Rain + Poetry = Navajo Water Songs

Dine’ poet Luci Tapahonso’s “Dust Precedes the Rain” seems appropriate for both a tip of the cyber hat to April as National Poetry Month –and to focus on the joys of water, especially rain–water that falls from the sky.

“The water from the sink is no good for making pottery.

It just ruins it,” my children’s Acoma grandmother would say.

Thereafter she sent the kids to replace the full bowls of rainwater

that had filled since it began to rain.

Her son said that when he was a child, the rain smelled

and tasted so good–he and other kids played outside,

laughing and running around–and they stopped once in a while to lick

the cool adobe walls . The sides of the smooth houses were

fragrant and nurturing. From atop the mesa at Acoma Pueblo,

it is possible to see almost seventy miles in each direction.


It is the same on the reservations surrounding Phoenix.

Long before the rains come, the gentle desert wind

carries the scent of rain, wild plants flutter anxiously,

and pets frolic, acting silly. To the west, the thunderheads

loom dark and full. Thin waves of dust precede the rain,

rolling tumbleweeds and bits of paper, and the children run and skip,

allowing the wind to push them along. They yell and laugh.

The lilting sounds ae carried eastward by the blowing slants

of rain–their laughs and shouts  caught in the leaves of sturdy trees.

They linger in the crevices of small hills and arroyos

and finally swirl into the slopes of the purple mountains nearby.


It must have been the same when the Hohokamiki lived here

where the expressway crosses over. The children played

in the dust- charged breezes, shouting and running in circles,

and when the rains began, they paused, their faces turned upward

to taste the cool clean rain.


Their quiet gratitude for brimming pots of water remains

now in the crumbling re-buried walls fo their small homes.

The still concentration with which they painted pottery

remains in the small toys and tiny woven sandals that are unearthed:

their spirits remain in the dry grains of dirt

that were dug up by shovels, backhoes, and bulldozers.


This is evident in the persistence of the bright wild plants

that push their way out of the dry ground.

This is evident in the new growth that springs up

along the arroyos and streams following sudden rains.

This is evident in the island of peaceful silence

that the museum cradles amid the city’s frenzy.

This is evident in the restless energy of the busloads

of children who visit the old homes of the Hohokamiki today.

They recognize the old history that is theirs.

They recognize the old history that is ours.

@Luci Tapahonso, “Dust Precedes the Rain” from Blue Horses Rush In, University of Arizona Press

Link for Luci Tapahonso at University of Arizona:


Child of Water  video uploaded by outtayourbackpack, Camille Manybeads sings.



  1. staffordray said,

    April 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Now that is poetry!
    We can’t bring them back, but we must learn to evaluate the existing before we replace it with the new!

    • April 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      Glad you appreciate Tapahonso’s word craft, stafford. So good to see you again.
      As for the ‘new’—sometimes what the ‘old’ knew is irreplaceable.

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