Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Crisosto Apache


As a poet, I struggle with language—the English that America force-fed down my ancestors’ throats during assimilation and the Boarding School Era. My mouth struggles to reclaim the language of my ancestors as I try to learn words in my mother tongues.

I write these words while sitting on Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho lands. I type, We are still here, fingers on keys, and think about what it means to live as an Indigenous person in the United States, on Turtle Island today. I see no borders; I wish everyone could see through these eyes.

I think about my First Nations relatives to the north and our relatives from south of these manmade borders in what is known as México. I think about the caravan of relatives traveling north, the voter suppression of Indigenous people in North Dakota and of our Black relatives in Georgia, and the heavy history of a country that has weaponized words in so many unspeakable ways.

These times where my heart struggles to speak are when I need poetry the most.

November is Native American Heritage Month and in celebration I would like to fill the white space of the page with the words of Indigenous poets whose work nourishes my soul. The presence of these poets’ pulses through the literary landscape to help us survive our loneliness and silences, to bless us with light, and to bear witness to our presence in all forms.

– Tanaya Winder


Salt Well

In full bloom the blossoms in his eyes a line of rags, sad.  – R. Akutagawa, 4. Tokyo

blooms of yucca and cactus blend together,
in a greenish hue, these colors line the ledges
of my eye, every time I walk past in the shadow
of dził guyzanni, my holy white mountain,

beneath the peak I burn the tops of buffalo grass,
away from the pace of lines, coursing a path through
my artery, through the long stretch of roadway,
_______________________through wildflowers,

the weed stalks surge in breeze just before dusk
as I limp along the path, wading through the gray,
many times, I tread and this dirt road remembers
the beat in hollow steps, the reaped heartbeat,
__________________grumbling stone against stone

through the grey I see salvation in a honey lit window,
in the distance reach, just before the lost thicket tree line

I never remember this walk from my grandmother’s house
was as long, a long lumbering longing to embrace my torso,
lost to this longing, my legs linger hobbling as the hoses
_______________________do in the nearby pastures, deep,

—longer than I care to remember



But those violet blossoms of fire, — those awesome
fire works in the sky, to hold them, he would give
his life. – R. Akutagawa, 8. Sparks

an ignition of colorful sparks bloom at dusk, as I begin
the long night dance into dawn, scruples of tiny embers
are released, and from the surging palms I grip the yucca
sword, now used to shield and consecrate my movements,
the sparks ascend forming the decadent bouquets separating
form from the deepening indigo that collides with the stars,
at the edge of the all widening ebb, I am pulled toward
the inevitable black sky, hearing the hiss of twinkling ghosts,
long since burnt

upon midnight, the intermittent crackling bursts releases
a superficial haze, as the distant detonations encumber
the somber deadness of my conquered existence, in a display
of dissolute coloration, the light surges and hides a type of
of meaning, I tuck away from my relatives, this celebration
is only meant for those not like me, a celebration recognizing
that awful American, Fourth of July


Photograph of Crisosto Apache © Todd Andreff.

Crisosto Apache is the author of GENESIS (Lost Alphabet, 2018). He is originally from Mescalero, New Mexico (US), on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, and currently lives in the Denver metro area in Colorado, with his spouse of seventeen years. He is Mescalero Apache, Chiricahua Apache, and Diné (Navajo) of the 'Áshįįhí (Salt Clan) born for the Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan). He holds an MFA and teaches writing at various colleges in the Denver area. He also continues his advocacy work for the Native American LGBTQ/two-spirit identity. More from this author →