nila northSun. Vignettes

Nila Northsun, of Shoshone-Anishinaabe descent, was born in Shurz, Nevada, and raised in the Bay Area. She completed her BA in art at the University of Montana-Missoula. Some of her volumes of poetry are Diet Pepsi and Nacho Cheese (1977), Small Bones, Little Eyes (1981, with Jim Sagel), the anthology A Snake in Her Mouth (1997), and Love at Gunpoint (2007). In 1980, Northsun also authored After the Drying Up of the Water: A Tribal History of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone. In 2000, she was awarded the Silver Pen Award from the University of Nevada Friends of the Library, and in 2004 she received ATAYAL’s Indigenous Heritage Award of Literature. She lives on the Stillwater Indian Reservation in Fallon, Nevada, where she works as a grant writer. Nila has shared the following poems with Siwar Mayu. Although “falling down to bed” and “The coat” are renowned among her works (see the video below), here is the first time that they are translated into Spanish. The other four poems are unpublished. A conversational, intimate and sarcastic tone is sustained throughout Northsun’s poetics. Her verses question romantic perspectives on indigeneity through day-to-day-life-vignettes in the reservation.

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rez cars

it’s always one thing

or another

fuel pump out this month 

radiator blown next

bald tires of course

paint faded and clear coat peeling

from no garage

crack so long on the windshield

you’re afraid to take it 

to one of those car washes

with the big whirling brushes

but there is a sweetgrass braid

on the dashboard

an ashtray full of sage

an eagle feather dangling from the

rear view mirror

and some sort of native decal

on the back window

your ride is ‘protected’

from everything except

mechanical failure.

falling down to bed 

i used to look at with disgust 

these indians laying around 

on the dirt & grass 

passed out drunk 

their bodies littering 

the pow wow grounds 

or city parks 

i’d look at their crumpled bodies 

laying in the noon sun 

still sleeping where 

they fell 

but one time 

i went to the 49 

after the pow wow 

& got shit faced drunk 

then got sleepy 

& fell in the dirt parking lot 

it seemed nice 

the ground was clean in the darkness 

the stars were vibrant above 

the night air was cozy 

‘get up get up’ they said 

‘no no leave me here 

i want to sleep here’ 

luckily they shoved me into 

the car 

or i would have been 

the drunk somebody looked at 

with disgust 

at least now 

when i see them 

i understand. 

The coat

his coat hung in the closet

the coat he wore

for funerals

and court appearances

the dark somber coat

waiting for his return

as did we

never really understanding

his lengthy absences

in jail

or just partying in another town

with another woman

days became years

until all we had left

were faded photographs

and his coat in the closet.

nila northSun reads “The Coat”, “Falling Down to Bed”, and “The Art of Living Poorly”

marry me or I’ll suicide

I had this friend

since high school

that I saw maybe once

every 5 years

he was a tribal guy

and when I last saw him

in his 40’s

he said he wanted to be

married before he was 50

but not to any white women

that he seemed to attract

he wanted a tribal woman

so when he was at ceremony

there would be his native woman

waiting for him

bringing him food

making him proud

he said if I don’t get married

by the time I’m 50

I’m going to suicide


will you be my bride?


it is finally there

just on the other side 

of the freeway

located on our tribal land

our poverty is over

we get all of the sales tax

besides the lease on the land

it is a fact

our unemployment rates

will decrease

an elder is a greeter

her white hair brilliant

against   the blue of her 

walmart smock

she smiles at me and

says ‘welcome to walmart’

minimum wage is

better than nothing.

Medicine bundles………for cheri

As we sat around the table making 

Little yellow bundles of tobacco, cedar, 

And sage tied with red string to help her

With a peaceful passing

We talked about how she’ll be the 

first one of us to find out what death is like

is it going to heaven and meeting god?

Is it being reincarnated into something else?

Is it nothingness?

Will there be ghosts and spirits?

Will she be turned into energy that floats

With the dinosaurs?

Will she mingle with the stars in the universe?

And the 10 year old says ‘lucky’.

More about Nila NorthSun


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