shíma yazhí ahéheeʼ / thank you, auntie.
Shíma yazhí / my aunt sits on shílátsíín / my wrist.
The colors that adorn her hair—łitsxo / orange and yágo doołtizh / blue—
are hand plucked and spun from Father Sky.
It is thin and braided, held together with a silver clasp.
Shíma yazhí / my aunt points, “Look.”
Shí / my gaze turns,
meeting the dinilchí / pink glow of an early winter morning.
It reflects off her eyes
like frosted headlights from passing cars on the highway.
ayóó déézk’aaz / it’s cold out, the air turns my breath into white curls,
like smoke from a dying stove ko’ / fire.
If we were in Tsé’ Bit’á’i / Shiprock,
Shíma yazhí / my aunt would have taken me to Sonics
for a late-night dah woozh / strawberry shake.
Shíma yazhí / my aunt draws little circles around the inside of shílátsíín / my wrist.
The edge of biláshgaan / her nail,
and the pad of her index finger
grazes my skin like sunlight.
her beads are an embrace, as I cry into biwos / her shoulders.
Shíma yazhí’s / my aunt’s secure, protecting me from evil—
like Shímasaní / my grandmother promised.
Her voice makes shíjaa’ / my ears tingle.
I swear I can feel her chapped bidaa’ / lips whisper,
They’re woven and threaded with nimble ála’ /
Shíma yazhí / my aunt tells me to repeat after her.
I listen like Shimasaní / my grandmother taught me.
When Shíma yazhí / my aunt was an at’ééd / little girl,
she loved looking at the tł’éé’ yá / night sky.
If given the chance, Shíma yazhí / my aunt would have collected
all the So’ / stars she could carry
in a light dibéłchíʼí / brown pouch.
I’d like to imagine they’d
clink and crinkle like
łitso / nickels,
dootłʼizh / dimes,
and łichííʼí / pennies.
Shíma yazhí / my aunt would buy herself a pop and some chips after school
with so’ łání / the constellations,
counting change in bila’ ałts’íísí éí dibéłchíʼí /
the small, brown palm of her hand.
Shíma yazhí/ my aunt never cried.
not in front of me,
not in front of Shíma / my mother.
Before she sat on shílátsíín / my wrist,
she took care of Shíma / my mother
and my uncle / Shíbizhi.
Her strength came from the prayers she said every abíní / morning.
The woven band on shígaan / my arm,
a tribute to the power in her voice.
“Don’t look down.” She’d tell me, “Look up.”
Shíma yazhí spreads bílázhoozh / her fingers
like dried naadáá’ / corn stalks along my right álátsíín
—always my right álátsíín.
Shíma yazhí leads me by shígaan
across dirt roads and muddy ditch paths.
I wave at neighbors:
the old Diné hastiin dóó tsostsʼid bínaahaií / seven-year-old bitsóí / grandson,
the nosey Diné asdzáán / woman and bahastiin / her husband,
the Chapter House workers, bickering over last week’s meeting.
When I wave, they recognize Shíma yazhí on shíla’.
They smile and wave back—they always smile and wave back.
I follow Shíma yazhí back to the farm.
Sometimes I lose my way.
But I know she’s smiling as I kick rocks behind her,
humming an old song she used to sing along with on the radio.
Shíma yazhí sits on my shíla’
as her last promise before I left shíghan / home.
Copyright © 2022 Danielle Emerson. This poem originally appeared on Poets.org as part of the 2021 University and College Poetry Prizes. Used with the permission of the author.