Poem-a-Day - "Nálí, Her Solo" by Laura Tohe

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November 24, 2022 

Nálí, Her Solo

Laura Tohe

next to her bed her instrument sleeps
covered for the night like a bird in a cage
night passes . . . . . . the light returns
she pulls the cover away
dust motes dance in the air
she tunes her loom
strums the white parallel lines
with a flick of her wrist
each string must vibrate
layers of notes grow upward
tamp tamp tamp tamp
she listens for the right pitch
inserts the percussion fork into
the parallel lines that lead upward
she pulls down mountains, stars, lightning, storm patterns
tamp tamp tamp tamp
she is mythic soloist, storyteller, mathematician
her concert transforms us
we soften like lambskin

Copyright © 2022 by Laura Tohe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“I had been trying to write this poem for over a year, and then the listening aspect of the poem emerged. My grandmother was not only a weaver, but a musician. The preliminary steps she took were like a musician warming up her stringed instrument. The tamp tamp sounds of the weaving fork, as she moved it across the weft, brought back strong, aural-rhythmic memories. I could not remember when it didn’t soothe me, as I knew she was creating something beautiful, layer by layer, like notes rising, like she was doing a solo.”
Laura Tohe

Laura Tohe

Laura Tohe is from the Sleepy-Rock People clan and born for the Bitter Water People clan. The author of Code Talker Stories (Rio Nuevo Press, 2012) and Tséyi’ / Deep in the Rock: Reflections on Canyon de Chelly (University of Arizona Press, 2005), she is professor emerita with distinction at Arizona State University and the current poet laureate of the Navajo Nation.

Code Talker Stories

Code Talker Stories
(Rio Nuevo Press, 2012)

“Dance Practice” by Ishmael Angaluuk Hope
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“shíma yazhí ahéheeʼ / thank you, auntie.” by Danielle Emerson
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Thanks to Jake Skeets, author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers (Milkweed, 2019), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Skeets’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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