BY ESTHER G. BELIN
This poem accompanies Hampton Sides’s story, “Straight Back to Our Own Country.”
How can the spine of a synapse misalign, or be removed?
And what of the gorge-forming groans Dinétah has spoken?
And who is tending the fields that hold the tádídíín of peace?
And where is the sacred horizon from the morning star of strength?
If I were to be the last testimony of memory,
I would tether to the prayers and songs still lingering in the land.
O to be cleansed, purified by the essence of hard goods, a vertebra for the land
I ascend to the clifftops, carrying my soft goods, fragmented thoughts removed
At the doorway, I petition the sentinels for passage, for the weaponry of memory
Recorded as the Long Walk of the Navajo, millions of neurons synapse when Hwééldi is spoken
Millions of tears flood arroyos, carrying away the debris from Fort Sumner, restoring strength
Like the rhythmic wefts of wool tamped down by a master weaver’s caress, peace
Ahéhee’ shidine’é, I am the future generations the People prayed for to live in peace
I am the tempestuous arroyo sprouting, expansive as hardy seed rooting in desert land,
I am the embodiment of this year’s planting season, my whole being drawing upon the strength
The stories, the hand-sewn strips of cloth and feeble rations reformed, the suffering removed
I am the receiver of blessings, extending the wind of Bíla’ Ashdla’ii, prayer offerings spoken
Over Diné, over me, below me, above me, before me, behind me, beside me, inside memory
An arrow awakening my spine, synaptic screams, seared flesh, colonial clusters clogging memory
O how I seek the fractured precious stones and suck, sharpening, scarring, polishing peace
Makers, O to be joined with the shed blood of shidine’é, shimásání dóó shicheii hól , jiní.
They were attacked on all sides, jiní. The enemy looked like your neighbor, jiní. The land
Was scorched—cornfields, orchards, waterholes destroyed, the People forcibly removed,
Captive, some escaped to canyons, some perished, some walked in collective strength
The Long Walk to a military fort, 300 miles away from the boundary mountains, dził, dziil
Buried deep in the marrow of the People, a repository of forgotten and folded memory
Adornment of white shell, sparkling stones, and corn pollens—beauty not to be removed
The remaining earth I will walk, its thoughts are my thoughts, its peace is my peace,
Its beauty is my beauty with movement like a rainbow extending east to west over the land,
Over the Emergence Place where earth and sky meet, the original teachings are spoken
The original teachings bless, bik’eh hozhoo shidine’é, we live by the words that are spoken,
We are the remnant restored, we carry the internal wind of prayers and actions of strength,
We declare a new dawning, a piercing white sun beam to emerge from a devastated land!
Our hope is intertwined as a braided yucca leaf rope, a tannic testimony of memory,
A stronghold, hooghan – a refuge from historic trauma, so-called Agreements of Peace
From this place of Pity, we marked the earth, footprints, fallen warriors, firmament removed
O diné bikéyah, O enduring land, May you be healed with the daily prayers spoken
O shidine’é, May the captive veil be removed, May the Blessingway restore strength
O God diyin, May you keep us in your Memory, Bind us with protective arrows of Peace
This poem is inspired by the living descendants of the People. The poem is written as a sestina, which is a form that weaves a lexical repetition of six words at the end of each six-lined stanza, and there are six stanzas with a final triplet that completes the poem. I have woven in the Diné language, bizaad, as well, and even used the equivalent as part of the pattern of six words. I was also inspired by fellow poet Luci Tapahonso, who has written several beautiful sestinas. The title is my play on language. It is an interactive title and gives choice to the reader. The variations are numerous and dependent on the reader: The Petitioning of Peace or The Petitioner of Peacemaking or The Petition of Peacemaker, etc.
Esther Belin is a writer and multi-media artist. In 2000, her first book of poetry, From the Belly of My Beauty, won the American Book Award. She holds degrees from Antioch University, IAIA, and UC Berkeley. She is a Navajo Nation citizen and lives in southwest Colorado with her four daughters and husband.