April 26, 2001 -- Ofelia Zepeda, a member of the Tohono O'odham nation, grew up in Stanfield, Arizona, near the Tohono O'odham reservation in southwestern Arizona. She received her Master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona where she is now a professor of linguistics and former director of the American Indian Studies Program. She is currently co-director of the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), an annual summer institute for American Indian Teachers, where she has taught for the entire 15 years of its existence.
Photo by Tony Celentano
In 1999, Ofelia was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work as a linguist, poet, editor, and community leader devoted to maintaining and preserving Native American languages and to revitalizing tribal communities and cultures
Hear poet Ofelia Zepeda on All Things Considered..
Pulling Down the Clouds
N-ku'ibagkaj 'ant o 'ols g cewagi
With my harvesting stick I will hook the clouds.
'Ant o 'i-wanno k o 'i-hudin g cewagi.
With my harvesting stick I will pull down the clouds.
N-ku'ibadkaj 'ant o 'i-siho g cewagi.
With my harvesting stick I will stir the clouds.
With dreams of distant noise disturbing his sleep,
the smell of dirt, wet, for the first time in what seems like months.
The change in the molecules is sudden,
they enter the nasal cavity.
He contemplates that smell.
What is that smell?
It is rain.
Rain somewhere out in the desert.
Comforted in this knowledge he turns over
and continues his sleep,
dreams of women with harvesting sticks
raised toward the sky.
Kus hascu hab 'a:g mat hab o cei,
"an 'ep ta:tk mat si 'i-hoi g jewed
nap pi sa'i ta:tk 'a:pi?"
Nia, kus hascu hab a:gi?
Riding the Earth
She said she felt the earth move again.
I never knew whether she meant she felt a tremor
or whether it was the rotation of the earth.
I like to think she felt the rotation, because
anyone can feel a tremor.
And when she felt this
she could see herself
standing on the earth's surface.
Her thick,wide feet solidly planted,
toes digging in.
Her visualization so strong
she almost feels her body arch
against the centrifugal force of the rotation.
She see herself with her long hair floating,
floating in the atmosphere of stardust.
She rides her planet the way a child rides a toy.
Her company is the boy who takes the sun on its daily journey
and the man in the moon smiles as she passes by.
Find out more about Ofelia Zepeda on her Web site.
See more NPR coverage of National Poetry Month.