Gathering the Voices


Laura Tohe

The gentle motion of her broom glides across the linoleum
                        in short movements

Shil nawinilne' (she begins a story)
            "Nilbééhozinísh T'áá Biich'ídiidi'nihik'éí hólo?
                        (Did you know we have relatives in Aneth, Utah?)
            Áldaa aadi nihíkéyah nt'ee'
                        (A long time ago we lived there)
            Those relatives wanted to stay there
            While the rest of us came down this way."

In slow, gentle whisks grandmother
        sweeps the dirt on the kitchen floor into thin gray lines.

She continues:
            "Nimá ajíltsísí yee daa ákó naayá.
                        (Your mother went up there when she was a little girl)
            Tsinabaas bee ákoo ndajizkai
                        (They went up there in a wagon.)"

She moves the bristles along the wall under the cabinets
            and brushes out crumbs and lint.

"Aoo', éí béénashnii. Shimá shil holne'.
        (Yes, the story comes back to me in my mother's voice:)"
                                    "We went by wagon over the dirt road
                                    only great-grandmother knew,
                                    stopping at relatives' homes along the way,
                                    and how we were all well fed
                                    until I asked in my child voice
                                    why we had to eat each time we stopped
                                    not knowing it was the Diné way."

She too remembers that story because she smiles.

Then in her slow, methodical way she sweeps the lines closer
        until her movements mesmerize me like a child's lullaby.

                      "They said we moved from Aneth, to Cuba, to Torreon,
                              and then to the base of Mount Taylor.
                      Áko áádishii (It was there),
                              they discovered the vices of the railroad men.
                      Doo ádáhalyaada'. (They had no sense.)
                      They started drinking and gambling
                                    and followed the railroad west to Houck, Arizona,
                                            and back to where we are now."
At last the lines are one mound like a small ant hill.
Holding the dustpan near the pile, I sweep
              the debris into it for her.

              "They say those Aneth Navajos are rich
                     from the oil on their land."

She replaces the broom in the closet and says
              "K'ad daatsí Cadillac nideilbas doo nt'ee'.
                      (We could have been driving Cadillacs by now.)"

              "Shí éí Lincoln Continental naasb"aacunas."s doo nt'ee.'," adds Grandfather,
                      (I could have been driving a Lincoln Continental by now)
                      as he takes another sip of coffee,
                      He has been listening from the kitchen table.

We laugh as we visualize ourselves driving shiny Cadillacs
        and Lincoln Continentals instead of the dusty pickup parked
                                            in front.

Shimásani yee nizhóóóónigoo nahasho' nt'ee'.
                    (My grandmother-who-was swept in a beautiful way.)

From Fever Dreams, Leilani Wright & James Cervantes (Editors), University of Arizona Press.
© 1997 Laura Tohe
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