For the People, by the Poet, (FP by the P) is a column written by local street poet Rashaad Thomas that highlights, celebrates and supports local poets in Arizona cities. Poets outside academia often feel excluded from the dialogue that influences diverse communities using new and innovative methods, and this column aims to highlight some of the poets working "on the ground" here in Arizona.
An Electric Tide
A Thesaurus is a poet’s best friend. Many poems have been saved by synonyms. A couple months ago, I purchased Bojan Louis’ collection of poems, Currents. I like to go against the tide, so I read his book’s cover. Immediately, I was intrigued. The word “currents” challenged me. A horse’s head, neck, and body in the form of a crescent moon graced the front cover, cupping the words, “Currents," "Poems.” A distinct energy emerged from the horse’s muscles cut by the shadows and light of abstract formed waves.
Before opening the cover, I lifted my best friend the Thesaurus and we discussed the definitions and derivatives of current(s) like currency.
Current: (n.) belonging to the present time; happening or being used or done now.
Current: (n.) energy of a body of water or air moving in a definite direction, especially through a surrounding body of water or air in which there is less movement
1. something that is used as a medium of exchange; money.
2. general acceptance; prevalence; vogue.
3. a time or period during which something is widely accepted and circulated.
4. the fact or quality of being widely accepted and circulated from person to person.
Then I remembered a quote by Michael Brown that brought these definitions together: “Money has no value unless it can be exchanged for good and services but these cannot be supplied without the use of some form of energy.”
What did "currents" symbolize? What did Currents have to say to the world?
In 2015, I had the privilege of hearing Bojan Louis read at an event called, “Rise!: Rediscovering the City through Intercultural Poetry and Arts.” I had heard his name crackling across the Poetry Telephone.
I knew he was a poet to meet. Coincidentally before hearing his name, I had read that he was the Poetry Editor of RED INK: An International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts, and Humanities. I slowly approached him in Rise!’s greenroom. His quiet presence made him stand out. It appeared that he was preparing for his position to read in the night’s line-up.
“Hi, my name is Rashaad Thomas.”
Simultaneously, he raised his head and hand from his poem and said, “Hi, Bojan.”
In sync, we say, “Nice to meet you.”
I don’t believe first impressions matter. You never know if he/she/they are having a good or a bad day. But Bojan’s gentle voice (which is also his reading voice) and his firm handshake seemed to be metaphors for his poetry’s content. He had a powerful effect on my belief in first impressions. Still, today, I remember the moment we first exchanged greetings.
Similar to our introduction, Bojan’s beautiful words lay delicately on my ears, followed by the powerful boom-bam of lines that pounded my ear drums like the heavy metal he likes to make when his schedule allows.
An Electrician for 15 years, he twists currents and images into the pages in Diné, a native language that existed far before the United States disembarked to break the land’s back. Bojan represents a nation that sewed this land with their beliefs and language before the U.S. empire colonized and called it its own.
Coal Mine Mesa, Navajo Nation
Before ever playing with and paper
my mother swung axes.
Kindling, priority over that of her heart’s.
The hope for supper and frosted-dune
dawns indebted the family
to wood. She and her siblings stole
what made stars burn from gas cans
at the trading post
and huffed that shit into their lungs.
Handouts buy diapers hardly, ever. Do food
sometimes. A belly,
stretched loose, after a body’s exit
is again a plasterer’s hawk, a temporary
hold before more permanent
smearing. Lead paint bleeding into asbestos,
crumbling to flake and dust. An interlock
of detritus, dead weeds
blown against volcanic rock, Birth to birth, all this.
It’s better if monsters are vanquished with our stories.
Done in by Hero Twins:
Naayéé’ neizgháni dóó Tóbájíschíní. Mom’s words
– labyrinths aren’t nature’s making humans
obsessed over harnessing
a pattern; placing dead ends calling walls art.
Whether trimmed hedge or bonded by mortar
both, anything really, began
in water. And it keeps us, and it keeps us.
Bojan and his poetry embody Mother Earth and Father Sky and the currents that hold them together. Together through personal narrative and storytelling he captures the struggle of the Diné against the white settlers who stole their land, and failed—despite their attempts—to silence their language. He is a gentle soul, yet, like his name, he navigates “battles,” using the energy of Currents as a weapon against white supremacy.
You can listend to Bojan Louis read on NPR Kanau News and Classical Music here.
BOJAN LOUIS is a member of the Navajo Nation — Naakai Dine’é; Ashiihí; Ta’neezahnii; Bilgáana. His first collection of poems is, Currents (BkMk Press, 2017). He is the author of the nonfiction chapbook, Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona (Guillotine Series, 2012).