New Poetry by Indigenous Women

A Series Curated By Natalie Diaz

By  Literary Hub

In my Mojave culture, many of our songs are maps, but not in the sense of an American map. Mojave song-maps do not draw borders or boundaries, do not say this is knowable, or defined, or mine. Instead our maps use language to tell about our movements and wonderings (not wanderings) across a space, naming what has happened along the way while also compelling us toward what is waiting to be discovered, where we might go and who we might meet or become along the way.

This feature of indigenous women is meant to be like those song-maps, to offer myriad ways of “poetic” and linguistic experience—a journeys through or across memory, or imagination, across pain or joy or the impossibility of each, across our bodies of land and water and flesh and ink—an ever-shifting, ever-returning, ever-realizing map of movement, of discovery, of possibility, of risk—of indigenous and native poetry. It is my luck to welcome you to this indigenous space and invite you into the conversations of these poems, languages, imageries and wonders. In this installment of the bi-monthly feature, I’m pleased to share the work of Celeste Adame, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Joy Harjo, Millissa Kingbird, Kateri Menominee, dg nanouk okpik, and Nicole Wallace (full bios below).

–’Ahotk, Natalie Diaz

*

CELESTE ADAME

Maps

Smoke:                the breath between us as we wait for the sun to rise, our fingers centimeters apart.

Shaved ice:          on my tongue still does not taste like salt of you.

Inhale                  letters through straw on page.

Fedora                on end table beside your bed. Between the sheets and looking in your direction.

Bound lines:       a constellation in my pocket waits for you.

Sphere:                I am buried inside of you.

Voice                   with closed eyes, I hear it and smile when you call out to me.

Arrow:                 curving every which direction, I will follow each one to Deception Pass, looking for you.

Foam                  being ripped from bed. Candles illuminate room.

Star ship:            is what you reach for because holding silk sheets isn’t enough.

Hair                   falls over your eyes, before I can push it behind your ear.

Almanac:           the lines on my hands will lead me back to you.

*

ALI COBBY ECKERMANN

Little Bit Long Time

stay here
he whispers gruffly   holds her roughly
hugs her   then hides her
little bit long time

big eyes young face   stare from hiding place
watch her Dad pause   check natures laws
sniffing the air   eyes filled with despair
little bit long time

he just wants some water to give to his daughter
he steps from the trees   crawls on his knees
squats on the sand   drinks with his hands
little bit long time

her eyes do not waver   good lessons he gave her
sees Dad fall over strange   there is a hole in his brains
gun noise fills her ears   her eyes lose their tears
little bit long time

rough white hands snatch her   cruel voices scratch her
she is too scared to run   she’s learnt respect for the gun
two different eyes clash   and she knows in a flash
this killer had watched them

little bit long time

 

I Tell You True

I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since I watched my daughter perish
She burned to death inside a car
I lost what I most cherish
I saw the angels hold her
As I screamed with useless hope
I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
It’s the only way I cope!

I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since I found my sister dead
She hung herself to stop the rapes
I found her in the shed
The rapist bastard still lives here
Unpunished in this town
I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since I cut her down.

I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since my mother passed away.
They found her battered down the creek
I miss her more each day
My family blamed me for her death
Their words have made me wild
I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
‘Cos I was just a child.

So if you see someone like me
Who’s drunk and loud and cursing
Don’t judge too hard, you never know
What sorrows we are nursing.

*

JOY HARJO

THE FIGHT

The rising sun paints the feet
of night-crawling enemies.
And they scatter into the burning hills.
I have fought each of them.
I know them by name.
From before I could speak.
I’ve used every weapon.
To make them retreat.
Yet they return every night
If I don’t keep guard
They elbow through openings in faith
Tear the premise of trust
And stick their shields through the doubt of smoke
To challenge me.
I grow tired of the heartache
Of every small and large war
Passed from generation
To generation.
But it is not in me to give up.
I was taught to give honor to the house of the warriors
Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers.

 

A REFUGE IN THE SMALLEST OF PLACES

(For Emily Dickinson, one of the singers
And for all who those fleeing on those ancient migration trails north
For home)

Someone sang for me and no one else could hear it
When I had given up and made knife marks on my arm
Or drank and gave myself away or was given

Someone sang for me and no one else could hear it
When demons came with rope and cages
To take my children from me and imprison us

Someone sang for me and no one else could hear it
Now I am here in the timeless room of lost poetry
Gathering up the destroyed and forgotten
Because of the songs someone sang that no one else could hear

But me.

 

DESIRE’S DOG

I was desire’s dog.
I ate when I was fed. I did what I was told.
I knew how to sit, stand and roll over on command.
When I was petted, I was made whole.
Even when I dreamed, I dreamed a chain around my neck.

Desire is a bone with traces of fat.
It’s the wag smell of a bitch in heat.
It’s that pinched hit at the end of a beat.
It’s a stick thrown into a rabbit chase.

I lay at the feet of desire for years.

Then I heard this song, calling me.
It was a woman in a red dress,
It was a man with a gun in his hand.
It was a table filled with fruit and flowers.
It was a fox of fire, a bird of stone.

Then, it was gone.

What was left disintegrated by rain and wind.

I had followed desire, to the end.

*

MILLISSA KINGBIRD

Preservation

Preserve the white man in a clear jar away from sunlight
The room must be cool but not too cool, middle lines towards hot
The jar must be filled with milk
Milk removed from its fat

He will hand you papers telling you that your brown baby will be obese
If you feed it anything but this skim to 1 percent milk
He gives you a choice on this opaque white water

Submerge him to his chest
Where his nipples would be if he believed in them

He had them removed because they reminded him of a woman
And made him want
And by extension made him want more
You may think he made himself smooth like a ken doll, that’s how you wanted it

But he didn’t, he wanted to be bigger and biggest
(you’ll need another jar for his ego)

 

Revolve

I am soft when softness calls for my hand.
Fat sizzles in a cast iron skillet
cured in spite of me forgetting to care it,
I’ve wet it and rusted.
Someone else, I can’t recall, sometimes,

a dark spot in my addictive line
I chain smoke
I quit
I begin

again,

Someone else must have done the work,
on my skillet, I mean, oiled and baked it.

There was a Percocet my cousin gave me
one time / I threw up in a field.
Dryness cleaved from
my throat thrust out my body,
mosquito laden.
A girl, then, still
lying in a dirt lot.
Indiscriminate car, idled, as the earth was
spun.

The sky moved me
soil breath cool and damp

I rolled toward the arrogant lake.

 

Kokum Nocturn

I wish the moon sustained,
she created the goddess in me.
grandmother form / unreliable / whisper soft

She’ll meet my sister on the other side of the river.
They’ll sit by the fire and eat.

I wonder, does the film of he’s my son slip from her eyes
she reaches the top of the eyrie as I jump.
into inhalation / caught breath / choke

It was a bottle of pills.

She’s slipped partially into the veil the other,
either she exists in another realm or disintegrates into the earth.
remove mouth / weightless silence / ephemeral guilt

She stands in the dawn now, witness to the girlhood we’d lost.
What her son stole, the stones we’ve been choking on.

The moon will hide her face for a year,
I will pull from the back of my closet my silk wrapped memories.
her eyes again / photo paper / maybe rain

*

KATERI MENOMINEE

As in One Feather

Waawaa–    diminutively white    spectral white    mottled white

wind    licked    on the back of    eaglet    a heron    drowned in white river fog

fresh doe skull    mid-light    frost blanket on cabbage field

 

a decomposing birch swing     sawdust    white fungi    first    month’s frost

patching it in a thick crust of    white    a winter hare burrowing

in a dead buck’s    vase-thick neck    a stronghold    bubbling cream

 

from teat    of slippered fox    strips of cotton    blossom

sugar lump chest    rising    belly out    kits lost in white

forest of their mother’s stomach    the lower jaw    ghost snap    teeth

Shkeshi- Paring feathers    as in    paring knives    slicing birchbark    or

hard button of a squash    quartered parts    kidneys of a rabbit

A deformed oak    the only place in the woods where deer pray in herds

ruffling    cluster    like priests in St. Peter’s Square    jaundiced hands    several

oaken crosses    three whittled canes    a    cathedral shine    an    abandoned nunnery

on a white hill pilgrimage    several hundred women    flocking    black fragments

feathers    children playing in twin birch glow    coppered bellies    fat

pressed on the tracks of a stone trail    Waawaashkeshi    as in    one feather

one    as in a deer’s wintered tail dash into the green maw of river mouth

 

while we feasted

i softened for the radiator’s hot glare,
ammonia oil, engines spitting
gold flecks on a cold maple floor.

this is not a test but a sliced heart picked out
by crows, stretching the pieces toward the sun,
cautious, roasts my chorus, swallows the burn.

my torso blues, cracks.

i am fragile.

i picture my grandmother’s tea kettle,
the burn on the outside of a teacup,
on a kitchen floor scalping tile,
our bodies thawing by the lake.

how far north?

there is a branch where crows emit little bulbs of heat
on the cold spots around my body—
i can tell the places his hand has been, rabbit tracks

oaking across my back between the ocher branch swung
low atop my breast. an army blanket pressing my thighs
tight against the floorboards, i slide on sheets of grue.

i swallow winter stale.

has the lake warmed?

do they remember me?

or have they remembered her?

don’t they hear the sound of ship bells?
my lips fixed ashore, conch shelled, and opal.

i am saying this because maybe you remember

the girl i once was, who didn’t smell of bleach or
chicken wire or fish bones snapped sideways
in a mason jar. i am snaring wild rabbits

on a frozen beach with my brother. i am
walking my sister to school watching street lights
bounce on the shine of her polyester jacket.

i am skipping stones on sheets of broken river.
i will speak in whiplash and quartered english.

my lips chisel to indigo, traps of ice fissures
scuttling. i am only a woman with eyes

the color of belfries, bells
screaming birch.

*

DG NANOUK OKPIK

Forgrass

I see: Forgrasses, little blue, little stemmed,
light mottled purple blue with yellow centers,

A toil of one: She/I caste a thick, sod-wall.
time out of mind, out of sync, but of coarse grain.

She/I go there to the egg-cortex. A dog stands there,
stiffly and pointing with her muzzle upward: howl.

I see: poisonous buttercups;

soda ash from ceramics;
glass blue and smooth;
I stand to keep time.
Timekeeper.

A time meter: earth’s surface fine. Let it be. Time to place
my mind into the outer-cornice, to measure the nebulous.

A timing belt, bearing teeth, gage turning rusty sprockets,
She/I measure to pinpoint a sounding line underneath,

the sea depth of my/her childhood. Restricted to no particular,
time, only emerald-green-ocean, sea or lake. We’ll be there.

 

Drum For Feather

As sparrow bore sand down
songs clamored.           Abstruse:
black-leaf Russian tobacco;
felt through her/my fingers.
The sill of the window chipping,
opacity-shade, with rice paper-
blinds, newspapers with no dates.
Convulsing on the concrete,
our opaque, thick-heart, expels—
the darting demon sick; embodied
in my baptized breasts—
exorcise me, where 4 valves
blood-a-beat.

 

NIL Ink & Paper

The architecture of a Russian sage bush,
A hornet hovering & landing: the one
of many: a concourse sound in minuets.
In verbal opus, indulging space & time triangle.

I examine boundless expanse of nature.
I am nomadic in my mind-sense. I am someone.
I am nothing-but some nihil, white—paper—ink

*

NICOLE WALLACE

WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?

to set a trap

catch air

lightning waasamowin

the word erotica

dear cosmo-union,

whyd i ever             whyd i ever

it’s nearly february
b-12 deficient
all these notes are texts

little lights above the dash
red        yellow

buddy holly true love ways

 jiibay         jiibay

jiibay

dispatch            dispatch

i’d like to re-name this poem      i’m tired

it starts with it can stop there
an   endless w i t h d r a w a l

a list of desires in august

nimaw     nimaw     gii-nimaw     miinaawaa

only allowed to nagamo     to sing beside

with this thread i thee

i thee     see you
and turn my face from it
artifacts of dire — no

gaawiin ahaw

this is a story about kinship

whatever we have been given,        given away

into darkness                 alive with eyes,

a sliver of light

and the day was the same       the universe and its desires

ahaw

mii iw, mii iw, mii sa iw

 

MY GIRL, MY GIRL

named after a street
conceived after a kegger

the further away we get

this      fine      dark

hair curls

to ringlets

makadewidibe

this fire

pulled from the river

gichiziibi omaa
omaa gakaabikaang

nicole is not who i thought she was

and i don’t yet know the word for

gaawiin mashi ingekenimaasii nimbaabaa

i just laid on the floor for a while
the problem is i can do whatever i want
and i’m not supposed to know how to say i don’t know in the first place

let the wind in
on nights like this

illusion

of clouds moving through the sky

nothing more lonesome than that
lonesome fucking dutch painting
you loved so much

her hair

next to our bed

do you like conflict?

let it in

this humidity

look at at the lights come down
through the trees, my girl

the way it looks pink and gray

between the sun and this morning on wyckoff

this exhaust

how do you say: the flowers fell from the trees?

be more specific

my girl,
learn your grammar

my girl, my girl
i am learning i say

o g i n i i w a a n d e g

pink roses on the pillowcase

good fortune comes
it comes and comes

and i don’t know what’s good for me

but oh so deeply

elemental pressures
beautiful stones

the strength card comes up

it says: take the lion by its face, my girl

learn your grammar

look down into its eyes, down into it

a p a n e      a p a n e      a p a n e      inde’izhiwijigaade

and i want to get on top

but i am just so tired

et the wind brush over it
bad judgment comes    and comes    my girl you are learning
what it means:

waabigwaniin gii-pangisinoon mitigoog

when the flowers fall from the trees

gisinaa    omaa    miinawaa / /

noodinag

this cold snap

it’s a myth, laura says
the smell of $6 shirts

the light coming down
through the trees             the grass

nicole is not who i thought she was

my girl      all this green      ozhaawashkwaawizi

indaa

Celeste Adame (Muckleshoot), holds a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Her thesis, Lovers Landscape, explores gender identity, sexuality, love, basketball, landscapes of both Washington and New Mexico. She has been published in Yellow Medicine Review, Cloudthroat, As/Us: A Journal for Women of the World, hinchas de poesia, and Santa Fe Literary Review. She was also one of the poetry editors for the first two editions of Mud City, IAIA’s Low-Rez programs online journal.

Ali Cobby Eckermann’s first collection little bit long time was written in the desert and launched her literary career in 2009. In 2013 Ali toured Ireland as Aust. Poetry Ambassador and won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and Book Of The Year (NSW) for Ruby Moonlight, a massacre verse novel. In 2014 Ali was the inaugural recipient of the Tungkunungka Pintyanthi Fellowship at Adelaide Writers Week, and the first Aboriginal Australian writer to attend the International Writing Program at University of Iowa. In 2017 Ali received a Windham Campbell Award for Poetry from Yale University USA.

Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, has published eight books of poetry. Her last collection of poetry, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, was named the American Library Association’s Notable Book of the Year, and short listed for the Griffin International Prize. Her awards include the prestigious Ruth Lily Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her memoir Crazy Brave won the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction. She has produced four award-winning music albums including Winding Through the Milky Way for which she was awarded a NAMMY for Best Female Artist of the year. Harjo performs extensively nationally and internationally, including most recently in Camaiore, Italy. Harjo is a founding member of For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young women of her tribal nation. The program has expanded to include traditional arts mentorships for all members of the nation. She has two forthcoming books including Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, a Play by Joy Harjo and a Circle of Responses from Wesleyan, co-edited by Priscilla Page, and an book of poetry from Norton fall 2019, An American Sunrise. She currently a Tulsa Artist Fellowship recipient and is living in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Millissa Kingbird (Anishinaabe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe) holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. She writes poetry and the occasional lyric essay focusing on womanhood, bodies, nature, and trauma. She has been published in Hinchas de Poesia, Yellow Medicine Review, Red Ink, Connotations Press, The Rumpus, and Heavy Feather Review. When not writing, she contemplates small things.

Kateri Menominee is Anishinaabe from Bay Mills, Michigan. Her poems have appeared in Drunken Boat, The IAIA anthologies Birds and Other Omens and Radical Enjambment. Her poetry has been published in As Us: A Space for Women of the World, 2012, Drunken Boat, and Red Ink. Her chapbook In Tongues is out now in Effigies II from Salt Publishing.

dg nanouk okpik is Inupiaq, Inuit, and was raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She received a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Stonecoast College. The recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship, okpik is the author of Corpse Whale (University of Arizona Press, 2012).

Nicole Wallace is a poet, musician, and Managing Director of The Poetry Project. She is a part of the Anishinaabeg hand drumming group Nishnaabekwewag Negamonid and a member of the Indigenous Womxns Collective NYC. Her first chapbook, WAASAMOWIN, is forthcoming from IMP. Originally from Gakaabikaang, located in what is currently called Minnesota, she is a descendent of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) and is of mixed settler/European ancestry.






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