Love Root; Iphigenia at Birmingham, 1963; Lakota Grammar; & Atlantic Crosses


Lakota Grammar 




This is what the language teaches, waúnspemakhiye: 

Do not be ashamed that you misunderstood possessives.

That you were not a thing to be taken and torn, but a verb:

Winyan, “I am a woman.” That everything in Lakótiyapi is,

can be a verb. Not parts of speech but a series of doings:


I walked away that morning. I said, “this cannot happen again.” 

I sat in the sanctuary at the mission school that summer. I thought

“I was raped.”

I looked at the stained-glass windows and saw 

the language saves. 


čhéya wachekiye.


In the settlers’ tongue, I did not speak of it, but mumbled each morning 

a prayer in Lakótiyapi before the work was begun, the work of how to say 

“Inside” and “outside” in relation. Of how to intone to one another, 

“Taŋyáŋ ómani ye.” Have a good journey. 

How to say both “sweetgrass” and “street.”






The funeral home feared they would not be able to break the frozen earth 

to bury your father, that you ’d have to return in the spring.

Wonder of the emergence place in its vibrant verdure, almost singing 

with what you have lost: the generations, his voice, the possibility of return.


You mean to learn his grandfather James’s language, 

James, born just before chokecherry season, who left the place 

of his beginnings to farm hogs in Polk County, who taught your 

father how to sweat in a makeshift lodge in the yard.


Where there are no relatives there is poetry, paltry and pitiful 

to the last. Poetry is with you in the cave of your beginnings, scatters 

you all over when you expected to be whole, expected to live 

in a house made not of paper but of hide, on whose tanned side

you would paint the deeds that make you woman.






“Wayáčhi kta he?”

“Wačhípi uŋmáspe šni.”

But you can. Dance, too, is a language you understand: 

bellowing bones against the floor, pelvis making its own sacred mountain, 

the scarf you tie around your waist a prayer flag. 






When the pilgrims leave there’s been no progress, only the flag 

of a forsaken nation on the face of the moon, only the steel of the city 

you were born into crying for itself as the land claims it, claims you, hokšíčhaŋlkiyapi.


K. Avvirin Gray is a doctoral candidate in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Her poetry has appeared in Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Red Ink, and she has also written scholarly reviews for Women’s Review of Books. Gray’s poetry chapbook, Leda’s Daughters, won an honorable mention in the 2021 Chad Walsh Chapbook Competition. She was a semifinalist for the 2019 Adrienne Rich Award for Poetry and the 2019 Boston Review poetry contest, and her work has been supported by the Millay Colony for the Arts. Gray lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats.