(A Poem Is a) Naming Ceremony

What has grown out of what has gone away?
The clear-cut patch has grown larger on the mountain.
The rivers have grown murky with timber trash,
and there’s enough run-off cow manure to grow corn
out there on the tide flats. I don’t want to think about
what has gone away. I want to meander and play
and forget myself until I can grow a new me
in place of all this grief—learn the language to see
the cotton wood as kwealich ice, the dancing tree;
the killer whales as quell’ lhol mechen, our relatives
under the sea; the whole glorious landscape
filled with meaning to end my grieving.

When I was young, I was invited to learn
Xwilngexw’qen, the people’s language,
but I said no. I didn’t understand. I thought
I wanted to learn how to be rich. I didn’t know
that the only way to posses all the weather
of the world is by naming it—here is bird song,
here is the kiss of a lover, here is the feel
of cold water at the peak of summer.
I have spent my life with words, trying to name
a hint of what I lost by not learning my language.
Estitemsen. Tu totest sen. Estitemsen.*


* I’m doing my best. I’m still learning. I’m doing my best.

Copyright © 2021 by Rena Marie Priest. Originally published in The Madrona Project Vol. II, No. 1, 2021. Used with the permission of the poet.