Canyon de Chelly

Reflections of a Non-Native Visitor

An updraft from the red-rock canyon floor
Blows through the mesa’s Piñon pine and sage
As ravens, wings outstretched, in freedom soar
Between the distant past and present age.

At night, Coyote and the owl seek prey
Beneath the Milky Way’s broad arching band;
While with the first light of the sun, Diné
Arise to thank and draw life from the land.

Yet deep within the crevassed canyon’s wall
The spirits of the Ancient Ones live on
Where voiceless fortress homes and kivas call
Us to recall what was, but now is gone.

And from the silent fallen ruins come
The silent echos of a silent drum.


Canyon de Chelly: Pronounced “de Shay,” a canyon in Arizona.
Diné: What the Navajo people call themselves. Literally, “the people.”

Kivas: An underground chamber used by Pueblo men for ceremonies or councils.



James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, Dwell Time, Light, Deronda Review, The Road Not Taken, Fevers of the Mind, Sparks of Calliope, Dancing Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse. He was honored with being chosen as the winner of the 2021 SCP International Poetry Competition.

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10 Responses

  1. Paddy Raghunathan

    “Silent echoes of a silent drum.” My goodness…this sonnet invokes the ancient spirits of Arizona so intimately and subtly.

    Very, very nice.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    As one who lived in Arizona intermittently for eleven years, I can readily identify with your images and words. This made me think of more than one canyon I visited and tribes of the “Ancient Ones..” Thank you for causing me to conjure up pleasant memories. This really is a consummate sonnet.

  3. Mantz Yorke

    Enjoyed this poem. Visited the Canyon quite a few years ago – spectacular. But too brief a visit to appreciate much of the sweep of the culture/

  4. Paul Freeman

    ‘The silent echos of a silent drum.’ Wow! Says it all. Makes us realise how transient civilisations are.

    Great stuff as always, James. Thanks for the read.

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is very nicely done, and evocative of memories. My family went on vacation in 1962 to Arizona and New Mexico, and I remember the kiva in Mesa Verde, with the small “sipapu” from which (according to the Pueblo Indians) human beings first emerged into existence. The Pueblo tribe called those Ancient Ones “the Anasazi.”

  6. Phil S. Rogers

    A great reminder of a trip to Arizona many years back. Beautiful in a way not imaginable even looking at photographs unless you have been there. So different from New England. My wife and I pulled out our old photo albums to reminisce about our trip. Thank you.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Nice link, Wayne. The beauty of the people and country captured in Curtis’ photography has not changed all that much over the years. I recently returned from a ten-day trip from Albuquerque to Phoenix with a group that included two Pueblos (from Acoma and Laguna) two Navajo and one Gila River (AZ) tribal member who shared Southwest history from their perspective as we travelled from place to place and met with many other native people along the way.

      This poem was one of several I wrote along the way. It was the easiest to write and the easiest to share.

  7. C.B. Anderson

    You just keep getting better, James, and I think you know it. You showed me a canyon I’ve never been to, and I am mighty happy that I tagged along.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, this is a truly beautiful sonnet that taps into the spirit of the land with respect and rapture in equal measure – ‘Canyon de Chelly’ is a wonderful and admirable poem. The landscape is breathtaking… I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time in 2016, and the ghosts of history whispered to me as a dust devil rose before me… I’ll never forget it.


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