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Ofelia Zepeda - Where Clouds are Formed

Tohono O'odham Culture and Language, Mapping, & Hybrid Worlds
by

Janel Spencer

on 23 October 2012

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Transcript of Ofelia Zepeda - Where Clouds are Formed

Where Clouds Are Formed by Ofelia Zepeda Hybrid Worlds/
Dualities Mapping Tohono O'odham Themes & Symbols The Place his breath condenses she sees the soft fog moisture is still a long time in coming push of air from his lips He tells her of the place where clouds are formed The cool dampness of his voice her face beads with wetness Each aspirated sound a gentle burst of coolness relief from the heat Presentation by Janel Spencer p 3 What is this place for you? “My sense is that the book is about a range of experiences, events that I, or others I know, have gone through. The experiences are always in connection with the environment, both on a large scale and otherwise—that is, simple, basic settings. Environment to me includes a large number of things, and not just place, it includes time as well. So, the book is about poems that always have a connection to a place and time. These are very important, I think, in the writing I do. It helps me begin.” -O.Z. city native american community desert western healing native american healing english Tohono O'odham language rain sun literacy oral tradition moisture dryness Christianity/Catholicism spirituality man woman masculine feminine red blue silence sound "Moon setting on the Estrella Mountains. / Artificial waterways." "Wild Horse Pass Resort: Gila River Indian Reservation" p 34 "In the pleats of their skirts / the women hide sacred pollen, / leftover prayers, ways of beauty. / They carry it like contraband / to these sterile halls." "Halls of the I.C.U." pp 10-11 "I don't bother to explain my parents are illiterate in the English language." "Birth Witness" p 13 man-made natural "...I survey with a biased eye
for uneven terrain before my journey.
I take special note of stairs, steps tall curbs, grading.
I take note of minor ones,
breaks and seams of seemingly
smooth sidewalks,
roughness of asphalt and gravel walkways.
I consciously lift my foot with every step.
Unlike most, I am aware of the unevenness of landscape.
I know the earth has no smooth surfaces.
Primordial memories
store the memory of glacial movements
and carving of landscape.
I am aware of canyons reshaping themselves every moment.
Somehow I know water and air are not smooth
and molecules require speed bumps.
I am aware of strategically placed signs / for pedestrians of earth:
Hold onto handrails
Watch your step
Caution
Moving walkway will end
Please be prepared to step off
Keep shoelaces and straps away
from moving parts
Open-toed shoes not allowed
Please keep walkway clear."
"Landscapes" p 25-26 "Which one, / cold, hard dirt, / hot, hard dirt, / is worse for kneeling? / Mass celebrated outdoors...The faithful endure kneeling / and what seems like endless / minutes of standing. / Feet flattening into the dirt." "Dirt" p 23 The O'odham historically inhabited a large amount of the southwest, their land extending south to Sonora, Mexico, north to Central Arizona (just north of Phoenix), west to the Gulf of California, and east to the San Pedro River. This land was known as the "Papagueria" and was home to the O'odham people for thousands of years. In 1853, the O'odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States and Mexico. The United States agreed to honor all land rights of the O'odham when the divide was made, however, the O'odham continue to lose land on both sides of the border. Initially, the border did not create a problem for the O'odham because it was not strictly enforced. However, in recent years, immigration laws affect the O'odham and prevent them from crossing it freely - to collect foods and materials needed for sustainability, and to visit family members and traditional sacred sites. The O'odham are now required to produce passports and border identification cards to enter the U.S. The division of O'odham lands has caused a division in O'odham society, with each of the five tribes politically and geographically distinct because of it. “[T]here are three pieces in this collection that are directly related to the border issues—as they relate to O’odham people. One is “Birth Witness,” another is “Lost Prayers,” and the third is one that one wouldn’t normally think of in that way, “Crossing Mountains.” “Crossing Mountains” is a reflection of the prayers and other forms of protection I thought we should have when traveling after the disasters.” -O.Z., interview on "Where Clouds Are Formed" "...what a desert place is. / A place dependent on rains of summer, / light dusting of snow..." p 44 “We walk away from the fire;
no matter how far we walk, we carry this scent with us.
New York City, France, Germany -
we catch the scent of burning wood;
we are brought home.” “Smoke in Our Hair” p 72 "The O’odham roamed the desert / with precarious steps. / Keeping an eye on the horizon, moving, / seemingly becoming a part of the heat and dryness / of their landscape. / They walk knowing the heat and aridity of their namesake place." "Lost Prayers" p 15 “I think the tension I am pointing to here is one that is part of my experience as an O’odham person. Although others who have similar life experiences may have these same types of tensions. The tension is simply that of being aware of the different spaces one must negotiate for the things one must get done, whether it is work, family, politics and so on. The dichotomy of two landscapes or multiple landscapes helps me to understand and better negotiate all the spaces I must walk around in.” -O.Z. The division of O'odham lands resulted in a geographic division of O'odham society. O'odham bands are broken up into four federally recognized tribes: the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Salt River (Pima Maricopa) Indian community. The Hia-C'ed O'odham are not federally recognized, but reside throughout southwestern Arizona. All of the groups speak the O'odham language, which derives from the Uto-Aztecan language group, but each group has their own dialect. “I find there are themes that work very well in O’odham, and so I take the process through for the piece in that language. Once the piece is completed in O’odham I have another decision and that is whether to have the piece in English. I don’t necessarily translate it but actually create a new piece that resonates the same theme. I know I also consciously decide to manipulate text by weaving O’odham and English in a single piece, and those are decisions I make and play with the language to see if it works.” -O.Z. Walking with Language

Some have carried it, held it close, protected.
Others have pulled it along like a reluctant child.
Still others have waved it like a flag, a signal to others.
And some have filled it with rage
and dare others to come close.
And there are those who find their language a burdensome shackle.
They continually pick at the lock. p 64 "It is a language useful for pulling memory from the depths of the earth. / It is useful for praying with the earth and sky. / It is useful for singing songs that pull down the clouds. / It is useful for calling rain. / It is useful for speeches and incantations / that pull sickness from the minds and bodies of believers. / It is a language too civil for writing.” p 13 “Birth Witness” “Instead, one must know the language of the land. / One must know the balance of the desert. / One must know how to pray / so that all the elements of nature will fall into rhythm. / These are the kinds of prayers that will work.” p 15 “Lost Prayers” Oig’am si, ‘oig ‘am si Come now, come now
Si g o ‘e-keihi Step lively
Si g o ‘e-keihi Step lively
Att o’i-hudiñ g cewagi We will pull down the clouds

Att o ‘i-wai g ju:ki We will call the rain
Oig ‘am si, ‘oig ‘am si Come now, come now

U:gk o himc g jewed We will make the dust rise
U:gk o himc g jewed We will make the dust rise
Att o’i-hudiñ g cewagi We will pull down the clouds pp 24-25 “You come to us from people with / words on their tongue.” p 55 “Words on Your Tongue” What is this "place" for Zepeda?
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