Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Byron F. Aspaas


This country carries a heavy history of words weaponized in so many unspeakable ways. We must face these times of worry and fear with all of our strength and ancestral power. Storytelling and bearing witness through art is a communal tool for survival. These continue to be times where we need poetry the most. And so, we come together to share experience, songs, stanzas, and phrases to invoke resilience and grit to challenge obstacles and embrace the humanity of Mother Earth and all of her inhabitants.

In honor of Native American Heritage Month I would like to celebrate and uplift several Indigenous writers whose words inspire us to continue to share our voices and our truths. 

We are still here, I type these words while sitting on Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho lands. We are still here, fingers on keys. We are still here, voice in throat. We are still here, blood in memory, we remember. We are still here, we re-member ourselves into survivance. 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


Bear Creek Park
            for Janice

Five miles is not long enough
to write a poem.
Each word, a syllable of broken
breaths—blown dandelions
pirouette into blue. Each
step pressed, a misstep
of language, a mistake foreign
to the ear. Each pain, a memory
made into metaphors.
There are no hills in poetry—
no climax to rise against;
but, the heart races anyway.
Pips of breath shorten
padded feet pulsate inside
worn soles—
sweat drips unto dried arroyo.
Lyricism rounds a
chamisa-filled hill. The song
lives inside the dreamscape,
the adobe home built for two, where
cicadas sing to an empty Colorado
sky. Chinese Elms snapped broken
at the knee, heads hang
in shame. Pebbled streams
uncover a history rooted—does
La Llorona visit the forgotten
story? Does Lavanda grow
wild in open fields? Who will
plant the land’s seed when Tava speaks?
Without wind stories cannot blow
into existence. Without wind,
night wind becomes legend,
becomes fairytale; Night Way
then becomes a rhyme.
Nilch’i éí ádin.

Byron F. Aspaas is Diné. He is Red Running into the Water; born for Bitter Water. Aspaas earned his degrees from the Institute of American Indian Arts. His hopes are to influence those along his literary journey as a storyteller. His work is tangled in journals and anthologies. Currently, Aspaas is working on a collection of essays, a collection of short stories, and a collection of poetry. He lives just northwest of the Four Sacred Mountains of Dinétah with his partner, his over-loving cats, and ever-adorable dogs. More from this author →