By Steven R A Johnson on October 18, 2014
Sincere and holy rime, linguistics, cryptics embodied in species’ verse. Navajo, “Dineh”, the language for weather, and for grandmothers. Make no mistake, this work is truly an embodiment of the oral tradition, and oratures now are very few and far between. “Zigzag, the course / Of humanity must be / Straightened out”. And do not be surprised by the occasional: “The prairie dog?” This work is a lifetime of stories recollected by the poet.
The voice of Grandfather shapeshifts Grandmother through stories of devastating tribal uncertainties in lyrical homiletics. For instance, in “Miscarriage”: “Ravens with copper-colored eyes continue flying low. Why does it never rain? Kachinas weep.” There are “Flying Arrows” of translation – theosophical, poetical – that begin to dissolve cultural boundaries from the Native American and beyond. In “Recovering”, something of a public service announcement for native lands (PROTECT THE CONFLUENCE) of creative non-fiction with intimate pleas of narrative to the reader. “Her Name was Grandmother Bird” and “I Met and Old Woman Once” are longish, serial poems of the shadow; very wry, and very sincere.
Honoring the Elders
Many of the poems in this collection honor the elders and anticipate the enjoyment of the natural world. Restoring the importance of Mother Earth and reclaiming her power is central to the premise of this collection of talk stories and poems. First Peoples were never to be separated from Mother Earth. At the point of colonial contact, the rights of the people were violated. We are to remember we are all interconnected, no matter what. Much healing and honoring needs be accorded ancestral ways, now and forever.
By Luke Kettle on November 17, 2014
Honoring the Elders is a meditative compilation of poems and talk stories that grasps at the ancestral figures in the curling smoke from the spiritual fires of the First People. The Navajo never had a word for death. Their native livelihood, culture, and consciousness was torn and “violated at the point of colonial contact”. This way of life lives on. But what was lost? What remains? How does one begin to learn to fall in love with eternity the way that the elders did?
The opening poems of the book read like the memory of a fever dream passed down to a child who–as an adult–ponders and laments and adds to the spoken tales. What are the whispers of the wind and the words in the humming silence repeating over and over? If one could find “a new way to think about what one has come to know”, what is there to learn?
The elders inhabited the existential. They asked and answered and lived alongside the mysteries of time and reincarnation and connectivity. Their stories are remembered, but their logic of faith has come untethered. Where does a descendent with a modern voice begin again to begin to remember how to interconnect with everything that surrounds them?
Talk stories of the First People become the focus in the later chapters. These passages have the feel of an observer, weaving amongst spoken stories heard from lives brushed past. The dreams of the times of plentiful rains and rites can be felt in the background silence of Bishop’s prose. Like the long pause in a song, some are still hoping and waiting to hear the music begin again. Some still desire to relearn how to taste their own essence, to heal and honor.
The Earth is a womb. And everything is connected. One can honor the elders by starting here.