Arts featured

Remembering, a poem by Killa Ch′aska Mitchell–Atencio


Her hands, cupped like birch bark baskets, held my face,
letting my head fill her grasp like dollops of sugar maple sap.
I could feel the lines in her palms, like aging tree rings telling stories of years past,
brush against my bedewed cheeks.
She wiped the tears that flowed out of me,
my own water ceremony,
cleansing my body and carrying my woes back to the earth.
Feeding my upset to the ground,
so it could be reincarnated and blossom as new life.
I cried in my Grandmother’s hands.
The tears were my water, but they came from her river too.
And we were drowning.

I wept for the Earth.
I wept for the ancestors.
I wept for the children.
I wept for the land.
I wept for it’s creations.
I wept for the water.
I wept for the language.
I wept for me.

It overwhelmed,
like coastal tidal waves crashing over,
eroding shorelines and backbones and
creating fault lines where laugh lines should have been.

My Grandmother shared her stories with me.
Of times the salmon danced and blankets of shimmer covered rivers
When she would split ash like lightning strikes
And play music out of trees.
When the blades of sweet grass reached for the sun
And the only traffic jams, were of sticky hands in berry fields.

I remember the most beautiful thing she’s ever said to me.
She told me that she dreams in l’nuisi.
That her breath could feel fulfillment
in every word that rolled out of her mouth.
Conversing in blooming daisies and wildflowers.
She told me she speaks to our Ancestors
Toll-free calls to Spirit from time to time,
And they would always answer.

My Grandmother would tell me,
Tu’s, how do you speak to your Ancestors
in a language that is not theirs?

I wept.
My eyes gave birth to beds of water
And with a blink, the levees broke.
My tongue felt like it was behind an electric fence
Shocked by everything
We were told we couldn’t be.
Like eels, pierced with spears
Spirit was not alive in me.

The tears of my Ancestors
formed like seafoam at the corner of my lips
every time I tried to make a sentence.
I stuttered on the few Mi’gmaq words I knew,
the ones I heard my Grandmother say.
But they didn’t bloom like wildflowers for me.
They were like bitter chokecherries
With pits that broke teeth
Rough like cedar bark.

The language was a foreign taste
Each syllable that shuddered tasted like dirt
The memories attached felt like hurt
And I wondered if my ancestors
Would even recognize me on the other side.

My Grandmother,
still clutching my face in her hands
Looked me in the eyes.
I could feel the ceremony she carried in her heart.
I could see the constellations in her skin.

“Everything was taken from me”, she said.
“They took my talk too.
And I used to cry, like you.”
She told me that in her dream one night
She could smell the burning sage.
She could see the Moon illuminate her path.
Arrows pointing like geese in the sky
Returning from a long drawn winter.
“Everything we are, is inside us”, she said.

Those chokecherry pits are seeds that need to be sowed.
And that cedar bark makes canoes that float
Where others drown,
Across waters and worlds.
She told me
That my syllables tasted like soil
because that’s where the language grows.

Every word that stutters out with edges raw like honey
and any effort made to pull language from my bones
Are seeds that I am planting
That will bloom daisies and wildflowers
A spirit like my Grandmothers.

My ancestors hear my echoes and cries
They’re never disappointed
If I trip over my words
They can hear me.
Because we all speak the language of spirit.
It is not lost, it will never be lost.
Our ancestors are just holding on to it for us.
Like my Grandmother told me,
“We don’t need to learn how to speak,
We just need to remember.”

‘Lnuisi = Mi’gmaq word for ‘the language of the people’
Tu’s = Term of affection and Mi’gmaq word for daughter


We’re very happy to present Remembering, a poem by Killa Atencio. It’s the first of eight poems we will publish during the remainder of the year, selected as a result of the call for poems we issued a while ago.  

Killa Atencio shares her voice and culture in many ways – as a poet and spoken word artist, as a visual artist and entrepreneur, and as a youth worker and program coordinator at LOVE Nova Scotia (Leave Out ViolencE), to name a few. Originally from Listuguj First Nation in Quebec, she is proud of her Mi’kmaq and Quechua ancestry.

Along with her artistic expression, Killa enjoys work that contributes to youth and community development, Indigenous relations and education. She graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree in international development.

Her business, Moonlight Works, was featured as an Aboriginal business case study at Cape Breton University’s Shannon School of Business, and her artworks have appeared in a number of exhibitions throughout the Maritimes. Through her spoken word performances, Killa delves into the heart of social justice issues, hoping her poetic perspectives can open eyes and help to make the world a better place.