Tina Deschenie’s mother was always impeccably dressed.
She was also tough as nails, able to drive an old pickup truck through “fierce road conditions” every day to work.
And she is the subject of Deschenie’s poem, “A Dressed Up Woman I Remember.” During a recent poetry reading at the Mancos Public Library, Deschenie recalled her mother’s wide array of wigs and the colorful pumps that “tapped” into the Arizona office every day, never betraying the hazardous journey they had taken to get there.
“She made do with what she had, mostly silently and with dignity,” Deschenie read aloud from her piece.
Deschenie is one of a group of Navajo women who call themselves the Four Corners Poets. They presented some of their work at the library in Mancos on April 27, reading aloud poetry and speaking about the value of literature and culture.
The four women are Gloria Emerson, Tina Deschenie, Venaya Yazzie, and Esther Belin. Yazzie, Belin, and Emerson met at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe back in the early nineties, where Emerson was on staff and Esther and Venaya were students. A little later, they met Deschenie, a fellow Four Corners poet, who used to be editor of the Tribal College Journal in Mancos.
The four of them began poetry readings.
“It’s such a small circle of Navajo women poets and artists,” Yazzie told The Journal on the phone after the event. “Eventually you all cross paths.”
Their poems covered a range of themes and topics, from food to nature, to what it means to be a Navajo woman in a changing landscape.
Politics entered the mix, from Emerson’s reflections on the value placed on a presidential debate, to Deschenie’s thoughts on a water-rights settlement that Navajo tribal leaders agreed to, and on her confusion about arguments over water usage.
“Water conservation was always our reality on the reservation,” she said.
And the women shared memories of their upbringings, their education, and their families.
Yazzie remembered her excitement for a trip to “Dizzyland” as a child, “dreaming of multi-colored balloons flying to the sky,” until she realized afterward that they had gone to a bar in Farmington and not a children’s amusement park.
“For a while there, I was just writing about the good part of life,” Yazzie said. “But then, I guess we need the balance.”
Poetry, writing, and language could serve as a way to reaffirm Navajo identity, they said.
“We actually have our own rhetorical elements,” Belin said. “We’re doing something that’s totally different.”