Reconciliation by Gwen Benaway

                “I am not a saint. I am a crooked good.”
                             —Louise Bernice Halfe

kaawin ninisidotawaasii
.               nijaa’ge, zhaaganaash

I am too tired to

imagine your violence is your love,
explain to my friends why I talk to you,

replay your hand on my neck,
your hand between my legs,

let you run your fingers
through my hair, as if I was holy

nijaa’ge aasha
.                                I’m used up now.

then you walk away, pretend you don’t see me
on the street with your friend, lift your hand

up to shield your eyes, as if seeing me
could hurt you as much as you hurt me.

ikidon miinawaa
                                              say it again
                                              pooshke kiin

remember us, your arms around me
by night, early morning, after walking home

in sub zero weather, your hand in my hand,
squeeze my neck, bite my fingers—

ikidon miinawaa
                                              say it again

you love me, kwayak
kizaaki’in, zhaaganaash

now we are strangers
            history replays in our mouths

you say you don’t want all or nothing

a little bit yes a little bit no
                              pangii eta go pangii eta go

isn’t this what every white man

tells an Indian girl, just sign on the X
everything is yours but nothing will be left.

             kiiwanimoshki zhaaganaash.
I will not reconcile with your violence

how you said I wasn’t a real woman

niizh o’de kwe is worth nothing
                             wiiji’ishinaap mishomisanaak

I will not reconcile with the kingdom
of your body.

eha, yes I still love you
                             but kaawin, no,

first you must reconcile
with yourself

aasha indanimose
                             nimashkawizii apane

the weight of your body,
the burden of our history

is my last gift to you.



Author’s Note: The University of Minnesota’s online Ojibwe People’s Dictionary is an excellent resource which contains the linguistic information required to translate this poem in its entirety. For once, my mouth will not translate your pleasure.


Copyright © Gwen Benaway. Originally published in Arc Poetry Magazine (Issue 84, Fall 2017).


Gwen Benaway is a trans girl of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She has published three collections of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, Passage, and Holy Wild, and was the editor for an anthology of fantasy short stories, Maiden Mother and Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes. Her writing has been critically acclaimed and widely published in Canada. She was a finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ writers from the Writer’s Trust of Canada, the Lambda Literary Award for Trans Poetry, and the National Magazine Awards and Digital Publishing Awards for her personal essay, A Body Like A Home. Her fourth collection of poetry, Aperture, is forthcoming from Book*hug in Spring 2020. She is also currently editing a book of creative non-fiction, trans girl in love, forthcoming from Strange Light in 2020. She lives in Toronto, Ontario and is a Ph.D student at the University of Toronto in the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

Subscribe to Poetry Pause or visit the Poetry Pause Archives.


In publication for over 40 years, Arc Poetry Magazine publishes three issues a year including a themed issue each Fall. Arc nurtures and promotes the composition and appreciation of poetry in Canada and abroad, with particular but not exclusive emphasis on poetry written by Canadians. In addition to publishing and distributing the work of poets, Arc also organizes and administers awards, contests, public readings and other events.

This poem was selected for Poetry Pause by Adèle BarclayArc‘s current Poet-in-Residence. Arc’s Poet-in-Residence program offers the country-wide community of writers a chance to work with an influential Canadian poet. Participants in the program will have an opportunity to work one-on-one with the Poet-in-Residence to hone and shape their poems over a one-month period. Between 30 and 60 poets participate each year.

Subscribe to Arc here.