Art by Rogue Guirey Simpson
a sacred white calf in her arms.
the parasites and vermin
for The Sunday Muse
Travelling back in time,
we feel the pain, hear the cries
and screams, small children
torn from their mothers' arms,
disappearing into the past:
all those children who never
came home, whose families
never knew the reason why.
I picture silent forbidden tears
in rows of beds at night, see
the harsh mouths, the hard eyes
of the staff, punishing the culture out
of small, confused, suffering
First Nation hearts.
First Nation, yet
the gift of how
they lived in harmony
with the land
spurned. (Look where
that has brought us.)
Those who did go home
arrived different from
how they left: hearts full of pain,
suppressed anger, wounded by
abuse and all they had seen.
Children have no language
for atrocity, for trauma.
Spirits still wander the halls
of those dormitories of despair;
still float across the grassy fields
where so many small bodies
lie hidden in umarked graves.
An elder speaks, with
tears in his eyes: "And a small
First Nations voice whispers,
'They found us. They found us.'"
Tears in his voice. Shame
in our white hearts, our skin
shriveling on our bones: white,
the skin of the oppressor
of people of colour
all over the world.
Not a time to speak,
a time for those of us
who are strong enough to listen, to hear the pain,
the heaviness of the burdens carried
by those who suffered,
and the generations who followed.
It is hard to find words
that encompass the totality
of where we are.
Some stay silent,
afraid to acknowledge
this shared history
of colonial oppression.
What a week. First 215 unmarked graves outside a residential school in Kamloops. Then 751 unmarked graves outside a residential school in Sakatchewan. There will be more. Every residential school grounds will now be searched with special equipment designed to recognize human remains.
Chief Bobby Cameron is the speaker who said "And a small First Nation voice whispers 'they found us. They found us.'" So moving. I think of how many nights those children waited for their parents to come and get them, not understanding the government banished them to the schools, forbade the family to visit. Assimilation, they called it. Some use the stronger word: attempted genocide. Thankfully, they did not succeed in disappearing those beautiful people.
For eight and a half years, I was peivileged to work among First Nations, at a treatment centre on the site of a former residential school. Many who came for help had suffered in that school. I saw how the pain and trauma filtered down to succeeding generations.
Canada Day is coming. No possibility of celebrating. On that day, I will reflect on the First Peoples of this land, whom I admire and respect so much. I hope they soon claim their sovereignity and be recognized as their own nations.
for earthweal. No end of sad news. Yet human nature is built to strive to be better than we are, so I will not surrender hope.
for The Sunday Muse
For thousands of years,
man lived with the natural world,
understanding if we care for the earth,
it will care for us.
Then we became too many
and too greedy.
We took too much.
Iconic grizzly of the north,
we are hearing about you
on the news: how many of you
are starving, swimming from
island to island in search of salmon
that are disappearing. Soon, they say,
you will be too weak to swim.
On our tv screens we watch
your slow demise, keep on
driving our trucks and SUV's,
keep on buying, buying, buying,
keep on felling trees,
even as the world we knew
We have destroyed your habitat,
leaving you exposed; in danger
when you find yourself
in our alien world,
lashing out in terror till
our bullets find you,
just because you were lost
and a human path you crossed.
Yesterday, one of you fought back:
a warning bite on a human thigh,
telling me you understand
your desperate plight
and that you know we are
the reason why.
In B.C. there have been a few unusual attacks on humans by grizzlies. The decreasing salmon stock means they are starving, and their hunger is drawing them out of remote areas in search of food. One man survived a bite on his thigh. He said the power of the bite told him the bear could have bitten his leg right off. It seems the bite was more in warning. However it is close to certain that the bear will be shot.
In childhood, it was always summer. I spent the long hot months at my grandma's house, waking up every morning to the sound of water hitting the outer walls of the cottage, as she hosed everything down against the heat of the day.
Summer was lying in the hammock under the weeping willow. It was bathing suits on the line that never got fully dry before the next swim. It was lake-scent and rippling waves, and you were lucky if you were the child who found a log to bob in the waves when the motorboats passed by, the other kids waiting their turn enviously. It was the smell of sagebrush and Ponderosa pine, sweet pea and apple blossoms. It was grandpa driving us out into the country through miles and miles of apple orchards. When relatives from the prairies visited, it was taking them to a friend's orchard, so they could experience the pleasure of picking their own apple right off the tree. Apples since have never tasted so good.
Summer was reading, and my grandma saying, "you always have your nose in a book. You need to get outside in the sunshine and get some fresh air." But it was hot out there and there wasnt anything to do that equaled the pleasure of those long hours of reading.
It was the ice cream truck's tinkling music coming down Christleton Avenue, and grandpa smiling gruffly and giving me a shiny dime. It was the truck spraying DDT to kill mosquitoes, me swinging innocently on the gate under the rose arbour because we didnt know then how dangerous chemicals were.
Summer evenings were scented with lilac, or peony. Hollyhocks stood tall along the spot where grandpa parked his white and brown Ford. When the Regatta was on, it was long days sitting in the bleachers, watching men dive from Atkins tower. In the evening, it was the Lady of the Lake pageant, and an entertaining line-up of performers. The stage was across the pool in which synchronized swimmers in rubber bathing caps executed coordinated moves, glamourous to a freckle-faced eleven year old, all knees and elbows and straggly hair.
Summer was when the aunts and uncles and cousins came to visit, when cousinTeddy and I both wanted to sit in the Big Brown Chair; one time I got there first and Teddy stood at the door looking out, saying "Come and look! there's a little brown bunny!" and of course I fell for it; he leaped into the chair and said I was the silly little bunny who gave up her seat in the chair.
When the family gathered there was lots of cackling laughter among the women, my grandma's the loudest of all. (I inherited her cackle, and her sense of humour.) We would go for picnics out Mission Creek. One time the husky, Mickey, rolled in something ghastly, and we rode home holding our noses. Another time cousin Jeanette got stung by a bee and burst into tears. She was older, and impossibly glamorous, turning boys' heads when we went downtown together. She would smile a knowing smile, as I galumphed along in my rubber boots knowing I would never be that cool.
There is a certain smell summer mornings have, especially at my sister's farm, that takes me right back to those days, before I began to blossom, when all of life and those impossibly shiny dreams were up ahead, just waiting, and thankfully I didn't anticipate the pain. Summer days when I learned to laugh, and to sing, gifts that would get me through the hard years of my growing up and finding my way.
The policeman who shot Chantel
will not be charged. Two other
police shootings have occured
in my small village since her death.
Last week the remains of 215 native children
were discovered outside a residential school
in Kamloops; more bodies likely will be found
outside more schools, unleashing
generational pain from colonial oppression
that it seems will never end.
This week a young white supremacist
drove his car into a Muslim family, killing
all but a nine year old boy, whose
whole world just blew up.
Those trying to save the very last
of the old growth are being arrested
out of sight of press, who are not
allowed to witness the intimidation tactics,
as militarized police move in,
and trees are felled beside land defenders
sitting in nearby trees.
This is not the Canada I knew
and once believed in.
They are talking about canceling
Canada Day; it is not a time to celebrate,
when so many are in pain.
I grow quieter and quieter,
observing a cancer spreading
across the land. At a time
when the planet most needs our greatness,
humanity is heading in the wrong direction.
I grapple for hope, finding it
in the hundreds of seniors standing
for the trees; in the young, fighting
for their future; in those gathering
in vigils to remember small, terrified
native children, who suffered
at the hands of their abusers; in those
lighting candles and coming together
to mourn the hatred that killed
a family out for an evening stroll,
because they wore hijabs.
When they go low, we go high,
one of my heroes said not long ago.
I grow quiet, as the injustices, the horrors,
mount up. I wait for the kindness
of most Canadians to shine a light
so bright the hatred in dark hearts
Before I leave,
I want to say I was here,
witnessing seventy years
of the grief and glory
of humanity struggling to be free:
the civil rights movement, the anti-nuclear
movement, the make love not war movement,
the women's rights movement,
the Black Lives Matter movement,
the gun legislation movement,
and the most precarious of all,
the climate crisis, in the middle
of a global pandemic.
I was here for all the assassinations,
our hopes withering along with
all our fallen leaders.
The dark side won: corporations
too powerful to reign in,
money and power more important
than populace or country.
I was here through personal crises
that brought me to my knees; yet
somehow I found the strength to rise,
and rise again.
A hopeful heart and a cackling laugh
brought me to these peaceful days
of watching with wise eyes
a space apart from the tumult
and the struggle; the choice
of peaceful days.
In the middle of it all, a life:
soft summer mornings, birdcalls
and cloud art against blue sky,
life seen through the many windows
of my many homes as
day after day of peace
slowly meandered by.
Before I leave, I want you to know
how much I loved opening my eyes
on another day of beauty: green outside
my window, dogs padding to the door,
looking up with eyes of love;
ordinary days becoming years,
then decades. I want to say
how grateful I am for the journey through
this beautiful landscape: first the desert
with its sage and Ponderosa pine,
its blue lake and apple orchards
full of memories of when my life began;
then, ancient forest, breathing peace;
moss, salal and old man's beard,
and Mother Ocean: waves
rolling eternally in to shore,
sunsets during my own slow fading sunset,
and me still here, so present to the beauty,
so glad to be alive for one more
on Planet Earth.
Inspired by "I Want to Say" by Natalie Goldberg, a poem of being present. The italicized words are hers.
Traveler, there is no path.
The Way is the path.
Let us walk forward, as the path
unfolds under our feet, he said,
though all the while he knew
we were on it together only briefly.
Yes, there was pain.
I had believed I needed someone
to complete me, but it was by
traveling alone that I grew whole.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
I learned that love is not someone
giving to me; it was in giving to others
that my spirit was set free.
There is the path we see before us,
familiar, recognizable, and there is
the way under the way, which is
the soul's slow, incremental passage.
Everything I need is right here
- in flawed abundance, the poet said.
We are a single salmon swimming upstream
among a thousand others.
We are one feather on the wingtip
of a flying bird. We are wave
and ocean both. We are even,
I walk the way under the way
in trust, in gratitude:
a cloud, a leaf, a weed,
here as briefly as
Inspired by "The Way Under the Way" by Mark Nepo - the italicized words are his.
On the West Coast, in the 70's, they had already
been sitting naked on beaches for years, talking
about life; growing hair and beards long.
They were artists and writers and sculptors,
and lovers of the wilderness, in search of
something that didn't exist in cities
and office buildings and regular jobs.
They wanted something completely different.
They lived in vans and tents and driftwood cabins,
on tree platforms and in yurts on cliff edges
above the forest, looking out to sea.
(People are still living in vans, here,
today, but for different reasons.)
They were free to be as odd as they wanted.
Almost everything amazed them.
They created and sold their art at
the Gust O' Wind, where peasant bread
was baked and sold, enough loaves
to build the baker a bakery, where
everyone gathered over coffee
every morning thereafter,
all the faces looking up when the bell
tinkled, to check out who was coming in.
The West Coast, then, as now, attracted
artists and fishermen, nature lovers
and those evading participation
in abhorrent wars. The village
was small and friendly,
and, for a time, theirs.
And then the influx of tourists came
and upped the game. It still looks much
the same, downtown; you can pick out
the main buildings. Except condos have been
crammed into every square inch,
replacing forests. Places locals used to rent
now bring in big dollars as b and b's;
there is never anywhere to rent, or park,
(even when you live in your vehicle).
Downtown in summer feels like
an anthill that someone has toed,
ants running frantically in all directions.
Some of the old ones from those days
are still here, sitting on the rock ledge
outside the bank, or on the curb
outside the post office: wrinkled, weathered
cheeks, eyes that have a wry twinkle, observing
all that has happened, remembering
that they were here in the very best years,
when the town was filled with poets, orators
and metaphysicians, who gave discourses
on life and love at North Chestermans,
when everyone was a dreamer, and no one
wanted anything to change, ever,
because what a wonderful, quirky,
far out world it was!
Inspired by "The Metaphysicians of South Jersey" by Stephen Dunn. The italicized lines are his.
for earthweal where we are contemplating Earthcraft, the work of restoring earthly perfection through craft. With thanks to Brendan, who provides this forum for informed folk who care about the earth, where we can share our words and our concerns.