Sunday, April 15, 2007

Coming home, Simon Ortiz and Demetria Martinez

Coming home, Simon Ortiz and Demetria Martinez

At the Tucson Poetry Festival, finding home and the power of words and voice
By Brenda Norrell
April 14, 2007

TUCSON, Ariz. – Within both of them, they have found their home. Simon Ortiz has always written intimately of his people and his community, Acoma Pueblo. Demetria Martinez has always used words to pierce the enemy: the displacers, the violators.
Now, their words go beyond what they were, what they have been. Simon reads from his new works, the memory of his father dieing, with his father’s older brother by his side. It is Uncle Frank who went off to fight World War I, leaving his nine-year-old brother behind.
Simon remembers the Lukachukai mountains on Navajoland, colonization and taking the sheep out at Acoma, Wounded Knee and Sand Creek.
In the spring, Simon says, flowers bloom at Sand Creek.
Demetria remembers Marcos and the Zapatistas, breakfast with salsa at Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque, lost clans whose genes are Indigenous, Chicano and Mestizo. Demetria has gone home to Albuquerque, but here in Tucson, where she once lived, the city and the people have clasped their hands around her one more time, claimed her one more time as their own.
Simon, too, has lived here, marched in protest after the massacre in Acteal, Chiapas, carrying tiny white crosses bearing the names, names of pregnant women hacked to death with machetes.
Demetria has bore a different cross. Arrested and accused of smuggling El Salvadoran women across the border, she penned “Mother Tongue,” weaving together love, life, death and sanctuary. Her words told of torture for Indigenous in Central America. While facing a 25-year prison sentence in the 1980s, the government attempted to use one of Demetria's poems, "Nativity, for Two Salvadoran Women," against her in court. However, Martinez was acquitted on First Amendment grounds.
Through their sufferings and their struggles, the words of Simon and Demetria have grown richer, more intimate, and more real. No doubt in time both will be known as two of the greatest poets of our time.
More than mirrors of events, more than masters of the tool of language, they have reached into the bone and pulled out the raw marrow that is life itself.
To have known them is to have known myself.
At the Tucson Poetry Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary, this year's theme is home. "Poems always come from home," Simon says, remembering the way of respect he was taught for his family, the land, others and himself.
"Indians always tell a story," he continues, giving voice to the words of the human condition: "loss, mourning, abandonment."
Simon remembers the 600 Arapaho and Cheyenne, many women and children, massacred at Sand Creek. Black Kettle, he remembers, had already said the people wanted peace.
"The dream shall have a name after all," Simon says, remembering Sand Creek.
Demetria, a poet above all, says her novels, journalism and essays are the masks she wears. She remembers the empty water bottles, tubes of toothpaste and love letters, mementos left behind by those dieing along the border, each one a human being. She speaks of bones and roots, knows the intensity of the shortness of our time.
"We are all Marcos," she says.
Ephemeral and ever-vigilant, they bear their crosses, their destinies.
Remembering Uncle Frank, Wounded Knee and Sand Creek, Simon concludes with these words, "We are alive now because history is undeniably ours."
Simon Ortiz, Acoma Pueblo, is the recipient of dozens of national and international awards. Now, on the faculty at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., his university teaching and writing career has carried him across the nation, from Navajo and Lakota lands into Canada, and for readings in Europe. His books include "Men on the Moon," "Woven Stone," "After and Before the Lightning" and "From Sand Creek." In 2001, Ortiz' book, "Questions and swords : Folktales of the Zapatista Revolution," was published.
Demetria Martinez' autobiographical essays, "Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana" is the winner of the 2006 International Latino Book Award in the category of Best Biography. Her books include the widely translated novel, "Mother Tongue," winner of a Western States Book Award for Fiction, and two books of poetry, "Breathing Between the Lines" and "The Devil’s Workshop."t the Tucson Poetry Festival, finding home and the power of words and voice

Copyright Brenda Norrell 

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