My Home (unfinished) by Zunneh-bah Martin

A year ago on July 15, 2017, I wrote and shared my first poem. I had a great experience at the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English’s Next Generation Leadership Network events with the Bread Loaf Teacher Network and the Andover Break Loaf writing events. Since I was in Massachusetts and Vermont at this time last year, I missed the 1st Annual Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute back home on the Diné/Navajo Reservation. I am glad that I made it to the 2nd Annual Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute this past week, but I missed the 2nd Annual Next Gen events. Here is a poem that I wrote from this past week and the prompt was to write about my home and why it is special:


My Home (unfinished)


I know I’m almost home when I pass through Gallup, New Mexico

Also known as Drunktown, USA

I know I’m not too far away from home when

I drive past where I used to visit my late Cheii at his home

Before he was murdered on October 23rd, 2009 in Grants, New Mexico

Right before the saddest Halloween I’ve ever spent with my family

Because we had my late Grandpa Sonny Jim’s memorial service

Two days before my favorite holiday that year


I know I’m almost home when I drive down 491

Also known as highway 666, the devil’s highway

When I pass through Gamerco

When I pass by T & R

When I get to the fork in the paved road

Yes, my Nana and Papa, my Nalis, live on the road to the left to Window Rock

Yes, my dad travels that road every day to and from work at the Navajo Times

Yes, I used to travel that road to and from Window Rock Elementary School

Every day of Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade before I transferred to Twin Lakes

But, I know my home is on the road to the right


I know I’m almost home when the city lights and stores and fast food restaurants

Disappear in the rear view mirror

I know I’m getting closer when I drive past the small town of Yatahey, New Mexico,

What many non-Navajos confuse with our greeting, Yá’át’ééh

As I start driving down the hill past Yatahey into my hometown of Tohłakai,

I look to my right and think of my late Cheii

I recall my mom telling me how her father was the one who taught her

Where our home got its name

The story goes that there used to be a small waterfall coming down that hill

And that the rocks around it turned white where the water dried

Tohłakai means white water

Even though the water fall is gone, the name stayed

Even though Shicheii was from the Modoc tribe and married into the Navajo tribe,

He taught how important it was to know about

Our home, our culture, our people, our language, and our land here on the Navajo Reservation


I know I’m entering into my hometown when I pass this landmark

When I see the valleys, the ditches, the mountains, and the mesas below

I know when I pass the old Mustang gas station where Peewees used to be

This is now a shell and giant gas station

I know I’m four miles away when I turn right at the graffiti covered mile marker 10

Down the dirt road that is alongside the thin mesa known as camel’s hump mesa


Driving down this unpaved, dirt, pot-holed, bumpy AF, muddy when it rains road,

I think about my late great-great-grandfather, Jack Johnson, that I never met

Because that is who this road, Johnson Road, is named after

Named after the blackest man in this area that spoke the most fluent and ancient Dine Bizaad

The ancestor where my black African American blood

And some of my Navajo blood comes from


I drive past the boulder on the left that looks like a giant scoop of chocolate ice cream

Then past one of my elementary friends house

Then over a hill

Then past one of my elementary teachers house

Then up a hill

Past where I had my first and only car accident on the cold snowy night of December 21st, 2004

Down the hill past more of my elementary friends houses

Past where one of my former school bus drivers lives

Past where the man who helped rescue us after our car accident lives

Across the 1st bridge and 1st ditch

Past where one of my great-grandpas wives lives with

All her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,

The village is what we call it, that is exactly two miles

From where my great-grandma Shimasanisani Sarah Johnson,

Whose traditional name is my namesake, Zonnie-bah, old and wise woman warrior,

Who is still with us going on 95, lives


I pass more friends and relatives houses until I get right before the 2nd bridge and 2nd ditch

Which is exactly four miles away from the turnoff at the highway

I see the Hogan that I helped my parents build for Shimasanisani when I was a little girl

I see her home next to the Hogan

The home that her late husband built for her

I see my family’s home which is next to her home

The home that my parents got so we could live close to her and take care of her


I see all of our pets, all the stray animals that we’ve rescued, run happily to greet us

I see our horse corral that we built to keep my late Cheii’s

Old horse Eaglelady and donkey named Donk after he was murdered

We are down to our miniature horse Kinick

After Eaglelady and Donk rejoined my late grandpa in the spirit world

I see the garden we started years ago in front of my great-grandma’s house

Because she enjoys watching plants grow and eating them when we harvest them

I see the yellow mountain that faces north behind our house

Grinch mountain is what we’ve nicknamed it

I see more houses of friends and relatives down the road

I see the land and the hills and the mountains I spent my childhood playing at

I see the hill where our pet cemetary is

Where all the hundreds of animals we’ve rescued and saved

Have been laid to rest when their time has come


I know I am home

When these memories replay in my mind

When my family’s stories are retold

When our laughs and tears are reshared

When our land shows years of change

When our animals age and new animals join

When our gardens expand


I know this will always be my home

Because my tsʼééʼ was buried here

I know I will always have physical and spiritual ties to my home in these lands


I know this will always be my home

Because this is where my ancestors lived

Because this is where my family currently lives

And because this is where our future family will live

Here at the land I call my home

Zunneh-bah Martin

One Response to “My Home (unfinished) by Zunneh-bah Martin

  • Lou Bernieri
    3 years ago

    That’s such a wonderful poem, Zunnebah! We need to get you back to Lawrence next summer. Keep writing!

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