Twelve Poems

(Selected by Wendy Barker)

Call It Fear

There is this edge where shadows
and bones of some of us walk
Talk backwards. There is this edge
call it an ocean of fear of the dark. Or
name it with other songs. Under our ribs
our hearts are bloody stars. Shine on
shine on, and horses in their galloping flight
strike the curve of ribs.
and breathe back sharply. Breathe
There is this edge within me
I saw it once
an August Sunday morning when the heat hadn’t
left this earth. And Goodluck
sat sleeping next to me in the truck.
We had never broken through the edge of the
singing at four a.m.
We had only wanted to talk, to hear
any other voice to stay alive with.
And there was this edge—
not the drop of sandy rock cliff
bones of volcanic earth into
Not that,
but a string of shadow horses kicking
and pulling me out of my belly,
not into the Rio Grande but into the music

barely coming through
Sunday church singing
from the radio. Battery worn-down but the voices
talking backwards.

(From She Had Some Horses, 1997)


Either a snail’s moist web
of moonlight, or someone’s
hot breath at four a.m.
when the night has been
too much, has eaten
you whole.
This is my life.
It has been
sifted through the bones
of my body, through
It is all that
I have.

(From She Had Some Horses, 1997)

September Moon

Last night you called and told me
about the moon over San Francisco Bay.
Here in Albuquerque it is mirrored
in a cool, dark, Sandia sky.
the reflection is within all of us.
Orange, and almost the harvest
moon. Wind and the chill of the colder
months coming on. The children and I
watched it, crossed San Pedro and Central
coming up from the state fair.
Wind blowing my hair was caught
in my face. I was fearful of traffic,
trying to keep my steps and the moon was east,
ballooning out of the mountain ridge, out of smokey clouds
out of any skin that was covering her. Naked.
Such beauty.
We are alive. The woman of the moon looking
at us, and we looking at her, acknowledging
each other.

(From She Had Some Horses, 1997)

3 A.M.

in the Albuquerque airport
trying to find a flight
to Old Oraibi, Third Mesa
is the only desk open
bright lights outline New York
and the attendant doesn’t know
that Third Mesa
is a part of the center
of the world
and who are we
just two Indians
at three in the morning
trying to find a way back

and then I remembered
that time Simon
took a Yellow Cab
out to Acoma from Albuquerque
a twenty-five dollar ride
to the center of himself

3 A.M. is not too late
to find the way back

(From The Last Song, 1975)

She Had Some Horses

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mother’s arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse”.
She had horses who called themselvels “spirit”, and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any savior.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

(From She Had Some Horses, 1997)

Perhaps The World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat
to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it
has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teeth at the corners.
They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to
be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our
children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as
we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the
shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents
for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering
and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laugh-
ing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

(From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, 1994)

Ice Horses

These are the ones who escape
after the last hurt is turned inward;
they are the most dangerous ones.
These are the hottest ones,
but so cold that your tongue sticks
to them and is torn apart because it is
frozen to the motion of hooves.
These are the ones who cut your thighs,
whose blood you must have seen on the gloves
of the doctor’s rubber hands. They are
the horses who moaned like oceans, and
one of them a young woman screamed aloud;
she was the only one.
These are the ones who have found you.
These are the ones who pranced on your belly.
They chased deer out of your womb.
These are the ice horses, horses
who entered through your head,
and then your heart,
your beaten heart.

These are the ones who loved you.
They are the horses who have held you
so close that you have become
a part of them,
an ice horse
into fire.

(From She Had Some Horses, 1997)


In Krakow
The spires of churches
Fit the skyline exactly
They have been rendered
By prayers of the faithful
Who built the church on their knees
My faith is a limp thing
In this distant city
Strung together
With cold rains
And clouds
Crows mark the border
Between despair
And joy
They are
Poets of noise—
Needed, because the question
Is too large to fit
One city, one church,
Or one country
I am far away from the answer
Wherever I go
This dark month
Of the overthrow
The sleep of idiots
Would be sweet
But disasterous
I might miss
The feet of god
Disguised as trees.

(From How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 2002)

The Ceremony

All of my life I have entered into the ceremony from this door, toward the
east into red and  yellow leaves.
It has always felt lonely though there were always messengers, like the
praying mantis on my door
when I opened it this morning. Or the smell of pancakes when there were
no pancakes, coffee when there was no coffee.
I walked through the house we had built together from scraps of earth and
tenderness, through the aftermath of loving too hard.
You were showering to get ready for war; I was sticky from the late storms of
grief and went to look for poetry.
Each particle of event stutters with electricity, binds itself to coherence.
Like the trees turning their heads
to watch the human participants in these tough winds turning to go, as they
continue to send roots for water making a language for beauty
out of any means possible though they are dying. Everyone is dying. I am I
am, deliberately and slowly of this faith to correctly
observe the ceremony of letting go ghosts of destruction. I walk carefully
through the garden, through the hallway of sobbing and laughter,
the kitchen of bread and meat, the bedroom of desires and can see no
ghosts though they will take the shape of objects of ordinary living.
There is no poetry where there are no mistakes, said the next messenger. I
am a human being, I said.

(From A Map To The Next World, 2000)


In Wheeling, West Virginia, inmates riot.
Two cut out the heart of a child rapist
and hold it steaming in a guard’s face
because he will live
to tell the story.
They know they have already died
of unrequited love
and in another version
won’t recognize the murdered
as he walks toward them
disguised as the betrayed lover.
I don’t know the ending,
or how this will make the bruised and broken
child live easier into the night
of a split world,
where in one camp the destroyers
have cooked up
a stench of past and maggots.
And in the other
love begins a dance, a giveaway to honor
the destroyed with new names.
I don’t know the ending.
But I know the legacy of maggots is wings.
And I understand how lovers can destroy everything

(From In Mad Love And War, 1990)

City of Fire

Here is a city built of passion
where live many houses
with never falling night
in many rooms.
Through this entrance cold
is no longer a thief,
and in this place your heart
will never be a murderer.
Come, sweet,
I am a house with many rooms.
There is no end.
Each room is a street to the next world.
Where live other cities beneath
incendiary skies. And you have made
a fire in every room.
Lie with me before the flame.
I will dream you a wolf
and suckle you newborn.
I will dream you a hawk
and circle this city in your
racing heart.
I will dream you the wind,
taste salt air on my lips until
I take you apart raw.
Come here.

We will make a river,
flood this city built of passion
with fire,
with a revolutionary fire.

(From In Mad Love And War, 1990)

For Alva Benson, And For Those Who Have Learned To Speak

And the ground spoke when she was born.
Her mother heard it. In Navajo she answered
as she squatted down against the earth
to give birth. It was now when it happened,
now giving birth to itself again and again
between the legs of women.

Or maybe it was the Indian Hospital
in Gallup. The ground still spoke beneath
mortar and concrete. She strained against the
metal stirrups, and they tied her hands down
because she still spoke with them when they
muffled her screams. But her body went on
talking and the child was born into their
hands, and the child learned to speak
both voices.

She grew up talking in Navajo, in English
and watched the earth around her shift and change
with the people in the towns and in the cities
learning not to hear the ground as it spun around
beneath them. She learned to speak for the ground
the voice coming through her like roots that
have long hungered for water. Her own daughter
was born, like she had been, in either place
or all places, so she could leave, leap
into the sound she had always heard,
a voice like water, like the gods weaving
against sundown in a scarlet light.

The child now hears names in her sleep.
They change into other names, and into others.
It is the ground murmuring, and Mt. St. Helens
erupts as the harmonic motion of a child turning
inside her mother’s belly waiting to be born
to begin another time.
And we go on, keep giving birth and watch
ourselves die, over and over.
And the ground spinning beneath us
goes on talking.

(From She Had Some Horses, 1997)


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