Installation view of Sky Hopinka. I'll Remember You as You Were, not as What You'll Become. 2016. Video (color, sound), 12:35 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century

For this year’s edition of our Poetry Project, we asked poet Ada Limón to select nine distinguished American poets to respond to artworks from the Museum’s collection. Here, Jake Skeets shares his poem inspired by Sky Hopinka’s I'll Remember You as You Were, not as What You'll Become.

Sky Hopinka. I'll Remember You as You Were, not as What You'll Become. 2016

Sky Hopinka. I'll Remember You as You Were, not as What You'll Become. 2016

On Rain or Light or Joy
—After Sky Hopinka’s “I’ll Remember You as You Were, not as What You’ll Become”

Yes, I made it rain. At the horizon a broom or brume of light this is the rain, for which we kneeled to someone who came back from the dead1 so yes I made it rain (I am here, alive) so yes the rain comes through me and only me, every night, in fact /
The rain is a story of survival so once it stops so do I and so do you

But for now, take my hand lapping at the evening2, the light is raining

through accordion light the shadows of ghosts of ghosts
through accordion light an altar of or alter to windmill’s morning
through accordion light the absence of it
through accordion light a sentence sentence-ing

This is my face.

A liquor of light, a lacquer of it.
This is my face, an entire song of it

        Go my son, go and climb the ladder.
        Go my son, go and earn your feather.
        go my son, make your people proud of you.3

This is my body: loam, pond quiet, text contorted into a crane on water,
a sinew of light attached to another and to another and to beyond and has been and ever after / but for now, the wind crumbles into drought and evenings last longer, sometimes all night4 — a town breathing, cactus hum, panicgrass afoot (dancing, dancing, dying, dancing some more)

For now, go out and dream of joy, we know the labor of feeling it

1 see present joy present joy present joys, a mumer of it, enough to fill a stadium
2 take its hand, let go of mine
3 tsídii ga’ ayáásh dootlł’izhii
kogaa’ ashilłní
nídiidááh shitsoí
nahdéé hayíílłká shiłní
4 another name for morning, another name for joy

Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets

1. Why did you choose this work of art?
Native art tends to push forward the boundaries of genre. Sky Hopinka’s piece felt like a poem to me; its sound, texture, and image are things I imagine within poetry. It’s a moving elegy to a poet central to understanding the nature of Native and Indigenous poetics. How can we talk back in the most beautiful way possible? How can we illustrate the use of language for reclamation?

2. What was your approach to writing a poem about it?
I became obsessed with the piece and the Diane Burns poem “Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question.” I borrowed one line from this poem, which is also featured in the film. I focused only on those pieces for a few weeks before finally sitting down to write. I let the imaginative use of form, sound, and image in the works inform my own writing of the poem. I gave way to the sentence and let language fill the page. I also borrowed some lyrics from the song “Go My Son,” written and performed by Arlene Nofchissey Williams and Carnes Burson.

Jake Skeets is the author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, winner of the National Poetry Series, an American Book Award, and a Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is the recipient of a 92Y Discovery Prize, a Mellon Projecting All Voices Fellowship, and a Whiting Award. He is from the Navajo Nation and teaches at Diné College.