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Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.4 (2004) 47-50

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Poetry Can Be All This

All of You, All of Me, All of Us

The smoke of student riots still lingered in the air the fall I arrived at the University of New Mexico with my three-year-old son to begin my studies in pre-med and dance in the early seventies. The Kiva Club, (the Indian student club), was my community, my center of gravity. We were dedicated to defining, securing, defending and protecting Native rights. We didn't just talk; we acted. After classes and meetings we'd often gather later to continue discussions, or to party. We were a pivotal generation and urgently understood the need for cultural regeneration, political and social renovation; we did everything passionately, hard.

One night that first fall at UNM, I met Simon Ortiz. It was at a gathering of native students and activists. Simon started the conversation. He was working for the National Indian Youth Council with Gerald Wilkinson up on Central Avenue, and had been sleeping on the floor of the offices. I don't know what I said or if I said much of anything at all beyond my tribal affiliation and school major. I was shy, self-contained. He was a poet, he said. What do you say to a poet? Sure I knew about Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the Beats, but there was no such thing in our circle, though we did respect the power of words. I'd admired eloquent native speeching at press conferences and in circles of meaning and consequence, from my own quiet distance. And many students at Indian school wrote poetry. Mostly, I'd always imagined poets as pale men (and the rare [End Page 47] spinster) declaiming in long aristocratic coats, haling from wet, cold lands. I had never met an Indian person before who introduced himself as "a poet."

Simon Ortiz invited me to a reading he was going to do the next morning over live radio. I don't think I went the next morning to the radio show, but eventually we became a couple. He obsessively wrote poems and journals, labored hours at his typewriter at the kitchen table or on some other improvised desk. He had meetings, associations, even at times, an entourage of followers. I painted. He was the one with words. I was wordlessness. I had always preferred the silence and space of painting and drawing, after taking care of a child, then children. As I watched Simon work I had to admit that I was amazed at the creation of a poem, how a kernel of meaning and sound condensed to one page could stagger the world with meaning. There was Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Gabrielle Minstral, and I held their poems in my hands. And not just their words, but in these words lived souls, lands, and peoples. What blew me open next was the realization that poetry lived within our native lands, our communities. And that poetry could be about the everyday of washing dishes, sunrise, crows carrying on, and that crickets in the corner of the room making a huge racket as well could be honoring songs for those we loved, for those who were working with us for justice. Poetry became a refuge in those times of gathering together, standing up, and reconfiguring. Poetry was Simon's gift to me, and it was here that my poetry began.

3 AM1

in the Albuquerque airport
trying to find a flight
to Old Oraibi, Third Mesa
is the only desk open
bright lights outline New York
and the attendant doesn't know
that Third Mesa [End Page 48]
is a part of the center
of the world
and who are we
just two indians
at three in the morning
trying to find a way back

and then I remembered
that time Simon
took a Yellow Cab
out to Acoma from Albuquerque
a twenty five dollar ride


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pp. 47-50
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