Luci Tapahonso was born in Shiprock, New Mexico, and her first language was Navajo, her second language, English. Her collection of poems, A Breeze Swept Through, incorporates Navajo words throughout and is an absolutely beautiful collection full of wistful memories, tender laughs, and family history and its traditions. Ms. Tapahonso is also a professor of English, Women Studies, and American Indian Studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Thanks to the internet, I am able to share some of her wonderful poems with you:
I copy and pasted the poem (which I cannot format the way it shows on-line so please use the link to see the correct format) from the following link:
Hills Brothers Coffee
My uncle is a small man.
In Navajo, we call him, "shidá'í,"
my mother's brother.
He doesn't know English,
but his name in the white way is Tom Jim.
He lives about a mile or so
down the road from our house.
One morning he sat in the kitchen,
I just came over, he said,
The store is where I'm going to.
He tells me about how my mother seems to be gone
every time he comes over.
Maybe she sees me coming
then runs and jumps in her car
and speeds away!
he says smiling.
We both laugh - just to think of my mother
jumping in her car and speeding.
I pour him more coffee
and he spoons in sugar and cream
until it looks almost like a chocolate shake.
Then he sees the coffee can.
Oh, that's that coffee with the man in a dress,
like a church man.
Ah-h, that's the one that does it for me.
Very good coffee.
I sit down again and he tells me,
Some coffee has no kick.
But this one is the one.
It does it good for me.
I pour us both a cup
and while we wait for my mother,
his eyes crinkle with the smile and he says,
Yes, ah yes. This is the very one
(putting in more sugar and cream).
So I usually buy Hills Brothers Coffee.
Once or sometimes twice a day,
I drink a hot coffee and
it sure does it for me.
I love this little picture of every day life between and the poet and her Uncle. She includes a Navajo word with which I wish I knew how to pronounce and leaves me thirsting for more such glimpses into the native language. It’s a sweet little anecdote about something most would find trivial that obviously means a lot to Ms. Tapahonso and reminds me of my own family’s small preferences that make me smile. I’m sure you have your own little preferences in your family that make you smile also.
This poem is also copy-and-pasted from a link, please use the link to see how the poem should actually look in the correct format:
They Are Together Now
they were returning from Gallup late at night
singing with the radio and laughing
he was driving too fast too fast
he missed the curve
the crash the immediate silence
they whimpered as
the warm blood spread into the cold asphalt cracks
amidst the glass and tangled metal their bodies writhed
moaning and crying until they rose above
they left then watching in silence
oh the soothing silence
the incredible serenity
they rose leaving the steaming blood
ticking of metal settling down
the tinkle of glass slipping
the tin whine of a dying radio
they gather with others now
in the thin darkness
airy, light ghosts sometimes they talk laughing
standing in little groups
waiting to befriend anyone
who might happen along
they are happy
on the flat plateau of that other world: death
that quiet pleasure
they are all together now.
While the poem depicts the violence and nightmarish details of death, Luci Tapahonso also captures the surreal idea of a happy afterlife turning this into a poem with a happy ending. The most moving part for me is when they couple rises above the scene: “crying until they rose above/they left then watching in silence/the incredible serenity/…leaving the steaming blood/ticking of metal...” She turns the noise down with her words, the wreck fading into silence and peace. To capture the noise, silence, the pain, then peace, all in a relatively short poem is admirable and well executed by Ms. Tapahonso.
There are countless poems in this collection that are not found on-line. “Yes, It Was My Grandmother” speaks of her Grandmother’s ability to tame wild horses, “skirts flying, hair tied securely in the wind and dust./She rode those animals hard and was thrown,…She worked until they were meek/and wanting to please.” As Luci continues to describe her mother in admiration she also thanks her, as her Grandmother hated to cook (much like myself in fact) with the lines: “Oh Grandmother/who freed me from cooking./Grandmother, you must have made sure/I met a man who would not share the kitchen.” I adore this poem and urge you to flip straight to it when you get your hands on a copy of this book either by library or on-line, or in a book-store.
There are more and more poems I could introduce you to but I urge you to use the internet links I provide here, peruse your local library, book-store, or on-line and get your hands on a copy yourself. My husband found this book in Santa Fe, New Mexico at one of the local book-stores while we were on vacation and it is now one of my favorite books of poetry on my shelf.
If you enjoyed these poems as much as I have, then you will be happy to find more poems and learn more about Luci Tapahonso by using the link below:
Thanks always for reading, as a result of the Thanksgiving Festivities, the posts will resume next Wednesday so please drop in next week and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving Holiday!