Flagstaff, Arizona is a place of high winds. Perched at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, this Ponderosa Pine forest country is Arizona’s northern highlands. My family has a cabin here—on the northwestern flank of Humphrey’s Peak, at 8,200’ elevation.
I’ve been living here in isolation for two weeks now—working toward finishing a book of poetry I’ve been writing since 1981. Bow hunting season for deer ended on Thursday. The leaves on the aspen trees are faintly yellow. Fall is here.
In the solitude of my nights, I listen to the notorious winds whip the treetops. I walk in and among the swaying timber. Watch the phases of the moon through the thick branches. Some nights I believe I hear the old voices. Like I always do when I sleep out in another home-away-from-home: Joshua Tree National Monument. There, I hear the Cahuilla. And I know it. But here, I’m not so sure I know who or what I hear.
When I woke up today I was determined to find some contemporary indigenous poetry—to help me understand those voices. I cleaned myself up and drove the twenty miles into town, to Starrlight Books on N. Leroux Street, near the busy railroad tracks. Starrlight is a first-rate independent bookstore. Compact and well organized. I was guided graciously to poetry written by both Navajo and Hopi poets.
I live close to the bone financially, so I appreciated the freedom I was given to read through my many choices. Finally, I decided upon Ramson Lomatewama’s Drifting Through Ancestor Dreams (Entrada Books, 1993). Mr. Lomatewama’s biography says he had previously published two books of poetry: Silent Winds: Poetry of One Hopi and Ascending the Reed. He also works with stained glass and carves kachina dolls.
I come from agrarian roots, too, so his frequent references to the weather and to the Hopi’s staple crop—corn—made me feel at home. His poem “Ants” truly won my heart, though. Its initial images could be from a T’ang Dynasty landscape poem, but he achieves an upside-down parable by the poem’s end.
Silence is reflected in the sky
for the blue haze is but a mirror.
I can feel
the subtleness of the breeze
and the silent fluttering of the moth.
A field of tall grass
sends a gentle wave of light
across the land.
It flows to eternity.
I gaze upon the ants
who toil for their children
for they do not consider
the lilies of the field.
Mr. Lomatewama successfully turns a biblical parable on its head, something I appreciate, being especially fond of Jack London’s upside-down parable: “Dig moved more mountains than faith ever dreamed of.” Amen, brother.
I struggled when choosing a second poem to include in this posting. There are many tender poems, such as “Separation I” and “Separation II,” as well as poems with compelling images. I especially enjoyed the last lines of “After the Rains.” “There is no need / for us to speak. // Silence / will speak / for us.” But the title poem is an anthology of the voices that influence Mr. Lomatewama. This poet of the “Fourth World” is truly a poet of the world.
Drifting Through Ancestor Dreams
They come from all sides, these words and songs of ancestors.
They slide out on tongues of Felipe Molina, flowers, and deer,
and from spruce trees, long houses, and Joe Bruchac.
They fly at me across deserts, from summer stars over Awatovi,
and from bottomless silver words of Mike Kabotie.
I see their words are made of bamboo, tradition, and myth,
and images of Jung and Campbell, and long ago walks in cornfields.
They find me and speak to me through memories of Chicago streets,
Lee Young Lee, Sybil Dunbar, and Ofelia Zepeda’s jagged mountains.
Their words and songs come through dreams of Rex Jim and Harold
Littlebird, whose poems, words, and drumbeats dance all around.
They whisper in flights of hummingbirds and high mesas, through
Luci Tapahanso and Shiprock, and through journeys of Simon Ortiz.
Ancestor dreams come to me from your world, from dark skies,
from unborn children, from New Delhi and from Tuuwanasavi.
I dream-travel through ancestor songs; dream over eagle feathers
dipped in honey and rain; around summer clouds and roasted corn.
I listen for ancestor songs in all people and all places.
I am drifting through ancestor dreams,
to my final breath.