Atsimoihkan: A Poetry Collection

By Piitohsoowatsis Leo John Bird


Atsimoihkan means prayer and is often talked about in terms of apaitapiisin, way of life. For me prayer has been something in my life that I have always felt sure about. Some of my first memories revolve around my immersion school class learning our prayers in our language. To this day when I pray, I hear my little kid voice in my head saying them with me. This collection of poems reflects my journey with prayer this past quarter and my realizations about spirituality and traditionalism. I ordered the poetry so that the reader understands my voice and it begins like a Piikanii prayer would by naming all of the entities that we are asking help from. After calling on the spirits, I try to name the specific issues and negativities that are plaguing my body and use that space to talk candidly about my experiences at home and while studying at Stanford. Finally, I provide three poems that talk a lot about death, which is juxtaposed from a traditional prayer, which asks for long life and survival. This course asked me to think about my own death and after visiting Standing Rock I started to believe that death wasn’t too far from me and that I needed to better respect my mortality. I also experienced a couple of deaths in my family this quarter and wanted to write something that called my grandpa and my cousin into my works where the reader questions whether or not I will see them again even though I know it to be so. There is no word for goodbye in my language so I tried to end on a note that would take me full circle and talk about death as a crucial part of life.

Table of Contents

I. My Voice is

II. Mountaintops

III. Addiction

IV. This Whole Damn Town

V. My Stage

VI. Hybrid

VII. Dear Grandma

VIII. Murder

IX. For the People Who Decide to Desecrate My Grave

X. Bury My Body in Trees


I. My Voice Is

My Voice is
Forever dancing
To drum beats.

Silent prayers
Flying on Piitohsoowatsis
To different worlds,

My voice is
Church choirs
Turned into
Fierce showers

Followed by
White-out blizzards
Ending in
Indian Summers
And ceremony.

My voice is
Evening stars
Forever running to
And away from

Chinook winds
Melting snow
Off Iinii beards

My voice is
Ki Ksiksikaamiiohkitopii
Ki Natoyiikskinaan
Ki Otohkoipiiksiiakii
Ki Sa’amahkoina.

My voice is
On Apanii wings
On a journey
Around the galaxy.

II. Mountaintops
She lives there
on the backbone
of the world.

She berry picks
with her three kids

They are laughing
and painting their
faces purple.

Grizzly decides they
are too close to her

She stands on her legs
shouting warnings
and singing her kill

She puts her body
In front of Grizzly
Praying that they
Will make it.

Creator pities the
scene and they are

They are still there
near the top of the mountain.
You just have to know
what to look for.

III. Addiction
Holy Fuck
This is good
Shit, shit
My minds

Changing me
Forever, creeping
In the shadows
Of my brain

Is what I feel
I will become
If I stay
On this

Fuck this
Day and every
Other that brings
you back into
my body

in a Rez relationship
getting me high
but really
lowering me
till I’m there

I can’t feel
My body please
Its not my time
I got work to

Please, okay
I’m sorry
I won’t disrespect
You no

Lies I deserve
You for what
I been through
And what I am
Going through

How many more
Lives will you claim
Before I start to
Believe that your spirit
Is real?

IV. This Whole Damn Town
Shakes in anger.
Nothing stronger than
Meth babies
And bi-weekly funeral processions
And confessions
Of elders
And youth
Not speaking
And oil tanks seeping
In our water
And fracking
Grandma’s bones
And speakers trying
To organize
And even more screaming
Assimilate, its never too late
Money spent on alcohol
And commodities,
What you need to survive
And thrive in
Broken lodges
Holding trauma
And enough drama
To warrant
A warrant
From white sheriffs
And border towns that still
Yell redskin
And prairie nigger
Like they never
Knew spirit,
To be clear,
It’s a place with
As much dysfunction
As a 1970’s car junction
In the present generation
Where my nation
Is a dwarf star
Ready to shine
But can’t find
That prayer
Those ceremonies
Robbed from us
And put in museums
You can see em,
Tourists in the summer
Tryna give someone somewhere
Pictures of a place
Where time and space
Move slower,
Lawn mowers
When cousins are hustling
And town is bustling
With powwow bustles
And jingles
Where crowds mingle
No single
Person is without
Untold happiness
Cheek wrinkles
And snow sprinkles
In winter
Porcupine splinters
In Dog’s nose
Horse knows
Where the coulees meet
The countryside
The gravel roads
Unbeatable modes
Of a game called tribal
Come witness the revival
Of language
And dances
Where you can hit at casino
And where pill are easier to get than the green
Oh, and the car wrecks
The poor wretch
Who overdoses
And the undiagnosis
Of mental issues
Bring your tissues
To your friends house
That meth house
Where bulbs are missing
Unwarranted kissing
Pissing in alleyways
And on car tires
And tire fires
No place for hire.

V. My Stage
Camera pans midway
To this scene
Of metamorphosis

Shed skin
Sinking in the water
Revealing tender
Surfaces and
An overdeveloped spirit

Sashaying heavily
Down a road
Leading nowhere
But picking up
hitchikers on the way.

My exposed shell
Spends its time
Licking wounds
With reassuring
Hand hugs

Fortifying ancient
Memories and protecting
Sacred connections
To the land
And its Creator.

VI. Hybrid

Alright Father, I’ll pray with you.
I call upon the Creator to watch over us.
I ask the water, earth, and sky beings to
Hear me.
I ask the 4 directions to carry my words
All over.

Dear God
Hail Mary
Our world is flawed
Our world is scary.

My ancestors weep,
My spirit is weak,
My children cant sleep,
Because our stories were tweaked

To fit your culture
Your paradigm
You’re vultures
Predatory maritime

Sailors fleeing
Tyrannous rule
Only seeing us
As unfortunate mules,

Saving us from hell you said
Only to show us purgatory
We wished you brought better stories.

Our Father
Who art in heaven
Do not bother
My engine’s revvin’

Off a cliff to prove my point,
I’m better off wandering as a spirit
Then to have you anoint
My head, don’t go, won’t go, near it.

I’m sorry Father for denying your existence
But you denied my Mother from speaking her tongue,
I feel like I need to keep my distance
To preserve our traditions, look at our dying young

Born into a world with shattered glass
Fragmented histories, fractionalized identities
All while being told to go to mass
And not follow other entities

That give as much love and as much light
As you, Lord please help me understand
Why the struggle of our livelihood, our plight
Has been banned

Why do we only hear about our loved ones
As ancient fixtures no longer here
Why do you never say their names, there are tons
You know I still feel them, they are near

I don’t know God
but I feel creation
I feel like a fraud
In my own generation

Trying to recover
My sisters and brothers
Repatriate our stolen
Holiness and wholeness

Rehumanize our sacred ways
For our long life and survival,
Help us take in Sun’s rays
Let us be Indigenous, tribal

Help us celebrate our existence, our revival
Help us respect all ways of life
So that our grandchildren can breathe, this is vital
So that we can pray for a goof afterlife

Reunited with those lost once more
And maybe see your face
Because there is no word for goodbye, or
Because we are all right, every ethnicity and race

Dear child I hear your pain
Let me take you through the Gospel
Let me remind you of Jesus’ reign
As most high most beloved, don’t be hostile

Bite the hook but prepare for the best
Because Jesus died for you too
Even if you don’t believe, here’s your test
Why do you deny goodness and prayer, who

Are you to evoke history and not talk
About the whole story, the good, the bad, and the ugly
The bible is full of blood, no denying the flock
Of angels that are around you always, do not shrug

Me off your shoulders, let me first say I’m sorry
Then let me name the rape, genocide, abuse, oppression
Then let me say I’m sorry again, do not worry
There is no time like the present, we are in session

Let us call out our sins together
Let us reconcile with one another
For we both came from a father and a mother
Therefore we are sisters and brothers
In Christ no doubt we are smothered

In love ad together we can be one
Body one blood in eternal life
Can’t you feel that connection, don’t run
From something so great, leave your worries, your strife

And pray with me,
Creator take us in your arms
Together help us see
Your medicine your charms

Creator peace be with us
And with our spirits
Let us no longer treat each other with disdain, let’s discuss
Thy bounty let’s hear it

Bless this child with so much hate
Bless this church for its fucked up past
Bless our children who learn both ways, great
They are the most high not in the lowest caste

Bring your tobacco, your medicines next time
We can learn together we can respect each other
We can undo the did and work toward the sublime
With love we ask this in your name Father


VII. Dear Grandma,

Remember when
Our people
Visited New York
For the
First time?

Remember those
Nappikoaiksi, those white folks
Who proudly
Showed their
Skyscrapers screaming
Look at
Our magnificence.

Remember how
They tried
To house
Us in
Those dicks, disconnected
From the

Remember why
Kipiitam ki
Formed council
And decided
To pitch
Our lodge,
Our womb
On top.

Remember what
They said
About our
Craziness then?

Remember who
Sang songs
In honor
Of not
Bending over

Remember where
They sent
Us the
Next time?

Remember how
We responded?
Remember how
You taught
Us to
Keep on
Our path
Towards prayer
And away
From possessions?

Remember how
Disappointed they
Were when
You expressed
Your Medicine,
Your Power?

Remember how
We are
Still flexing
Feminine magic
With Katooyis smudging
Impurities from my body
And wrapping Atsimoihkan
Around so that I feel
Creator’s breath blowing
Into Ksahkoom for the first time.
Even though
Masculine performances
Of overthinking with both heads
Forever searching for the
One and not the zero
Tries to wipe it out.

Remember we love you
Nahksi Kitsiikakoomim

Remember we are still
And will always be
Dancing, singing,
War-hooping, luluing,
Praying, protecting,
Loving, laughing.


VIII. Murder

I could kill him you know?
I can’t be there physically like I’m
Supposed to but I have other tricks up
My sleeve to get rid of that
That tries to take you down with him.

I say we take him up with us,
on a hike to the top of the backbone of the world
Where creator can hear the
Drum beats of his bones cracking
on his way back down.

No need to fear,
we are in the clear,
after all,
This happens every year.

IX. For the People that Decide to Desecrate my Grave
I wish madness on you.
I hope the dust from my bones
Or the lifeless gaze of my taxidermied body
Will haunt your dreams
In this life and
The next.

I will call upon the spirits
That caught Meriwether Lewis
And send them your way
Screaming karma’s
A fucking bitch

X. Bury My Body In Trees

Death is on the rise for people like me.
Indigenous bodies joining their ancestors
Too soon.
It makes me wonder what my funeral will be like.

Let this act as my will and testament.
Let this be my legacy of Indigenous wisdom
That I give to all of you.
I want my body to be buried in trees.

Find Piikanii individuals with the rites.
Wrap my shell in a buffalo robe
And leave some of my possessions
For the journey across worlds.

Other forms of prayer are welcome and accepted,
But do not subject my body to further colonization.
Do not let my soul wander
In search of an absolution
I believe doesn’t exist.

I want Natoosii to see me,
I do not want to be hidden from its view
In the cold ground.
I want to be left out
So that Hawk can come and pluck my eyes out
And carry them upward.

I want the flies to lay maggots
In my rib cage,
And I want the plants to engulf my
Nastiness and turn it into beauty
So that my life truly comes full circle.

I don’t give two shits about the law.
If you are worried that you might get a ticket
For my traditional burial
Than bury me first and when the 7 brothers point down
Dig me up and bring me home.

If you do not heed my wishes
I will go to the mountains myself
And build my funeral pyre where no one will miss me.


I started this class not believing in myself as a creative writer. When I started writing poetry in a 4-H program, I wrote mostly about home and my connection to place. I thought that this class would take me to a similar creative vein until Maestra and Tinaya Winder started us off with an introduction of Indigenous poetics and I decided that this go round of writing needed to reflect my Indigeneity and my place in space and time. Throughout the course I have been challenging myself emotionally where my poetry was not only an opportunity for me to tell a story, but also a time for me to work through and meditate how my spirit and body were responding to my lived reality. I appreciated the various writing workshops that we did in class. While none of those poems are featured here, they did help solidify my theme, which reflects my final presentation as well. They also helped me realize that I need a second codex alongside this one that will be called dreams and will start with one of the poems I created after our last class exercise. I would say that when the course started I didn’t say much and didn’t participate at the best of my capacity but grew into commenting when other poems impacted me and tried to uplift the poetry of my classmates and labmates. While I am pleased with this work overall, I still feel like there is something missing from it. I think that is why I wanted to provide a companion codex because I talk a lot about my experiences in this realm of being, but only allude to what I picture a spiritual realm to be. I think most of these poems are finished with the exception of “This Whole Damn Town”. That poem I would like to stage as a Choreo-poem and I need to pack it with more material about my homeland at some later time. I also had a tough time keeping “For the People that Decide to Desecrate my Grave” in the codex because I wanted that in this other codex but I realized that I needed it in this one because I had such a visceral response to the taxidermy poems Maestra presented the first week of classes.


My Voice is- Inspired by a writing exercise done in class. The Piikanii words feature are as follows: Piitohsoowatsis, my name, Eagle Tail Feather; Kookoomikisoom- Moon; Ainskiakii, my mother’s name, Singing Woman; Ksiksikaamiiohkitopii, my father’s name, White Swan Rider; Natoyiikskinann, my older brother’s name, Holy Drummer; Otohkoipiiksiiakii, my older Sister’s name, Yellow Bird Woman; Sa’amahkoina, my younger brother’s name, Medicine Wolf Man. Ki- And. Apaani- Butterfly

Mountaintops- 5 – Inspired by a traditional story of rock formations on the Rocky Mountains. Also inspired by Tinaya Winder’s “Stone Mother”. This poem also reflects a response I had to Ofelia Zepeta’s work and the work of Sandra and Kristin.

Addiction- 6 – This poem just needed to come out for me. I have been struggling with addiction for years now and I am starting to see the consequences of engaging with that cycle.

This Whole Damn Town- 7 – I was listening to a song that kept saying “This whole damn town” at which point one of my friends told me a story about his damn town which made me want to write a poem about mine.

My Stage- 9 – Inspired by Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” which was inspired by Ntozake Shange.

Hybrid- 10 – I took a class on reconciliation in the California missions and needed to get that work out because I have been at war with myself and other pertaining to the legacy of the mission system at Stanford University. I wrote that poem in Muwekma-Tah-Ruk and in Memorial Church.

Dear Grandma- 14 – I view this work as my manifesto. This was inspired by Tinaya Winder’s class exercise where we wrote a letter to someone we look up to asking for their help and guidance. I was especially emotional that day and cried so hard when I started writing this letter to my Grandma because I never got to meet her but I feel her with me always and that day I could smell sweet grass in the room. I knew she was there. Kipiitam- Your husband; Kistsisimaan- Your child; Katoyis- Sweet Grass; Niitoyis- Lodge; Nahksi Kiitsiikakoomim- Grandma I love you; Ksahkoom- Ground.

Murder- 17- Mirrored a real murder committed at Glacier National Park.

For the People Who Decide to Desecrate My Grave- 18 – This was inspired by the poems we read in class that referenced the taxidermied bodies of Indigenous peoples. I was terrified that humanity would do that to someone and it made me think about the experience of Ishii and I just lost it.

Bury My Body in Trees- 19 – This poem I had been thinking about for a while. I knew I needed to write some sort of a will at this stage in my life and was pleased that poetry gave me a chance to do that.

2 thoughts

  1. Leo John❤️ Oh my, what eloquent, heartfelt words from your heart which carries much happiness, sadness, tears, and love for your faith, feelings, and beliefs as it should be at times, as it is at times in this life. I could picture you writing and saying these beautiful poems with every word that was penned. What a beautiful collaboration of a young man’s journey.

  2. …there being many addictions revealing the answer lies in Spirit walk. finding your way in the writing is a wonderful part in helping me and others to see.

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