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'The Rez,' a Poem by Dennis Tom for National Poetry Month

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The following poem comes to us from Dennis Tom, Navajo, and for those unfamiliar with types of poetry we'll point out that it's a sestina -- an originally-Italian poetic form that hs challened many a poet over the years. The sestina is structured around six words -- the six lines in each of the first six stanzas end with the same words, in a different order each time. The seventh stanza is three lines long, with each line containing two of the poem's central words. Writing a sestina that makes any sense isn't easy; writing one that is actually good is harder still.


It is calm and quiet here on the rez
The wind is cold
Yet there is plenty of clean air
The grass is fresh and green
The morning summer skies are turquoise blue
The sky is clear and open

The door to my hogan is open
The sun is rising on the horizon of the rez
The water near the corral is blue
And cold
Colored with a hint of green
A sense of peace is in the air

The pappus dances in the early morning air
Wild, free and open
Sage green
There’s nothing like being on the rez
The air that rushes into your lungs is crisp and cold
A 1975 Chevy truck is parked outside painted blue

The paint use to be Navy blue
The tires are no longer filled with air
It sits there alone in the cold
The doors are unlocked and the driver’s side remains open
For the past 34 years it has been parked and silent here on the rez
The crack that runs across the windshield is a thin line of green

A rough blanket covers the seat completely in Army green
On the floorboard is an enamel coffee cup still vibrant white and blue
Reminders that my father lived here on the rez
He breathed this same air
His heart pure and wide and open
He never complained about the cold

Perhaps that is why I like walking in the cold
The wisdom he shared is planted in my mind ever growing tall and green
My mind remains clear and open
My father gave me a bracelet made of silver and stones of blue
I inhale long and deep this ancient clean Navajo air
This is my home on the rez

This land is wide and open and has seen its share of winter cold
I grew up here on the rez and climbed in hundreds of tree tall and green
I now drink from the enamel blue coffee cup and breathe that same air

To learn more about the photo featured at the top of this page, see the ICTMN feature "Upcoming Photography Book Offers New View of Cheyenne River Reservation" and visit Below, poet Denis Tom's hands hold an enamel cup of the type referred to in his poem; in the background is a portrait of his father.

Photo courtesy Dennis Tom