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.
She’s warm—
               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,
                                                                           Seed beads.
                                                                           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 as part of the 2021 University and College Poetry Prizes. Used with the permission of the author.