Any Parent Would Identify With These Ortiz Poems

Although I was originally drawn to Ortiz as a Native American poet, I find my favorite poems are those that could probably have been written by anyone, even a Chinese poet in the 4th century. In other words, I like poems like:


I take him outside
under the trees,
have him stand on the ground.
We listen to the crickets,
cicadas, million years old sound.
Ants come by us.
I tell them, “This is he, my son.
This boy is looking at you.
I am speaking for him.”

The crickets, cicadas,
the ants. the millions of years
are watching us,
hearing us.
My son murmurs infant words,
speaking, small laughter
bubbles from him.
Tree leaves tremble.
They listen to this boy
speaking for me.

I suspect that any parent could identify with this poem, even though it veers toward being Native American Poetry at the end of each stanza. Though most of us have “introduced” our children to nature and been amused, and, hopefully, enlightened by their amazement with what we’ve come to ignore, I doubt many Americans would even think of the kind of formal introduction that ends the first stanza. You would have to have a different view of nature than most of us have been raised with to ever think of making this kind of introduction.

Most of us have shared our children’s joy in being entertained by their outdoor discoveries, but most of us would never think that Nature also listens to the boy, much less “tremble” as they listen to him play. For us, Nature is seen as indifferent to our feelings or words.

My favorite poem like this, though, is this one:


Daughter sits straddle-legged
on the floor. Smiles
as she turns the pages
of a catalogue. Toys,
books, clothes, rocky
horseys. Smiles and mur
murs. And then, watching
her, several pages stick
together, and the crinkle
of a frown edges on her fore
head and her lips purse
and push forward in con
cern. And I smile
and pout my mouth
in sympathy and love.

It’s been a long, long time since I had this reaction to my granddaughter’s discovery of life’s problems, much less to my daughter’s, but I identified with the scene immediately. As they age our worries for them increasingly become “intellectual” where we try to discover solutions to their problems in the same way we try to solve our own problems, but at that age we feel their emotions immediately, unconsciously.