There Is No Word for Goodbye

TallMountain Reveals Her True Self

Mary TallMountain remains one of the most remarkable poets and writers of the twentieth century. This Athabascan woman inspired many people to listen to their heart (Welford, “Mary TallMountain’s Writing” 136). Some say that this woman’s works have opened up a new world of her culture to the world of Whites. Some claim that she rediscovered her native land for herself. However, the poet herself once said:

Then I went to Alaska and found my people. This poem has nothing to do with what I found out about them; it is more what I found out about myself. (Bruchac III 13)

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It is clear that the woman rediscovered her true self and revealed her self in her poems and stories. The reader can feel her sorrows and her joys. The woman lived an extraordinary life which resulted in numerous brilliant works. It is important to state that any of her works is unique and wonderful.

Each of her works reveals some facet of her individuality or some part of her biography. However, there is one poem which stands out. “There Is No Word for Goodbye” can be regarded as a certain title to her entire life. This poem is a symbol of eternity and eternal life. To understand the real meaning of the poem, it is important to take a closer look at the writer’s life.

Tragedies in TallMountain’s Life

Mary TallMountain lost her mother when she was only six (Welford 61). Her mother was terminally ill with tuberculosis. Her two brothers were also ill. The horrible disease took away the dearest people in Mary’s life. The doctor who tried to help her mother took the orphan away from her village.

In her interview with Bill Moyers, TallMountain recalled details of her departure. She noted that it was not that easy for the doctor to take her away from her people as Athabascas were reluctant to “give up” their people (Moyers). TallMountain stressed that even though she was a girl it was really difficult to adopt her. She added that the doctor would have never adopted her if she had been a boy.

During the interview TallMountain also tried to reveal her feelings at that time. Of course, she was a little girl and she could not decide what she really wanted. It was difficult for her to leave as she left her homeland for life. On the other hand, she admitted that she was also happy to learn something new and open up a brand new world for her (Moyers).

It is important to note that it was not much of her decision, which still influenced her life greatly. At the very beginning of his film Bill Moyers claims that people hear voices of their ancestors. The journalist states that these voices often help to make right decisions and never give up no matter what (Moyers).

Allen also focuses on the importance of heritage (13). The author points out that each individual should take into account his/her own traditions as they give strength and determination (Allen 14). TallMountain felt what researchers analyzed in their works. Mary TallMountain lost her guardians and she found herself all alone in the new world which she had to understand. TallMountain could feel emptiness inside her. Of course, she could fill the emptiness regaining her heritage.

When she travelled to her village she could feel safe at last. She tried to help her people and she wanted to learn everything about her homeland. This was the time when she devoted her life to literature. She wrote various poems and short stories which revealed her emotions, her ideas, her beliefs and her longings.

TallMountain had a lot to say to people. She wanted to share her heritage. In 1994 Mary TallMountain passed away. However, her works live the life of their own. Her works made the devoted Athabascan woman immortal. This idea of immortality is revealed in one of her most famous poems “There Is No Word for Goodbye”. This poem is very symbolic as it can be an allegorical illustration of TallMountain’s life.

The Poem Is Prophetical

Admittedly, there have been various works on Mary TallMounttain’s life. However, no biography can be as good and as precise as her famous poem “There Is No Word for Goodbye”. In the first place, the poem reveals the source of the poet’s ‘illumination’, i.e. her own heritage. The poet addresses her sokoya (aunt):

Sokoya, I said, looking through

the net of wrinkles into

wise black pools

of her eyes. (TallMountain n.p.)

The poet understands that one of her people could give the right answer. “[W]ise black pools / of her eyes” should be regarded as a metaphor referring to Athabasca’s heritage. TallMountain understands that only an old Athabascan woman can help her to find the right path.

Apart from the source of illumination, the poem reveals one more important idea. TallMountain does not simply depict beliefs of her people. She also makes it clear that she accepts this outlook. TallMountain accepts this simple and outstanding philosophy:

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. (TallMountain n.p.)

TallMountain’s entire life is a kind of manifestation of this philosophy. She did not have to use the words (to say goodbye) when she was leaving her homeland as she came back. She did not have to use the words when she left people who lived there as she came back to see them again. She did not have to say goodbye to her closest people as they must have met in some other place.

Likewise, it is impossible to say goodbye to TallMountain and her works. Again her poem explains why it is impossible to do that:

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?

TallMountain speaks to people’s heart. It goes without saying that it is impossible to forget words which help people to live.

Conclusion

On balance, it is necessary to state that Mary TallMountain lived a very difficult life full of losses. However, she managed to find the source of her inspiration and strength. Her heritage helped her to create numerous brilliant works which have spoken to people’s hearts and have helped people to keep on living no matter what.

Mary TallMountain was one of those inspiring people who managed to reveal the truth. She articulated one of the most important ideas: people should resort to their heritage whenever they are lost. This motto is revealed in one of her most famous poems “There Is No Word for Goodbye”. This was her motto for life.

Works Cited

Allen, Paula. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Print.

Bruchac III, Joseph W. “We Are the Inbetweens: An Interview with Mary Tallmountain.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 1.1 (1989): 13-21. Print.

Moyers, Bill, dir. Ancestral Voices: The Power of the Word. Public Affairs Television, 1989. Videocassette.

TallMountain, Mary. There Is No Word for Goodbye. Gavilan College, 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2012.

Welford, Gabrielle. “Reflections on Mary TallMountain’s Life and Writing: Facing Mirrors.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 9.2 (1997): 61-68. Print.

—. “Mary TallMountain’s Writing: Healing the Heart – Going Home.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 25.1 (1994): 136-154. Print.

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