Reading by Luci Tapahonso

An Afternoon with the Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation
Photo by Rachael MarchbanksPhoto by Rachael Marchbanks

Luci Tapahonso, inaugural poet laureate of the Navajo Nation and professor of English and director of creative writing at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, has published several collections of poetry, including Saánii Dahataal (The Women are Singing), written in Navajo and English. Tapahonso is originally from Shiprock, New Mexico, where she grew up in a family of 11 children. Navajo was her first language but she learned English at home before starting school at the Navajo Methodist Mission in Farmington, New Mexico. She majored in English at the University of New Mexico, as an undergraduate and graduate student. Tapahonso stayed on there as an assistant professor of English, women's studies, and American Indian studies for a few years. Prior to returning to the University of New Mexico she was an associate professor of English at the University of Kansas and a lecturer in English and professor in American Indian studies at the University of Arizona.

Tapahonso will be introduced by Kristiana Kahakauwila, Lisa Goldberg Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; assistant professor of creative writing, Western Washington University; and an instructor in the Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing program, Oregon State University-Cascades.

Shelly Lowe, Executive Director, Harvard University Native American Program, will moderate the discussion with the audience.

This public reading and moderated discussion with the audience is part of the Roosevelt Poetry Readings at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and is cosponsored by the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP). The Roosevelt Poetry Readings are made possible by a donor gift that will help bring poets of recognized stature to the Institute.

This event at the Radcliffe Institute is part of the Initiative on Native and Indigenous Peoples.

Hard to Take

this middle of the road business
is hard to take.
Last week in Gallup,
I was in line at Foodway
one checkstand open and
a long line of Navajos waiting
             money and foodstamps in hand
             waiting to buy food and pop.
My turn and I fumble
dropping the change
            Sorry, I say, sorry
            The cashier looks up smiling
            first smile in 20 minutes of Navajo customers
            Oh—that's okay. Are you Navajo?
            I swear, you don't have an accent at all!
            She's friendly too quick and I am uneasy.
            I say to the people behind me
            Ha' 'at'ii sha'ni?
            Why is she saying that to me?
We laugh a little under our breaths
and with that
            I am another Navajo
            she doesn't greet or thank.
My change is dropped in front of me
            and we are not surprised by that.
Merle Norman offers a free make-up job
            just the thing for a new look
            I say to myself and stop in
            for an appointment.

For 15 minutes, I wait for a saleslady
then I ask for an appointment outright.
            Just a moment, she says,
            someone will be with you shortly.

I wait some more while the salesladies

            talk about a great hairdresser,
            General Hospital and Liz Taylor.
So I just leave, shortly is too long,
seeing as I'm the only customer in the place.
I guess I can do without a new look
but this kind of business
            sure gets hard to take.

Copyright © 1982 from Seasonal Woman by Luci Tapahonso, Tooth of Time Books.