Prayer for Words

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park

N. Scott Momaday is a Kiowa novelist, poet, and artist, who belongs to the first wave of the Native American Renaissance. Among his many honors are a Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, House Made of Dawn (1969), and a National Medal of Arts. I became acquainted with Momaday when he was featured in a superb documentary by Ken Burns and Stephen Ives called The West (1996).

Every poet prays, consciously or unconsciously, for words and not just any words, but words that have a precise sound and sense. Here is a lovely poem from Momaday’s collection, In the Bear’s House (1999).

Prayer for Words

My voice restore for me. NAVAJO

Here is the wind bending the reeds westward,
The patchwork of morning on gray moraine;

Had I words I could tell of origin,
Of God’s hands bloody with birth at first light,
Of my thin squeals in the heart of his breath,
Of the taste of being, the bitterness,
And scents of camasroot and chokeberries.

And, God, if my mute heart expresses me,
I am the rolling thunder and the bursts
Of torrents upon rock, the whispering
Of old leaves, the silence of deep canyons.
I am the rattle of mortality.

I could tell of the splintered sun. I could
Articulate the night sky, had I words.


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