Behiihoo, by Sunnie Smith-Ishtimonabi’

For Lunda, chi hollo li

Someone once told me
 That the weight of the unfinished story of you is
 too/ much/ to carry
I had never seen things this way because it has been my reality for twenty-two years to 
piece together your dark mythos 
In this poem 
I will attempt to put the weight down 
and imagine something other than how you were murdered 


I imagine you in the kitchen
Grey river of box braids snaking to your waist like the balbasha’ okhina’
And you are teaching me to jam mulberries—Behi
you correct me because i can only speak Chickasaw In your house 
You are fluent and insistent—
On me learning 

You have two horses, one spotted 
Thobi micha lossayi
And the other just losa
We ride them after the jamming
 my little stained hands rubbing off into the white fur of your mare

We dance to Marvin Gaye in the mud room not even bothering to take off our dirty boots
You say don’t worry “alhchimbakma chofalila’chi” 
 As you lead me to the living room
Your mud tracks like bread crumbs—to kindle the fire

You sit and read so fearless next to the flames
Open and roaring 
Until the cinders smudge the pages and you fall asleep

I cover you up in trade cloth 
Feeling more like a mother than a granddaughter
I am aged by the youth of you

—Even now 
As you lie sleeping in bones and dust
This is how I remember you 
—in blood and cranial purples and damp playful hues
Like the stains of us on the mud and mulberries


Sunnie Smith-Ishtimonabi’ (she/they) is a homa’losa poet (Black and Chickasaw). Her people primarily come from Louisiana and Oklahoma but she was born and raised within the confederated Villages of Lisjan (Vallejo). She is a care worker, land nurturer, and anompa shali (language carrier). Sunnie’s poetry explores their own unique Black Native experience moving through grief work, their relationship to the land, and their journey through language revitalization. Sunnie’s poems are living works not just because poetry is never truly finished but because as her understanding and relationship with her language evolves so will the poems she utilizes it in. Her work can be found in Changing Womxn (journal) and is forthcoming in Abalone Mountain Press’s The Languages of Our Love anthology. 

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