The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the
United States — also, it is a part of my body.
I carry a river. It is who I am: ’Aha Makav.
This is not metaphor.
When a Mojave says, Inyech ’Aha Makavch ithuum, we are
saying our name. We are telling a story of our existence. The
river runs through the middle of my body.
So far, I have said the word river in every stanza. I don’t want
to waste water. I must preserve the river in my body.
In future stanzas, I will try to be more conservative.
The Spanish called us, Mojave. Colorado, the name they gave
our river because it was silt-red-thick.
Natives have been called red forever. I have never met a red
native, not even on my reservation, not even at the National
Museum of the American Indian, not even at the largest
powwow in Parker, Arizona.
I live in the desert along a dammed blue river. The only red
people I’ve seen are white tourists sunburned after being out
on the water too long.
’Aha Makav is the true name of our people, given to us by our
Creator who loosed the river from the earth and built it, into
our living bodies.
Translated into English, ’Aha Makav means the river runs
through the middle of our body, the same way it runs through the
middle of our land.
This is a poor translation, like all translations.
In American minds, the logic of this image will lend itself to
surrealism or magical realism —
Americans prefer a magical red Indian, or a shaman, or a fake
Indian in a red dress, over a real native. Even a real native
carrying the dangerous and heavy blues of a river in her body.
What threatens white people is often dismissed as myth.
I have never been true in America. America is my myth.
Derrida says, Every text remains in mourning until it is translated.
When Mojaves say the word for tears, we return to our word
for river, as if our river were flowing from our eyes. A great
weeping, is how you might translate it. Or, a river of grief.
But who is this translation for? And will they come to my
language’s four-night funeral to grieve what has been lost in my
e=orts at translation? When they have drunk dry my river will
they join the mourning procession across our bleached desert?
The word for drought is di=erent across many languages
The ache of thirst, though, translates to all bodies along the
same paths — the tongue and the throat. No matter what
language you speak, no matter the color of your skin.
We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.
I do not mean to imply a visual relationship. Such as: a native
woman on her knees holding a box of Land O’Lakes butter
whose label has a picture of a native woman on her knees
holding a box of Land O’Lakes butter whose label has a
picture of a native woman on her knees . . .
We carry the river, its body of water, in our body. I do not mean
to invoke the Droste e=ect.
THE FIRST WATER IS THE BODY