There is NO Word for GOODBYE

By: Mary Tall Mountain

Mary Tall Mountain

Mary Tall Mountain was born in 1918 in Nulato, Alaska. She was Native American, and was raised in a Native American village. Some cites say that her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and then Mary was adopted, and some say that she was adopted after he mother had died. But we know for fact that she was adopted by a non-native american family because of her mother not being able to take care of her anymore. Mary had trouble blending into the new culture, and used writing as a stress reliever. Her adopted parents did not allow her to speak any other language besides English. Mary Tall Mountain had to say goodbye to her remaining family, home, heritage and customs.

"Her poetry is a permanent testament to the rich tapestry of experience that was her life." Bill Moyers

Format of Poem

This poem is a free verse, an elegy, and has six stanzas. It uses a hyperbole, allusion, simile, is imaginary, and has a little dialogue. The tone of this poem is natural, wise, calming, peaceful, and reflexive.

There Is NO Word For GOODBYE

Sokoya, I said, looking through

the net of wrinkles into

wise black pools

of her eyes.


What do you say in Athabascan

when you leave each other?

What is the word

for goodbye?


A shade of feeling rippled

the wind-tanned skin.

Ah, nothing, she said,

watching the river flash.


She looked at me close.

We just say, Tlaa. That means,

See you.

We never leave each other.

When does your mouth

say goodbye to your heart?


She touched me light

as a bluebell.

You forget when you leave us;

you're so small then.

We don't use that word.


We always think you're coming back,

but if you don't,

we'll see you some place else.

You understand.

There is no word for goodbye.


Sokoya: Aunt (mother's sister)

Tlaa: See you

Inside the Poem

Sokoya, I said, looking through the net of wrinkles into wise black pools of her eyes.

Sokoya means aunt. "The net of wrinkles into wise black pools," is a hyperbole (exaggeration for effect). This is saying that the girl is looking up into her aunts old and teary eyes. This emphasizes her aunts age and wisdom.


What do you say in Athabascan when you leave each other? What is the word for goodbye? Athabascan is a tribe of Native Americans from Central Alaska. The girl is asking her aunt for the word they use when you are leaving, a word like goodbye. A word in their native language, Athabascan.


A shade of feeling rippled the wind-tanned skin. Ah, nothing, she said, watching the river flash. "A shade of feeling," is a feeling that is slightly different from every other feeling you have. Her aunt is saying that there is not a word for goodbye in their language, referring to them not liking to use the word 'goodbye'.


She looked at me close. We just say, Tlaa. That means, See you. We never leave each other. When does your mouth say goodbye to your heart? Tlaa means 'see you'. "We never leave each other," is an allusion (an indirect reference to something) toward the fact that even if we aren't physically together, we will always be together in mind and spirit. Then she is asking "When does you mouth say goodbye to your heart?" If you think about this, it is highly unlikely that your body will be separated, so it is very unlikely that we will ever be apart from one another.


She touched me light as a bluebell. You forget when you leave us; you're so small then. We don't use that word. "Light as a bluebell," is a simile (figure of speech often comparing two unlike things) referring it to the gentleness her Sokoya's, her aunt's, touch. Her aunt is also saying that she is too young and won'e remember this. She is also repeating that they are not using goodbye.


We always think you're coming back, I but if you don't, we'll see you some place else. You understand. There is no word for goodbye. The aunt is saying that they are still hoping to see each other again sometime, but if they don't, they will see each other in Heaven. The title at the end sums up the poem and reminds us of the message; goodbyes are hard, so all we can do is wait and hope to see them again.

"Her spirit and her ability to connect the different worlds of her experience teach us much about how to live our lives properly." Barry Lopez

Connections To My Life

I chose this poem because the title really stood out to me. Saying goodbye is hard, and a lot of people don't know what to say. I have said goodbye to many people in my life time, some temporary and some for much longer. Each one of them is hard, the ones that are much longer (death) are much harder than saying goodbye to someone for a couple weeks or up to a a couple years. Either way we will either see these people when they come home, if we go and see them, and forever in Heaven.