  A crow glides a new pattern in the wake of grief’s echoes.

Thick black ants watch Earth-Surface child return. “Ahhh,” they say, “leave this one alone; she is returning from that place