RENA PRIEST.March 2021


Photo by Jeff Sirkin



A salmonberry is a

luminous spiral,

a golden basket,

woven of sunshine,

water, and birdsong.

I’m told that the birds

sing so sweet because

of all the berries they eat

and that is how you

can have a sweet voice too.

In my Native language,

the word for salmonberry

is Alile’. In Sanskrit, Lila means

‘God plays.’ Salmonberries

sometimes look that way.

Every year, they debut,

spectacular in the landscape,

worthy of their genus name:

Rubus Spectabilis, meaning,

red sight worth seeing.

Each drupelet holds a seed

and the shimmering secret

kept by rain, of how to rise,

float above the earth, feel

the sun, and return.


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*** ** ***



“What is it then between us?” –Walt Whitman


There are 20 million pounds of gold

suspended in normal seawater,

spread out in parts-per-trillion.

Gold is a good conductor

of electricity, but seeing how it’s sought,

I’ll bet it’s the best conductor of a heart’s deepest want.

I once had a conversation with my daughter

in which she asked,

“Do you believe everything is connected?”

“That depends,” I said.

“On what?” she asked.

“On whether you’re being spiritual or conspiratorial.”

“Spiritual,” she said.

“Then, yes,” I said, “everything is connected.”

“How can everything be connected spiritually,

but not conspiratorially?” she asked.

Considering it, I believe the spirit conspires

against our errant belief that we are separate.

I might be you. You might be me. We might be

the living sea with 20 million pounds of gold

shimmering, suspended between us,

conducting our hearts’ deepest wants across

frolicsome crests and glistening, and what else

could it be, if not a spiritual conspiracy?


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*** ** ***



After Wordsworth


The Indigenous poet

writes life-affirming poems

about daffodils.

Her audience says,

“But you’re oppressed.”

The Indigenous poet

writes poems of outrage

about oppression.

Nobody cares.

She gets depressed.

The Indigenous poet

gets requests for poems

about being Indigenous.

“But, all my poems are

about being Indigenous.”

The Indigenous poet

isn’t considered

an Indigenous poet,

because, “Shouldn’t you

write about genocide?”

The Indigenous poet

tries to write poems

about genocide.

Her poet spirit dies.

(Genocide gets the job done.)

The Indigenous poet says,

“Stang tse temxwila!”*

and writes about daffodils,

and the untouchable beauty

of living a poet’s life


* “What the hail.” This is the closest we get to a swear word in Xwlemi Chosen (Lummi Language).


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*** ** ***



Today I want to send you sweet poems

and songs and movies with puppies

and dancing all day long. But the truth

is so much more entertaining and funny,

and tragic. Put your thumb on the left dot

and your index finger on the right dot below:

⬤      ⬤


Now, keeping your hand in this position,

put it out in front of you and look at it.

You are only allowed to like me this much.

Yesterday, I sent you poems about violence

and murder and we talked about the apocalypse.

I likely did it to frighten you. This was possibly

because you had expressed something

that I interpreted as you liking me this much:

⬤                                       ⬤


That’s too much.

It’s okay. You didn’t know;

haven’t seen what happens when

these things get out of control.

I have been at war enough

to be startled by my own amazing ruthlessness,

and I like your gentle face:


Maybe I misunderstood, and you are just

a really, really nice guy who loves to say

sweet things that make a girl feel good.

Either way, you frighten me.


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*** ** ***



We’re late. Waiting for the elevator

I grumble at daughter, “Don’t worry about me.

Keep focused on getting ready, yourself!”

The doors open and the neighbors hear my scold.

To dispel the awkward moment, the guy neighbor

holds up a cake. “I have cake,” he says, “If we

get stuck in here, we won’t go hungry.”

“We won’t have to eat each other,” I say.

“Well, not right away,” he responds. I smile.

The gal neighbor looks uncomfortable.

Looking around at her fellow passengers,

I think she knows she’d be the first to go.

“What’s the cake for?” I ask.

“We’re going to a Passover dinner.”

In the car, daughter says, “Wow, Mom,

that got dark quick. Our poor neighbors

were on their way to a nice dinner, and have now

been confronted with the fact that their neighbor

would cannibalize them in an elevator.”

“Not right away,” I said, “He had Passover cake.”

Besides, I’m sure they know about Catholics,

how we’ve been eating Jesus Christ

for the last 2000 years.


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*** ** ***



“Physicists Find Way To ‘See’ Extra Dimensions”

–, February 4, 2007


There were 10 dimensions.

In ours, we opened an envelope

and the message inside changed.

In his dimension it stayed the same.

He came back. They all did.

No. They never left. We’re all here—

have always been here.

In-fact, we’ve run out of room.

We stack up on each other

like letters in a mailman’s satchel,

or a frame of film threaded on a spool.

We don’t know it while we’re here.

The whole story is already writ.

Meanwhile, a little backlit machine

is over there talking to itself. It says

“There used to be 10 dimensions.

Now there are only 7… Oh, excuse me.

There are 23, plus-one every second.”

In this one, I am an ancestor.

In the next, a descendant.


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Rena Priest
is a Poet and a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. Her literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with a 2018 American Book Award. Her most recent collection, Sublime Subliminal, was published by Floating Bridge Press. She is the recipient of an Allied Arts Foundation Professional Poets Award, and residency fellowships from Hedgebrook, Hawthornden Castle, and Mineral School. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a 2019 Jack Straw Writer. Priest has published work at Verse Daily,, Poetry Northwest, High Country News, YES! Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. More at


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March 2021.RENA PRIEST