Nomenclature, Miigaadiwin, a Forked Tongue

By Aja Couchois Duncan


I should begin with adik, with hearding mammals ranging across the boreal expanse. To know the geography of it, to start with its features.

Your face is this blur of fur and antler.

My story is the history of frontier, a wooded terrain. We could not see each other through the cacophony of trees. But I could hear you breathing. Some kind of wind the nose sings. Adze is stripping the layers of. When the skin is torn from muscle, cleaved from bone. 

Agawaatese is not sound but shadow. An interception of light.


There are many ways to tell both sides of it. It is a preposition.

The French mated their way through the colonies. The English claimed only their mirror image. Later the science of alterity would explain such predilections. Absent of Freud, native kinship systems did not distinguish between the progeny of. 

Halfbreeds have their own word for gichi-mookomaan, for white person, for butcher knife. Little bear girl took the knife and split herself down the middle. Little bear girl sits beside me on the rooftop, her hair scissoring the wind. Together we watch flora and fauna duck for cover. One is the hydrology of earthquakes, the other less tectonic, more personal. Gichi-mookomaan is nowhere to be found.

It is difficult to be part of a species. There is so little to distinguish yourself from. Sapiens traveled slowly across continents, moved from trees to terra firma. At which point did gichi-mookomaan roam?

They have paved the surface of our habitat, but someday they too will long for the upper canopy. Bipedalism is a fetish of the imperial view.


The science of sight ignores the spirit of mescaline, of cactus, of natives of the new world.

After the earth split, there were two, 
old  and new. The old world was heavy with      everything  
that began it. The new world was fecund, 

When the first people came out of the trees they found themselves on a wooded island already crowded with bear and wolf. Stripping bark from the trees, they built canoes and paddled to the other side.

When light moves through solid particles it loses pieces of itself. It is altered once it reaches its destination.

Omoodayaabik is shattered, a piece of broken glass. Before it could have been anything, a lantern, window, a bottle of whiskey. The science of sight does not trouble itself with such inquiries. There are only the intricacies of the eye, its mechanics of doing. The eye does not know which side of the earth it is on. The eye cannot see the birthing folds, the suckled nipples beneath the limbs of trees. The nose is far less complicated. There is no discipline dedicated solely to its mysteries. But it is the nose that remembers our disastrous origins. We are sentient. We are this scent of things.

© Aja Couchois Duncan. All rights reserved.

Nomenclature, Miigaadiwin, a Forked Tongue, is included in Restless Continent, published by Litmus Press. An earlier version was published as a chapbook by CC Marimbo Press.  

Aja Couchois Duncan is a Bay Area educator, writer and coach of Ojibwe, French and Scottish descent. Her writing has been anthologized in Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House Press,) Bay Poetics (Faux Press) and Love Shook My Heart 2 (Alyson Press). Her most recent chapbook, Nomenclature, Miigaadiwin, a Forked Tongue was published by CC Marimbo press. A fictional writer of non-fiction, she has published essays in the North American Review and Chain. In 2005, she was a recipient of the Marin Arts Council Award Grant for Literary Arts, and, in 2013, she received a James D. Phelan Literary Award. Her first book, Restless Continent, is forthcoming in the spring of 2016 from Litmus Press. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a variety of other degrees and credentials to certify her as human. Great Spirit knew it all along.

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