William Arce

Raven Eye (U of Arizona Press, 2007) by Margo Tamez

If traditional Native American mythology considers the Raven the Creative Trickster God, Margo Tamez's new collection of poems Raven Eye also makes him emblematic of the cultural well-being of her community. Working within the prevailing trends of other Native American poets such as Joy Harjo and N. Scott Momaday, Tamez weaves Native cultural history into a social critique of the contemporary. In her second collection of poems, Tamez takes the ancient Native American symbol of the Raven and exposes its present-day embattled position. "Who will return lamps to the smelted sky?" she writes, "Who will remember the knots that held up sun?" She goes on to explain why Raven is no longer able to attend to his responsibilities:

O! raven! O! flutter!
O! leaves! O! falling!

Wings and body snagged
On barbed wire
Technology of war

Such imagery of the fallen Raven serves as a precursor to many of the dark themes covered in the first portion of the book: violence, rape, betrayal of relatives, and the trauma of a cultural history come undone. "Survival exposes you" she writes, "to force raging from the underside/ Where peace is a foil." Tamez reveals how the difficulties of trauma in the everyday force her, and others like her, to simply struggle for survival in a very basic form, one that cripples even the notion of normalcy. Yet, even in the darkest of moments, Tamez' language remains lush and lyrical. For example, here is how she describes a moment of silence before submitting to a violent sex act:

Fragile leaves falling off
A mesquite branch in winter
Jumping cholla long dried and brittle
Nerve like a shriveled curled thumb
Sun and moon like monks in hermitage
Water scarcely trickling to spring beneath

Ultimately, it is the treatment of these issues that is most powerful. Midway through the text the critique turns inward, questioning the many places from which "life beauty" is being stifled:

But mostly you know that the ones bitching
Over the donuts and Hawaiian punch
Are the ones like the one holding the sheet over your face
Who have the most collusion with daily casualties
The ones prattling on about rescuing mother earth are the
Least tolerant
Of Indian women and real revolution

The emphasis on "revolution" and "women" is at stake throughout the whole text. In Tamez's view, Raven can no longer fly free because the women in the "rez" find themselves under the dual oppression of their men and of white society. To the voices the tell her "It's all right alright already/ That's enough!/Stop" she valiantly responds, "I'll never stop."

The latter portion of the book does bring redemption and peace: Raven is reborn into the contemporary and nursed back into health. This time however, Raven is birthed by the female narrator and cared for through poetry.

The real head and real spine
Of a new child pressing on my cervix
Raises thumb to mouth
Salutes the storm and the wreckage
In her jellygold waters

The last poems are especially moving in their range and scope. Elements of lost history, forgiveness, spiritual healing, and the omnipotent power of memory are resurrected: "Raven knows/Raven breathes" Tamez writes, reminding the reader that the cultural rebirth is around the bend and this time, Raven has not forgotten.