She Was Telling It This Way


Laura Tohe

Shimá Shil hoolne`
My mother, she was telling it this way,
      as we looked in the stores up and down Highway 66.
We examine basket design and weaving.

The four points represent sacred mountains of the Diné
My grandmother told me that when First Woman, `Altse` Asdzáán
      was making the first basket
she came to the end
      and wondered how she should finish it
Haaléit` éego `altso ádiishlíil, jiniizii

We look over the stacks, turning individual ones over,
      earthy smells of sand, roots, plants, and water.

            Aádóó `áádee` bitó iin gad hwil yah ayíílhan jini
           Ako` ni`jidiita jiní, gad.

We count each of the points and decide which
are the most authentic,
      the best quality,
            tracing finger over the ridges,
feeling the peaks of mountains and earth in basket form.

            Aádóó jinil`i.
                  Nt` ee` baa` a` hwizhniizii.
            Díigii át` áogo doola, dooleel
            díigii át` áogo altso `ádoolnííl.
           `Eii béíjiidlaa`jin.
                  `eiigii át`aogo nizhnítl'o`jiní.
        When you hang it, the opening should be placed upward.

My eye glides down the vertical opening,
      descends into the belly,
            into the womb of the earth.

      That way good things will pass through the doorway,
      that way you'll not enclose yourself, your thoughts, your feelings.
      Ch` é' étiin hwii`hólo"oacunas."leh.
      One should always have a doorway leading from their heart
      You see, we cannot permit ourselves to be perfect,
          to lock up perfection in anything that we create,
      in weaving, making pottery, or even in making bread.
      We must allow for our imperfections
            We must have a doorway

A doorway, ch`é`étiin,
to bring forth in colors or red, black, and yellow,
      health, happiness, prosperity, life.

The Diné woman behind the counter nods.
We leave the store,
into the afternoon light,
A basket securely at my breast.

From Reinventing the Enemy's Language, Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird (Editors), W. W. Norton.
© 1996 Laura Tohe
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