From Mary TallMountain’s volume of poems The Light on the Wall. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.


“There Is No Word for Goodbye”


Sokoya, I said, looking through

the net of wrinkles into

wise black pools

of her eyes.


What do you say in Athabascan

when you leave each other?

What is the word

for goodbye?


A shade of feeling rippled  

the wind-tanned skin.

Ah, nothing, she said,

watching the river flash.


She looked at me close.

We just say, Tlaa. That means,

See you.

We never leave each other.

When does your mouth

say goodbye to your heart?


She touched me light

as a bluebell.

You forget when you leave us;

you're so small then.

We don't use that word.


We always think you're coming back, I

but if you don't,

we'll see you some place else.

You understand.

There is no word for goodbye.



Sokoya: Aunt (mother's sister)

Tlaa: See you