Home Places Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks edited by Larry Evers & Ofelia Zepeda
Last year, I was introduced to Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses from her collection of the same title. I was intrigued by her depiction of her culture and its connection to the earth. While hunting for a new collection to review, I used her books as a stepping stone, certain they would steer me in the right direction. This is how I stumbled upon Home Places, a collection of contemporary Native American writing.
One of the first things I noticed about Home Places was its incorporation of different Native American languages, which were typically followed by the English translation. This translation served a dual purpose; of course, the work felt more authentic with the addition of language; however, it also quietly implies that the audience (assuming they are unable to translate the pieces) is an outsider.
Some pieces, such as Ta by Nora Naranjo-Morse, forgoes the format of the previous works, instead of dividing her work into two beings, the original work and the translation, she melds the two together. The speaker of the poem confesses that they are “struggling in/ two worlds, / between Pueblo tradition/ and modern values.” This balance is visually manifested in the poem’s format as each line seems to be precariously stacked on top of the one beneath it.
This sense of balance is highlighted throughout the collection, even the “fool crow” in Joy Harjo’s poem “perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.” Wendy Rose’s poem,The Endangered Roots of a Person, claims that people should embrace their sense of self, like Harjo’s fool crow by “becoming strong on this earth […] in becoming an animal shape against the sky.”
As noted in Harjo and Rose’s poems, the collection is rich with natural imagery. The speakers seem to ground themselves in the natural world, as Elizabeth Woody says in In Memory of Crossing the Columbia, “my breastplate, the sturdy/ belly of mountainside” and “She is the mountain of women / who have lain as volcanoes / before men.” There is something intensely bittersweet about the gifts that the natural world offers the speakers of the poems, as Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez exclaims that “there was no denying/ the singing that took place/ when my mother and father knelt/ to pat the earth/ beneath the bare peach tree,” despite describing their “home/ to Indian land/ Reservation rocks broken bottle glass.”
Thus, this collection offers a bittersweet balance between tradition and current times, which is reflected in the metamorphosis of the land, as stated in Ralph Cameron’s, My Land, My Water, My Mountains, in which “The land I was born on was clean” which is followed by “Now it is not like that.” All in all, this collection intertwines culture, self, and earth beautifully.