We present this work in honor of the Canadian holiday, National Aboriginal Day.
Betty, if I set out to write this poem about you it might turn out instead to be about me or any one of my female relatives it might turn out to be about this young native girl growing up in rural Alberta in a town with fewer Indians than ideas about Indians in a town just south of the ‘Aryan Nations’
It might turn out to be about Anna Mae Aquash, Donald Marshall, or Richard Cardinal, it might even turn out to be about our grandmothers beasts of burden in the fur trade skinning, scraping, pounding, packing left behind for ‘British Standards of Womanhood,’ left for white-melting-skinned women, not bits-of-brown women left here in this wilderness, this colony.
Betty, if I start to write a poem about you it might turn out to be about hunting season instead about ‘open season’ on native women it might turn out to be about your face young and hopeful staring back at me hollow now from a black and white page it might be about the ‘townsfolk’ (gentle word) townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’ and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence’
We present this work in honor of Western Australia Day.
They’d been warned on every farm that playing in the silos would lead to death. You sink in wheat. Slowly. And the more you struggle the worse it gets. ‘You’ll see a rat sail past your face, nimble on its turf, and then you’ll disappear.’ In there, hard work has no reward. So it became a kind of test to see how far they could sink without needing a rope to help them out. But in the midst of play rituals miss a beat—like both leaping in to resolve an argument as to who’d go first and forgetting to attach the rope. Up to the waist and afraid to move. That even a call for help would see the wheat trickle down. The painful consolidation of time. The grains in the hourglass grotesquely swollen. And that acrid chemical smell of treated wheat coaxing them into a near-dead sleep.
We present this work in honor of the Chilean holiday, Navy Day.
I am old, and from a blooming tree I look at the horizon How many airs did I walk? I do not know From the other side of the sea the setting sun has already sent out its messengers and I am departing to meet my ancestors Blue is the place where we go The spirits of the water carry me off step by step Wenulewfv / the River of the Sky is barely one small circle in the universe
In this Dream I shall stay: Stroke, oarsmen! In Silence I move away in the invisible song of life.
Here lies, buried, precious treasure The future of our beloved land Pride of our fledgling nation Our youth, our joy, our hope, Now turned to sorrowing dust.
They were all young, but children, really In the full flush of youth Such promise for the hungry tomorrow Blessings betrayed and all rules Of nature turned upside down.
The girls gaily giggled The young men, boys, really, Whistled and winked as they strutted about It was all such fun, such youthful fun The words of parents paled beside.
The words of parents, mostly whispered; And even that by but a few. A whole nation looked on, but shirked duty As the future swiftly withered and died.
They were in school, but the teachers taught nothing. Some went to church, but the priests spoke little about daily living; Pie in the sky and peace and bliss hereafter, their only platform.
Gone too, the wisdom of the Old Foresaken, the knowledge of yesteryear That knew and accepted what is only natural Understood the folly that would block the swells of a surging river And knew how all children needed mothers and fathers; Embraced all thildren; charged every man and woman with their nurturing.
‘It takes a village’, belatedly, we now say; at last remembering Faded lessons, traditions hastily discarded in blind pursuit Of progress, of fashion, of assimilation. Now, finally seeing How we ran open-armed, embracing our annihilation. Now, sorrow jogs memory and we join empty hands As we frantically try once more to guide, To lead the new generation as before, To show the way to the House of Adulthood Leaving none behind, losing few as can be.
Eye turned back to a time long forgotten When the measure of a man Was not the fatness of his pocket But his deeds of glory; shunning abomination. When neighbour trusted neighbour; his safety secure at his presence His home, his folk, his property – all sovereign His neighbour, his best protection against all His children, insurance against old age and infirmity. But that was before the nation learnt to bury all its children; See its morrow fade, its treasure interred; The youth, its pride, its hope and joy obliterated. The nation’s tomorrow, no more – ah, sad day, When we buried our most precious treasures!
Welcome to this house your home, here you breathe the bitter cold of that absent breath. Welcome to this house of anger and tears, indeed you can sit where your footsteps run out where your skin dries. The house has changed a bit —you’ll forgive me— but I’ve avoided painting it so that the cracks of time will give it a little bit of that familiar tinge.
It is the same house, don’t be afraid, that same one that we built some time ago, waiting to be alone enough to live in it.
There was a month I called May. When I buried it in papers, passion streaming down, flooding the tiles of the rooms. Herds of gazelles searching for mercy lap it up…and I wander about in search of a knife to sharpen against my cheekbones, as I turn the pages of these moments. You are a stranger to me, and your eyes are the foam of distances running like rivers between us. Don’t ask me about my evaporating grief; perhaps it has become salt with which to doctor wounds, or maybe seeds I can scatter across the floor, to absorb the words that creep there in search of a story. Perhaps my sorrow was a bedsheet that couldn’t cover its old bed. Its only pretext was to gaze at the sky and snatch up stars. Thus, with no trace of treason. We were sitting on the couch casting glances into the horizon, arrows of light years. Waiting, we dified the hours. Our revolt…ashamed to wear a mask, its savage visage. Our feet stalked insects to crush them, while they flaunted themselves like naked words Determined to gasp their last breaths in our sight. Between us there are also silken buds, fluttering spring butterflies. Their clusters are like the sun’s bashfulness when it gathers the girl’s milk teeth, causing the seasons, and among them you, cunning Spring. Is what’s between us the empire of Ahmad Taha? Or those gleaming golden circles, panting behind steely eyes? I wish I were a leaf, with cells in rows. My splendor, seasons borne by sailboats. My ending the winter, when geckos hide away to dream of new plants growing. From your bandaged wounds, in salt and fog, soaring across riverbanks the morning of erupting promises, running from shore to quay like a short story collapsing breathless on the streets, Does anyone forbid fabrication?
Or might those cities that swallow fog conjure the word away too? The same palm outstretched to God, the same bare feet. The same eyes, sparkling with poetry’s delight. Is this why you tremble, dreading the city’s pages? Is this why you left the streets, to seek refuge in the nightmares of years? Will you take comfort in the disgrace of seasons, and the vagrancy of lone words on the sidewalks of meaninglessness?
At its corners, there’s no movement to recall the drawn-out breathing of other days. Not even air brings news of its dead. I walk along the secret shore of things and in them I see myself, in their coat of dust as if to shield them from their own fate. I think of the men who are now sinking tepidly into sleep. To what uncertain sea do they surrender? What wind propels their ships? To what port are they pushed? Dark the moment when my memory tries for a phantom dialogue reflected in stone, in the vigil of the dispossessed. Long, silent, like the death not uttered by these streets.
Made ghosts in all their country’s wars they come, the young men in my dreams with shattered skulls, intestines trailing in the sand, the mud, the stuff the TV doesn’t show unless it’s Africa. Or someplace else where colour doesn’t count, democracy a word they carted like a talisman, a passport to the candles, bells of sainthood.
Restored to wake indoors alive, blanketed, dreams fallen away like ash in birdsong, sun filtering the blind slats, I’m reprimanded. My ghosts keep talking: “You thought you knew it all. Tonight maybe your book and candle, night light burning infantile, shoes tucked neat beneath will douse your eyelids closed with ash, shut them down for good. Our dreams were yours.
You’ll sleep all right with us and never never wake. Night lights, books and candles lost the war against our childhood, growing, long ago, their power to charm away the everlasting dark a myth: silence lasts forever. Listen, while you can, to unseen saplings somewhere falling. Young men, you dear young men, I’m listening.