Presence: The Heartspeak of Indigenous Poets: Millissa Kingbird


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


How to Speak

Spit the violent hands thrown
carve with the cup of the tongue,
smooth thumb down
heart    mortuary cold.

A lean-to /
            snare tucked into the fault line of prey.

Who writes about fistfights?
Nobody even calls them that
un-gentle,        bloody              final.

You’re mink sleek,
fresh skinned, and hung bloody.

Throw hands—

Imagine clumps of fingers flying glossy red
beaten face of your enemy
every beat        language,
every one         enemy.

There a list of names you called family.
You don’t see them now
just fangs
bare                  wild               points.

Millissa Kingbird holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Her poetry highlights womanhood, bodies, nature, trauma and indigeneity. She has been published in Hinchas de Poesia, Yellow Medicine Review, Red Ink, Connotations Press, The Rumpus, Heavy Feather Review, and Lit Hub, and she co-guest edited Spring 2019 Yellow Medicine Review. An enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, she lives within her tribal community. More from this author →