Natachee Momaday Gray’s upcoming book of poetry, Silver Box (Finishing Line Press, 2023), is a kaleidoscopic tour through time and place.
The Kiowa Apache poet and artist has seen her work published piecemeal before in publications like the Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art, (RE) An Ideas Journal; she has appeared at local venues including Teatro Paraguas and Collected Works Bookstore; she has read on the Richard Eeds radio show and participated as a SOMOS reader through Taos’ Harwood Museum of Art—a literary program that offers salons for like-minded word fans. Silver Box, however, is her first officially published collection.
And it’s a doozy. Momaday Gray’s poems bring reverent, sensual specificity to the mundane moments of life, melding mythic patterns with everyday rituals like cooking, eating and tending the home. They also serve as mementos of significant events in the writer’s life, and are held in the vessel that is Silver Box.
The title, she says, comes from an actual, tiny sterling box a friend brought her from Afghanistan.
“It became such an important relic to me,” Momaday Gray tells SFR. “I would put little remnants in there, like a rose petal, or holy dirt. The significance of Silver Box is that all of these poems, all of this experience, all of my life, fits into this little relic box that is so important to me.”
The chapbook thus becomes an impressionistic collection and gathering of Momaday Gray’s experiences—the culmination of a manuscript that had been in the works for over 10 years before it was finally accepted by Kentucky’s Finishing Line Press.
“I’ve always written for myself, primarily,” she says, “so it came out sort of like journaling—writing little entries just to get it on paper. After a while it became a part of my life that I always carried around and added to.”
Silver Box was thus an evolving work, and its current form ended someplace very different from the initial manuscript. Still, it stays true to Momaday Gray’s vision, and Finishing Line Press accepted it as-is.
“I think they really understood and aligned with my work and how I envisioned it,” she explains.
Even so, the book had been rejected many times before its ultimate publication. Momaday Gray sees those delays as necessary for the book to reach its best possible completion. The final poem, for example, dubbed “Muerte,” honors her husband’s younger brother who died in 2019.
“That was such a significant happening,” she says, “and I knew that that needed to be in the book and I needed to honor him.”
Much of her work is influenced by her family and its deep roots in New Mexico. Her grandfather is Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday, and her parents are abstract expressionist artist and musician Darren Vigil Gray and actress, writer and filmmaker Jill Momaday.
“There’s so much spirit here, and since my family has been here for so long, I just feel like this is where I belong,” she says. “So it does influence my writing, maybe more than anything. There’s a lot of that sentiment in my book, too—the call home, and this reverence for a place you have such a deep connection to.”
That Silver Box even came to be is a minor miracle. Momaday Gray says she never set out to become a poet, but her family’s history in the arts led her down the path. Her book even begins with an epigraph from her grandfather, whom, she says, has been a wellspring of inspiration when it comes to her own creative practice.
“He’s known primarily for his fiction and for his memoir, but he’s a beautiful, brilliant poet as well,” she notes. “[In the epigraph], he speaks about the Earth in a way that really brings tears to my eyes. That quote in particular just really shook me—we’re at such a pinnacle point right now in so much uncertainty and so much fear, and I think that my grandpa really makes sense of what we’re all feeling in the collective unconscious—weeping for our earth and needing to heal.”
Momaday Gray’s own poetic practice is as much a performance art as it is a static text. The way she arranges and presents words on the page are informed, she says, by how she imagines herself reading them aloud—and she loves giving readings that incorporate multimedia elements like accompanying songs, videos and other visuals.
“To me, that’s part of the poetry itself,” she says.
To that end, Momaday Gray’s husband, musician Kyle Thomas Perkins, now accompanies her at select readings, including at the official launch at Collected Works on April 7.
“We’ve created this dual experience,” the writer says. “He puts music to my words, and he’s totally able to put more dimension to my words.”