Whereas I did not desire

WHEREAS I did not desire in childhood to be a part of this
but desired most of all to be a part. A piece combined with
others to make up a whole. Some but not all of something.
In Lakota it’s onspa, a piece or part of anything. Like the
creek trickling behind my aunt’s house where Uncle built her
a bridge to cross from bank to bank, not far from a grassy
clearing with three tipis, a place to gather. She holds three-
day workshops on traditional arts, young people from Kyle
and Potato Creek arrive one by one eager to participate.
They have the option my auntie says to sleep at home and
return in the morning but by and large they’ll stay and camp
even during South Dakota winters. The comfort of being to-
gether. I think of Plains winds snow drifts ice and limbs the
exposure and when I slide my arms into a wool coat and
put my hand to the door knob, ready to brave the sub-zero
dark, someone says be careful out there always consider the
snow your friend. Think badly of it, snow will burn you. I
walk out remembering that for millennia we have called
ourselves Lakota meaning friend or ally. This relationship
to the other. Some but not all, yet our piece connecting;

Layli Long Soldier earned a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA with honors from Bard College. She is the author of the chapbook Chromosomory (2010) and the full-length collection Whereas (2017), which won the National Books Critics Circle award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. She has been a contributing editor to Drunken Boat and poetry editor at Kore Press; in 2012, her participatory installation, Whereas We Respond, was featured on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 2015, Long Soldier was awarded a National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry. She was awarded a Whiting Writer’s Award in 2016.

Long Soldier is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


  1. This. Yes, this.

    Whereas I grew up in a cowboy culture, I was always more attracted to Indian culture (that’s what we called it then.) I grew into appreciation of an old culture that was accustomed to living WITH the earth, and not just FROM it, resources to be exploited and discarded.

    We have much to learn from indigenous cultures. Perhaps a key element is ‘onspa’: the understanding that we are a part of something far bigger than the sum of its parts.

    I look forward to reading WHEREAS.

  2. I could see it…the bridge and the three tips and onspa.
    We had a place like that in Cayuga land in upstate New York…onspa for a short time.
    The poem let me feel it again for a moment.

  3. IN reading the poem I was there,…..I purchased the book so I could return..thank you

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