Refusing to Be Blessed

By Hershman John b. 1972 Hershman John

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
In their stone boots. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

—Anne Sexton

Pick up the smooth stone at your boot tip—
Quickly blow the dust off the edge.
This is for Sexton’s mother who died March
1959. This is for Sexton’s father who died

June 1959. This is for love born in September
1949. When Autumn came, it left the trees bare.
Leaves are but whisper ready to become snow.
No sign of a harvest, no corn. This is for Anne.

I breathe out carbon, breathe in carbon, in early
October 1971. The stones in the river’s currents
Are polished. I was conceived in the empty
Winter. Little did I know when Coyote threw

His one stone into the perfect pool, it meant
One by one, we die just as amber mosquitoes.
For the Navajo people, Coyote threw the stone
Into the ocean for our survival. Across the ocean,

Past television screens—Marie, sweet Marie—
This is for Marie’s voice and scrolling words:
Tumor in the back of the head. The black birds
Fill the sky as icy hail: It Must Have Been Love.

September 2002, I have lived another year.
I wish Sweden to keep her goddess of music.
Another new moon passes and I understand
The word terminal. This is for Coyote

And his ability to hide his life force. This again
Is for understanding Sexton today. This is for
My mother who will weave an AIDS quilt.
She’ll use a loom and yarn and tears, this is for

Love and hoping that when the universe ends
We never hear the splash. We never hear th—

Hershman R John, “Refusing to Be Blessed” from I Swallow Turqoise for Courage. Copyright © 2007 by Hershman R John. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: I Swallow Turqoise for Courage (University of Arizona Press, 2007)

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Poet Hershman John b. 1972

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Living, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity


Hershman John was born in California and grew up on the Navajo reservation in Sand Springs, Arizona. He earned an undergraduate degree and an MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University. John is the author of the poetry collection I Swallow Turquoise for Courage (2007). His poems have been published in journals and anthologies including Puerto del Sol, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and O Taste and See: Food Poems.
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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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