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Two Poems by Heather Cahoon

Heather Cahoon received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Montana where she was the Richard Hugo Memorial Scholar. She won the 2005 Merriam Frontier Award for publication of her chapbook, Elk Thirst, and was awarded a Montana Arts Council Artist Innovation Award in 2015 to support the completion of her book-length manuscript entitled, Horselfy Dress. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Hanging Loose, South Dakota Review, New Poets of the American West, and Poems Across the Big Sky: An Anthology of Montana Poets. Heather also holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D in history, anthropology, and Native American Studies. She lives in Missoula, Montana and works as policy analyst, poet and artist. Heather is from the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana and is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.





When the west surged into the center

of the world      the word pulled back into heavy

honey-yellow lines

and scarlet patches drawn

across the slight shoulders of certain blackbirds.


But reality rubs raw the wounds of all stories

until the scoured bones of self-evidence

are all that’s left.


Battling inside this orbed shell of space

we find               stories are no different

from other living forms

the ragged haired aligned

with every

primal instinct to avoid demise.


Consider Coyote, headbone raised to greet the night

song through black tree moss like witches’ hair.

He delivers a message

bound in the body

of unwritten texts.  Like birds, ring-necked

and refined, his cries confirm the un/believable.



I count the breaths between bodies

each syllable thrust from the chest—

from Salish to English, Francis to Clara,

Antoine/Atwén,            Malí Sopí, through Sopí,

            Pyél    back to   X̣all̓qs—or Shining Shirt,

the medicine person who saw men in long robes, the sign

of a cross, saw it all

flung into being when,

in slurred double whistles on the midwinter cusp

of forest and field, a black capped chickadee

sang the shadow sounds of his name.



But even before that the forest stood smoldering,

apparitions with arms raised towards the sky.






Transformation always and in everything as in even false hellebore


recognizes the convertibility


of all phenomena, the casting of one thing


into another,                                                           as in Spokani became the sun as in Coyote is a man

is an animal is a teacher repeatedly killed and reborn.


He suffers an endless series of deaths, some metaphorical some metaphysical, each one



















(Spokani: Son of Amotqn, the Creator