National Poetry Month Day 12: Tanaya Winder


Tanaya Winder is from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. She received a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Mexico. She is the Director of UC-Boulder’s Upward Bound program and co-founder of As/Us: A Space for Women of the World, a literary magazine publishing works by Indigenous women and women of color. In 2015, she co-founded the Sing Our Rivers Red traveling earring exhibit to raise awareness about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Her debut poetry collection Words Like Love was published in 2015.



“Extracting is stealing—it is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts that extraction has on the other living things in that environment. That’s always been a part of colonialism and conquest.” – Leanne Simpson

My grandmother says boarding school
is where people go to die,
as she teaches me to embroider and knit,
my hands fumble over the needles.
Grandmother, when did you first learn
how to sing the songs you carry?

Before I was born they tried to silence us,
pierced our tongues with needles then taught
our then-girls-grandmothers how to sew
like machines. Even then, they saw our bodies
as land, full of resources
waiting to be extracted and exploited.

We stitch together phrases; my grandmother
patiently teaches me words, “in Indian” as she says.
Mugua-vi  means heart—I want to learn how to unbury this,
bury, sogho’mi I want words to un-drink the drugs we loved
into our veins because for some of us this was the only way
we knew how to keep breathing. I want to say—
alcoholism is the symptom and not the disease.

Can we un-suicide, un-pipeline,
un-disapppear our dear ones? There is no word
for undo but many ways to say return.
We never get to go back to before
our fathers began evaporating
and our mothers started flooding themselves
into unglobable rivers because their mothers
were taken long ago. And, we are still searching
dragging rivers red until we find every body
that ever went missing.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve been stolen:
from reservation to Industrial boarding schools
and today our girls, women, and two-spirit still go missing
and murdered. I could find no word for this.
But yáakwi is to sink or disappear. Where is it we fall?
When did we first start vanishing?

We sewed new memories into old scars, a recorded pain
so precise like threading a needle one can barely see through.
Sometimes I want to set this world on fire,
carry the scent of smoke wherever I go
so (should I go missing) you’ll know how to find me.
Is this why our mothers grew up to be keepers of the fire?
And our fathers so guilty they shovel ash into their mouths?
This is where my tongue stumbles over its colonized self.

Grandmother, when it comes to letting go
my hands have always failed me,
but my mouth wants to tell the story
about the songs you still sing softly ‘áa-qáa
because one day when we’re gone,
the only thing left to fill the space
our bodies leave will be silence.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →