marlon evans portrait

Marlon Evans: O’odham Poet On Tumamoc Hill

marlon evans portrait
Marlon Evans at dawn on the Tumamoc summit, Baboquivaru Peak in the background.

Marlon B. Evans was born in Phoenix on October 8, 1952, a member of the Akimal and Tohono O’odham Tribe. He passed away on July 28, 2009. Marlon graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1975 obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Arts, and in 2006 he obtained another Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing, Poetry and Media Arts. He was in a graduate program at the University of Arizona working on his master’s degree in American Indian Studies when he died.

Marlon loved Tumamoc Hill. It was more than just a special place to him. I guess it was kind of a natural cathedral, a place suitable for a ceremony. When he was sick, he walked to the summit every day to see the dawn light up Baboquivari Peak, the sacred mountain and center of the O’odham world, easily seen from Tumamoc. He walked with friends or alone until he was too weak to continue. There is a video online of Marlon Evans reading a poem on the Tumamoc summit.

O’odham oral traditions have a beautiful word, Huhugam, that can be translated as “people who are gone.” The word is related, yet distinct from the technical term Hohokam, used  by archaeologists to refer to a consistent type of material culture found in Southern Arizona, objects dated approximately between the years 400 and 1450 AD. Archaeologists Suzie and Paul Fish and their colleagues have published evidence that Hohokam people and their ancestors lived on the Tumamoc summit beginning around 400 AD. 1Two Villages on Tumamoc Hill, Suzanne K. Fish, Paul R. Fish, Gary Christopherson, Todd Pitezel, James T. Watson. Journal of Arizona Archaeology. 01/2011; 1(2):185-196. Read a pdf online. Marlon is standing within this village in the photograph above, with that same gorgeous view of Baboquivari Peak that his ancestors viewed for over a thousand years.

According to Barnaby V. Lewis, an elder of the Gila River Indian Community, Huhugam is a more inclusive term than Hohokam and implies the “reverent acknowledgement of ancient ancestors, as well as living O’odham who will become ancestors today or tomorrow.2From an interview with Barnaby V. Lewis, by Archaeology Southwest.

I have been told by others that humans can remain in the place where they lived, or were attached to, after they are gone, as a formless presence. Those two words, put together, are a little hard on our logical mind, but easy in the imagination. We may imagine then, that Marlon Evans has taken his place among a long line of ancestors, or maybe a circle sitting in council on Tumamoc Hill, and that he may be remembered in association with that place.

……

MARLON WRITES, “I grew up on and off the Papago reservation during my childhood years. I had limited knowledge of culture, storytelling, ceremony, and language. My parents encouraged and supported Sister and I to learn the English language. I never lost the identity of being O’odham. In a non-Indian world, many times I was in places where I was the only brown-skinned person around. This proved to be invaluable experience for building character, self-sufficiency, and confidence.

I started writing by choosing subject matter that I knew. My poetry is simple with usually one story line and theme. My poetic approach is to ensure to the audience, with simplicity, complete accessibility to the story. I tell stories with very uncomplicated language, without metaphor or multiple levels of meaning or abstraction; straight forward storytelling, taking a poem from beginning to end with a story in between.

The Tumamoc Hill hiking experience at 4 a.m. in the morning has introduced me to another world—a world of sacred ancestral grounds, nocturnal animals, snakes, javelina, shooting stars, a lunar eclipse, and an obelisk birdcage. All of the aforementioned have provided an inspiration: to the east, the warm city lights of Tucson, to the west, the overwhelming O’odham darkness.

I have discovered that my poetic compositions have set forth a distillation process that has enabled me to recall passages from forgotten childhood and adult memories that are extremely self-revelatory. These revelations have fueled and provided a catharsis for my poetry. It has been a therapeutic process that has strengthened my spirituality. I am seeking the dynamic within, to discover a discipline and environment; a sensitivity that will ignite a flashpoint of emotion, passion, perception, and self-destructive demons that lie dormant.”

 

In the Morning

At 4 a.m. in the morning
down the hallway two girls are leaving.
Barely dressed, they look exhausted and flushed.
They gulp ice water at the fountain
where I fill my water bottle
before my hike up Tumamoc Hill.

The hallway carpet smells musty and
humidity paints the walls with sweat.
I hear piano notes, gentle rapping on the keys—
the sound drifting from the Hotel Congress lobby,
the notes hovering, bluesy and lady dayish,
searching for a melody.
In the Tap Room an anorexic bar maid
in a booth that lingers of stale cigarettes,
stale beer, and stale people
crying because Elmer Fudd
is caught with jail bait
pinned to an orchid on skid row.
Tom, the night clerk,
stands with his head leaning on his
heavily tattooed arm caressing the 88s.
The lobby is a natural performance hall
at 4 a.m. in the morning.

Across the street the train station is dimly lit.
A man smoking a cigarette stares at the tracks.
A family sits on suitcases, a girl walks nonchalantly
with a water bottle unafraid of the train track darkness
and the all-night homeless.
A Superliner shoots out of the dark into the light
rifles the stillness
at 4 a.m. in the morning.

A half moon lights the asphalt trail up Tumamoc Hill.
Every crack resembles a snake,
it’s their season to slither up the trail.
Hiking with the half moon and city lights for company,
behind me in the darkness are flashes of light
perched on the heads of two lady hikers—
spotlights for snakes,
they resemble helmets on coal miners
about to descend a shaft
at 4 a.m. in the morning.

the next morning I look for
the two wayward waifs
the anorexic bar maid
the skin illustrated blues pianist
the anxious forlorn family
the smoking cinders of the railway unbound
the shaftless coal miners
the unseen and unheard
because I live

at 4 a.m. in the morning.

 

—Marlon B. Evans

marlon evans on tumamoc hill summit
Marlon Evans

 

The more I write, the more that comes back–the more that is revealed.

—Marlon B. Evans

 

Reprinted with permission from Red Ink, a literary magazine published by students of the University of Arizona American Indian Studies Program.Vol. 13 No. 2, fall 2007

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Two Villages on Tumamoc Hill, Suzanne K. Fish, Paul R. Fish, Gary Christopherson, Todd Pitezel, James T. Watson. Journal of Arizona Archaeology. 01/2011; 1(2):185-196. Read a pdf online
2. From an interview with Barnaby V. Lewis, by Archaeology Southwest.

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