vocalisms is a regular feature that presents selected tracks from voca, the Poetry Center's online audio video library of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today.
In this recording from 2009, Ofelia Zepeda reads “Birth Witness,” one of my favorite poems from her collection Where Clouds Are Formed. Her introduction to the poem lays out the situation which occasioned it: the difficulties many Tohono O’odham face when traveling across their homeland, which extends on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border. In “Birth Witness,” Zepeda uses the facts of being asked to account for her birth as a launch pad for thinking about the Tohono O’odham language. “They speak a language much too civil for writing,” Zepeda says of her parents and their language. “It is a language useful for pulling memory from the depths of the earth.”