Love’s Light and Shadows Are At Heart of Tanaya Winder’s Poetry

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Photo: Tanaya Winder
Boulder poet and educator Tanaya Winder.

Colorado writer Tanaya Winder’s first book of poems, “Words Like Love,” explores not just romantic love, but all kinds of love -- environmental love, social love and more.

As a member of the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations, she often writes of difficult and challenging issues, especially those of native people.

“Love's revolutionary capacity as an action and as a practice inspired me to create a book that might help a world that is full of struggling, hurt, lonely, longing, courageous, brave, and beautiful people that also believe in love's power,” she says.

Read three of Winder's poems:

dear moon 

hollow out my memory to a tree trunk 
turned canoe so I may sail away from 
the sea of you, waiting, ready to burst 
into Milky Way. indistinguishable pieces 
every time my mouth opens to encircle 
your name but my lips dare not
                                                  form the shape. 

in my mother’s womb


i came into this world 
incomplete, born with a hole 
in my heart. it happened 

in my mother’s womb. 
doctors have a name for it:
call it congenital cardiovascular defect. 

my grandmother says it’s the moon 
emptied of its many faces. it is against nature.
creation has a will of its own. 

or is it a pact from the past
made long ago? it happened 
in my mother’s womb, the blood 
vessels closest to my heart 
didn’t develop the way nature 
or the Creator intended.  

when the doctors say hereditary,
my grandmother responds 
ancestrally – in prayer, songs gifted 

to her like birds. my mother and i do not know 
the words. but, when grandmother sings
she is calling on horses to run in on clouds

to protect us, to save us. 


long ago, there was a man
who loved my great great great grandmother.
the love connected two people, two

spirits so deeply it shook the earth. 
i imagine it, the way it should have lasted
long after the moon. yet, he left her. 

his leaving made 
this hole passed down
in my grandmother’s grandmother’s womb. 

when angels speak of love i’m pretty sure they didn’t mean

drunken hockey fans spraying fifty-seven native children with beer, taunting with racial slurs like “Go back to the reservation”

If love is all coming and going this is coloniality starting back 
at its beginning with children so young they are still learning

the meaning of words like, love and hate. And you gotta hate
the way the world works when some words scar ears so deeply 

that the voice that said them still echoes in your head, still 
echoes in your head still echoes in your head. 

Love is action and we cannot tell where an echo ends and 
Begins Let’s think of it like this. Life begins with a woman 

giving birth; because of this she is sacred. Yet, 
our women are being taken. 1,181 reported missing and 

murdered in Canada alone and the numbers in the US are still 
unknown. Underreported not reported but we do have some 

statistics: Nearly half of all Native American women have been raped, stalked, or beaten. When angels speak of love I’m certain 

they didn’t mean this. Our women and children are being 
traumatized. 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime 

& are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes 
compared to all other races. When does this race to feel safe 

and survive end? When you’re missing in life and missing in 
death, where do we begin? Nowadays 

when angels try to speak of love my ears strain to hear 
anything over the national news and media that barely, 

if ever mention us and I wonder 
if the silence is how we eventually disappear

Reprinted from WORDS LIKE LOVE: poems by Tanaya Winder with permission of West End Press. Copyright (c)  Tanaya Winder, 2015