Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Jake Skeets


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


Swallowing Kept Secrets

___________Mornings turn out green thread. Alder
____________________________and safflower – wilds of this ilk –

_____bloom in bloodstream. His chin soaks in lactic acid,
___________chlorine, and zinc. Untwist from blankets

into aftersmoke. Hill sage cusp in his eye.

___________He mouths oxeye and antelope sage. Pinioned,
________________he removes his shirt again to unveil wood rose

_____and feather cindered black. He calls for the fires
___________as he undresses into nightjars.



Clouds in his throat,
six months’ worth.

He bodies into me
half cosmos, half coyote.

We become night
on Breadsprings

road. Shirts off,
jeans halfway

down, parked
by an abandoned

trailer. “No one
lives here,”

he whispers.
We become porch

light curtained
by moth wings,

powdered into ash.

Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born Water’s Edge. He is Diné and holds an MFA in Poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Waxwing, Yellow Medicine Review, and elsewhere. Jake is a winner of the 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize. He currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. His first collection, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, was selected as a winner for the 2018 National Poetry Series by Kathy Fagan and is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2019. More from this author →