Tuyuna by Leeanna Torres



Brian speaks the name with intention, even though he is a white man. T-u-y-u-n-a. There is a deep-thudded “nuh” at the end of his pronunciation, thick with meaning and command, and the name takes on a life of its own as it sounds itself out through his mouth and into the world. T-u-y-u-n-a. I am in the passenger seat of Brian’s pick-up truck as he drives, his right hands easy on the steering wheel, the other resting casually on the edge of the open window. T-u-y-u-n-a. As we drive, Brian speaks the name with ease and confidence, boldly and unafraid of its sound. He speaks it as though he knows the power of it, as though he knows Tuyuna itself.


To name things is to know them.


Spelled T-u-y-u-n-a but pronounced Toy-u-nuh. Brian’s pronunciation was more of a statement, a prayer. Toy-u-nuh. The name spoken by a white man. Looking out the window at the landscape stretched out at the feet of Tuyuna, a part of me is surprisingly calmed by autumn colors in their beginnings – yellow, orange, distant fading green. Brain and I drive into the bosque, the cottonwood forest. I’d forgotten the melancholy of autumn days in the bosque, and suddenly a sentiment comes on strong, like a hunger, and I think of my boy, my only son, sleeping. We drive on.


Arriving at the field site, Brian is quick to get to work, grabbing his notebook, binoculars already hanging around his neck, eager and dusty. I notice Brian’s hands, how large they seem compared to other men I know. He adjusts his gear and does not wait for me. I struggle to catch up. Heading into the river forest of the Rio Grande, Brian sets out with a confidence that is both re-assuring and arrogant. I struggle to catch up, my boots tripping along the Virgina Creeper and yerba del manzo. And so our survey begins.


To name things is to know them.


My birth story goes something like this – seven years into their marriage and my mother and father were still childless. But my mother wanted a child. Desperately. Someone gave her the name of a doctor, a fertility specialist, and soon after she was pregnant. But there were complications, and my mother went into early labor, nearly a month too early. Her blood pressure rose. She began to hemorrhage. At the high-rise-city hospital they kept her in an isolated and darkened room, hoping to settle her body. But it was too late. My mother’s body could no longer contain me. The medical staff had no choice but to cut me out of my own mother so that I would not kill her. I was “born” in the fall of 1977, my mother unconscious and fighting for her life, my father pacing the waiting room floor. The doctors did not know if either of us would live, my mother and I. The doctor spoke to my father, provided him the situational details, then asked for the name of the baby. But my mother and father hand not discussed, nor decided on a name for their child. Even now I picture my father’s face, his panic stricken mind searching for a name while his wife lay dying. I remained name-less for hours. A newborn ripped from her mother, an offspring nearly killing her mother, a child, a being, without name. Was it that my father could not choose a name, or would not choose a name? My mother lay dying and I remained nameless.


To name things is to know them.


Brian identifies the plants, shrubs, trees, and birds as we move our way through the river-side forest. Baccarus, Riddles ragwartt, saltbush, globemallow. He seems to take both pleasure and pride in naming things, quickly and urgently, speaking the names out-loud as I take notes. Geococcyx califonianus, Populus angustifolia, Salix scouleriana, Alnus tenuifolia, Acer negundo, Cornus stolonifera. I flip pages and reach for another data sheet, then another, and another, one hand holding the clipboard as I walk alongside of Brian. Goldenrod, purple aster, indian-ricegrass. His boots step over a fallen log, wide and worn with sun. Populus fremonti. Brian calls out more and more names, one after another. I struggle to catch up.


A breeze moves leaves of the cottonwood trees, and there is an immediacy as it turns from breeze to wind. The birds hunker down. Wind turns slow again, becoming breeze and the air softens. To name things is to know them. Coyote willow, New Mexico olive, Datura, black mountain chickadee. These are the names of the species we survey. This is a day of October sunlight. Names exist between us. Through the cottonwood trees I catch glimpses of Tuyuna. Again, I say the name to myself, its syllables like morning shadows between my scattered thoughts.


To name things is to know them, or so this day tries to convince me. I am on sacred land with a white-man, and he can name things in ways I cannot. Purple aster, Northern flicker, Apache plume. Standing still, silent, I feel the breeze and listen to what it says.


To name things is to know them.


My father named me after my mother. What he did was take my mother’s name, arranged differently, and then gave it to me. Anna Lee. Lee Anna. It was my father who named me, not my mother. Even today my mother talks about how my father refused to discuss baby names while she was pregnant for the first time, with me. He would shake his head when she proposed names, names she liked, or names she wanted to know that he liked. In essence, they did not discuss any possibly of names before I was born. But when the time came, my father named me after my mother. I often wonder why he did this? Was this intentional? Surrounded by sacred mountains – Sandia’s to the east, Manzanos to the south, Tsdill to the west, Sangre de Christo’s to the north – my father had to decide on a name. And he chose my mother’s name. Father named me after my Mother. It is her name I carry. It is I who nearly killed her during birth. My father named me after my mother.


To name things is to know them.


Joseph has named the stray-dog “Suerte”. Suerte means “luck” in Spanish, and although he has given the dog a name, he is not sure that he will keep her. “I still don’t know if I’m going to keep her,” he insists, urgency in his voice, but I’ve known Joseph for years, and I know that now that the animal has a name, the chance of giving up the dog is gone. But I nod my head in agreement, convincing him that he’s convincing me. Suerte was a stray dog. But now she’s Joseph’s dog, and her name is Suerte. A name meaning luck. Suerte was a stray dog that showed up at his doorstep. Now the stray dog has a name. Will Suerte will help keep Joseph sober? Does the name he chose for his dog reflect a need or a prayer for himself? I wonder at the origins of her name even as he passes by on the highway, his small farm-truck traveling far below the speed limit, a stray-dog seated next to him in the front-seat, happy.


To name things is to know them.


Among the sea of work-cubicals, on a day as ordinary as any other, Koufra reveals to me that Koufra is not her real name – rather, her real name is Kadijah – it is the name with origins of her mother’s Muslim background, the name given to her specifically referring to the day in which she was born. Koufra shares this with me, and I watch her speak her own name as she stands before me in conversation, the pronunciation of her “hidden” name from her own mouth seems unfamiliar, even to her, and she looks a bit surprised each time she speaks it aloud but in a whisper, as though I too will be surprised, as though I too will sense that small power that lingers unspoken in the name. Kadijah.


To name things is to know them. And perhaps there is power in name, in the naming itself. Naming is a choosing, a gift of urgency perhaps, or one of stark intention.


Snakehead Mountain. Tuyuna. It is a volcanic formation. It is a sacred place of the native people of Santa Ana Pueblo. West side of the river, between the golf course and the equestrian center. Spelled Tuyuna, pronounced Toy-u-nuh. Brian and I take a break from our survey work, stopping for lunch under a tree, Tuyuna in the backdrop of what is seemingly ordinary Western landscape. But we are here, in the shadow of Tuyuna, it’s power resonating even at this distance, even as Brian and I shuffle through our field bags for bologna sandwiches and granola bars. Brian has stopped “naming” the things around us – Pandion haliaetus, Cathartes aura – and I have stopped “taking notes” for our field survey. It is lunch time and at last we are at rest, Snakehead Mountain in the distance. I am easy in the silence, relieved that Brain has stopped talking, stopped naming. I look to Tuyuna, pronouncing its name to myself in silence, running each syllable slowly between breaths, contemplating it’s origins as I admire the elaborate geologic formations. Rocks stacked and turning onto themselves, dust colored, a soft red, and chamisa peppered between the folds of rock and dirt, rock and dirt.


To name things is to know them, but where is the power, the meaning, in the name or the naming? What comes first? What is more important? Is the name the point of origin, of the beginning, the awakening? Or is the name the place of continuing, the place of emergence?


The science of naming – taxonomy – is the methodology of describing and classifying and at last assigning a name. Brian’s language is one of taxonomy – Riddles ragwartt, saltbush, globemallow. Brian can name things in ways I cannot. He is educated and experienced. But what of the language of land and myth and culture and place? The people of Tamaya call the place Tuyuna. Brian speaks the name, but what does he really know of this place? Brian pronounces but does he understand the power associated with the name, the prayer, the myth?


Is name a noun or it is a verb? Or is the naming something in and of itself, an event, a prayer stance, an illuminated emergence, a vocal advent of becoming?


Tuyuna has a story that neither Brian nor I can know. He is a white-man and I am a mixed-blood, so we only have the name, Tuyuna. But the name is enough to relay power, it exists between us, it is palpable. To name things is to know them, even in the unknowing. We have only its name – Tuyuna – and for now it is enough. This place is sacred to the people of Tamaya.  I look over to Brian, his large hands eager and careless as they reach into a bag of chips, the sound of the yellow bag noisy but comforting all at once. I look at his mouth, the cracks in his lips, hair from his beard and moustache surrounding. And I remember his pronunciation, Toy-u-nuh, said with an unintended assurance, an emergence, a knowing even within the unknowing.



Leeanna T. Torres is a native daughter of the American Southwest, with deep Indo-Hispanic roots in New Mexico. Through her writing she hopes to speak with and from that sacred sense of place that is inherent in the great Southwest, that intrinsic relationship between people and place – el sagrado, the sacred. Her essays have been published in regional literary magazines such as Pilgrimage and Bosque. Her work is also featured in the New Mexico Review, Blue Mesa Review, and is forthcoming in the Santa Fe Literary Review.