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Refugees in our Own Land



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THE NIGHT IS BUSY WITH THE GROWTH OF STARS. Above us peaceful.  Shiyáázh, my son, fusses in his cradleboard.  The protective rainbow shaped by his father arches over his face to protect him.  In the dark sand below Monster Slayer’s archenemy rises again to pull us off this rock where we’ve taken refuge since winter’s approach.  


The wind stops.  Clouds drift across the moon.  We pull water silently from below near the soldier’s feet.  Silence is our cover.  I pull my son close and place my hand on my baby’s cheek to quiet him.  “Shhh, shee’awéé’, shiyázhí, shhh.”  Hush, baby, my beloved, hush.”  With my finger I circle the pulse just above his ear.  He makes tiny lapping sounds with his mouth and turns toward my breast for the comfort of my milk.  But my breast is a sieve from which the enemy drinks.  I am dry.   


These hands that mixed bread dough for the evening meal, that planted corn and gathered pollen from the tender shoots.  These hands held my husband’s kisses and caressed my baby’s soft bones as he grew inside me.  We sailed the river that led us to the ocean of all beginnings.  The night cries like an owl.  My beloved son’s eyes are full of stars.  A drowning breath in his throat.  Take this map of rainbows and fly, fly, child.

Laura Tohe_ - Laura Tohe_edited.jpg

LAURA TOHE is Diné, Sleepy-Rock People clan and born for the Bitter Water People clan. She is the current Navajo Nation Poet Laureate. Her books include No Parole Today, Making Friends with Water, Sister Nations, Tséyi, Deep in the Rock, Code Talker Stories, and poetry that have appeared in the U.S., Canada, Chile, and Europe. Her commissioned librettos are Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio and Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World made its world premiere in France. Among her awards are the 2020 Academy of American Poetry Fellowship; 2019 American Indian Festival of Writers Award; Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers; Arizona Book Association's Glyph Award for Best Poetry and Best Book; and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Award. Many of her poems have been translated into music for piano, guitar, and trumpet. She is Professor Emerita with Distinction from Arizona State University.


Seeing the land from above gave two perspectives of how the earth changed through the manipulations of humans. This place I chose holds many layers of stories of the people and animals who previously lived in the canyon and those that continue to live there. The poems express a sense of belonging and a deep abiding love for this place.

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