“Unchartered Territories of Grief”
*the title isn’t mine, it is a slight shift on the name of the poem quoted here and is the work of Tanaya Winder.
Today I bring you a poem… preceded by three happenings:
Monday was Indigenous People’s day – a day we hope to bring forth from the ashes of celebrating Christopher Columbus “discovering” lands already lived upon and bringing tides of colonizing oppression to free hearts and spirits…
…flip to a pre-committee meeting Monday night where instead of talking about programs and ministries we shared on cameras and tv screens across miles a deep connection of our shared grief as “prayer concerns” turn heavy…. that was how it was described to me, “that meeting was so heavy with our grief”…
…I reside on lands that were roamed and cared for and lived on by the Northern Shoshone people who exist today in three federally recognized tribes of Idaho and Utah… (those words “federally recognized tribes” come clumsy off my lips as I recognize both the gift of being “recognized” and the curse of federally recognized as if without federal recognition you didn’t exist, which they did and do). I live on the lands of the northern and western bands of the Shoshone and Bannock and Paiute people… and so I sought to center their voice in my listening and sharing today rather than my own and in my wandering I came to this poem from Tanaya Winder who is of the Duckwater Shoshone tribe with a mix of Ute and Pauite and Black heritage and she writes here about grief… so the tapestry weaves itself together with this excerpt from the middle section of larger poem I commend to you in full here:
Our grandmothers told us stories of the desert,
how giant serpents laid on mountains
to create canyons. Imagine earth crunching
under the weight of unbearable sadness.
Imagine what it feels like to collapse
into an uncharted territory of grief.
As young girls we learned the tale
of a mother who cried so many tears
she created a lake in the middle of the desert.
Today she sits in stone beneath a star-stitched sky,
holding up the otherwise untethered blue.
Last month, I read an orca gave birth
to a female calf who died thirty minutes
after entering our world. The orca carried her dead
calf for 17 days. Tethered by grief, hers the price
paid for love and loving.
At 34, my sister gives birth
to her first child, a winter-born boy.
In recovery, my sister asks if she can walk yet.
Her nurse says, “Wait until your legs are yours again.”
I wonder who and what I’ve carried
and carry for days, months, for years. Grandmother,
take me back to your childhood, where you sang
“Blue Moon” in boarding school, where you won
the talent show.
Take me back to 17,
when my back first curved into an S—
the serpent inside me coiled under grief,
my scoliosis stopping any sports
outside of prayers and inside dreams.
I wish we’d had more time.
I invite you to spend some more time with Tanaya’s words and gifts and offerings… you can find quite a few here: https://tanayawinder.com and here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/tanaya-winder