How I began following Tanaya on Twitter escapes me. What I do know is that I admire her, her work, and what she is putting out into the world. Given that our theme is culture, given that many people think Indigenous peoples have died out, and given the significance of NAHM I felt it was only right to nominate a Native for Poet of the Month. Not only is her writing something anyone can relate to, but some of her work also touches on some of the things going on in Indian Country.
for the murdered & missing Indigenous women on Turtle Island
Not when or where but how, did we lose you,
in between Last Seen _____ the words become elegy
echoing sidewalks and streets. Hand out your picture to
strangers. Post it on Post Office bulletin boards: Missing
as if it were destination, a place one goes
to disappear in invisible cities. Except there’s no hero like
in the movies. No ads, mainstream coverage, or TV shows
to show our story. Are we invisible if no one knows, why?
When 1,181 women were taken, did eyes cease to have vision
or pay attention to a body being swallowed up?
Those left behind who remember you continue on a mission,
an endless search of the cities in which we loved
(and love) you. We will never forget. We demand for you
action, words, even a poem that ends: your lives matter, too.
in my mother’s womb
i came into this world
incomplete, born with a hole
in my heart. it happened
in my mother’s womb.
doctors have a name for it:
call it congenital cardiovascular defect.
my grandmother says it’s the moon
emptied of its many faces. it is against nature.
creation has a will of its own.
or is it a pact from the past
made long ago? it happened
in my mother’s womb, the blood
vessels closest to my heart
didn’t develop the way nature
or the Creator intended.
when the doctors say hereditary,
my grandmother responds
ancestrally – in prayer, songs gifted
to her like birds. my mother and i do not know
the words. but, when grandmother sings
she is calling on horses to run in on clouds
to protect us, to save us.
long ago, there was a man
who loved my great great great grandmother.
the love connected two people, two
spirits so deeply it shook the earth.
i imagine it, the way it should have lasted
long after the moon. yet, he left her.
his leaving made
this hole passed down
in my grandmother’s grandmother’s womb.
love on paper
Wandering the City of Chicago, I stumble
upon the Newberry Library’s exhibit titled,
Love on Paper. It begins
Googled most frequently in 2014:
“What is love?”
Exhibit A: Archangel Gabriel. We met singing
silly love songs from Moulin Rouge, the Eagles,
Elton John. Was it wrong to ask
a stranger to duet when we were
drunk off red wine?
Exhibit B: The first time we made love he strummed
melodies Best of My Love on guitar. We sat in the dark
on white linen sheets so paper-thin,
starched dry, you’d think
they were his wings.
Exhibit C: I don’t remember the details exactly
if Gabriel wrapped his wings around me or if I asked:
hold me each night. Come What May
rolling from his lips like waves,
questioning: “is this love?”
an answer my lips couldn’t give as I kissed him farewell
between wings and sheets. Your Song follows me in
every city echoing beneath my ribbed cage:
a reminder of every place my
paper heart has ever burned.
awakening: you died while i was sleeping
and I climbed further and farther into the night to ask the
stars: are there limits to loving? In silence they answered.
Unspoken, I placed grief on the backs of constellations
rearranged my thinking, put together the lights to make
the sky read: people grow up, out of love, and leave people behind.
You left. I lost you when you died and maybe
yes, maybe love can be rendered in the countless times
I awoke that night to hear your voice crying
on the wind that carried it or was it my own
that woke me as it echoed Come back to me.
Come back to me. Come back to me. You died
while I was sleeping and I can’t remember
what I was dreaming about,
if I was dreaming at all.
Tanaya Winder is from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. A poet, writer, artist, and educator who holds a BA in English from Stanford University and a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico (UNM). Winder has published in Cutthroat, Adobe Walls, Superstition Review, Drunkenboat, and Kweli. She is co-editor of Soul Talk, Song Language with Joy Harjo (Wesleyan Univ. Press) and founding editor of As/Us: A Space for Women of the World. Words Like Love is her first full length poetry collection (West End Press, 2015).
Most impressively she is Director of UC-Boulder’s Upward Bound Program, which services 103 Native American youth from 8 states, 22 high schools, and 12 reservations across the country and an active performer and champion of her peers, Winder founded a management company for Indigenous artists, Dream Warriors.