Arizona Poets: Ofelia Zepeda

Arizona Poets is a series featuring 20 poets from Arizona in honor of our 60th Anniversary. These poets have all visited the Poetry Center and recordings of those visits are available in our audiovisual archive, Voca. Click here to learn more about our anniversary and here to see the rest of this series

Ofelia Zepeda looks into the camera against a black background
Photo by Cybele Knowles for the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Copyright © 2015 Arizona Board of Regents.

Ofelia Zepeda a Tohono O'odham poet and Regents Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, where she has worked since 1979. She is the author of the first book on the grammar of the Tohono O'odham language and three collections of poetry, including her most recent, Where Clouds Are Formed. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999 and has served as the Poet Laureate of Tucson. 

See more of Zepeda's work on Voca. 


I’ve touched the waters of the White River in eastern Arizona, and I’ve put my foot in the slow currents of the San Pedro. I’ve felt the icy flow of the Merced River in Yosemite. I’ve ridden the wave of the Colorado and rested on its flows. I’ve seen the Rio Grande, run rapids in the north and meandered through the flats of southern New Mexico, where whooping-cranes rest on their way home. I’ve lived in a place called Red River, where there is no river, but named for a movie instead. I’ve lived near the Rillito River, a river named twice, a river that can flow with the best during rainy winters and rich summer monsoons, a dry riverbed most of the year, harboring the dreams and debris of homelessness. For the larger bodies of water, we must pray at their feet and give gifts. I have done so and record them here. I have offered blessings at the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, Los Angeles, La Jolla, Venice, and Ventura Beach, with vacationers and Frisbee-chasing dogs as witnesses. I have offered prayer at a dry, hot desert beach at the Gulf of Mexico, with only Mexican fishermen caring for nets as alibis. I’ve humbled myself on the black beaches of Hilo, Hawai’i, and another time at Waikiki, oblivious to bronze bodies and surfers. I’ve offered blessings only once at the Atlantic Ocean, at Martha’s Vineyard, with the woman who shook her language from sleep.


Reproduced by permission of the author.