Poems about Canada's Aboriginal (Native, Indian) and Métis (mixed-breed) peoples.
Lenny has written two books of poems about these peoples, The Minor Odyssey of Lollie Heronfeathers Singer (woman travels to check out her Aboriginal and Métis ancestry) and Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont in Purgatory (ghosts of the Métis madman and buffalo hunter talk).
The following poems are taken from those two books.
From the Stone Walls of Old Québec
(Origins of Métis)
Jean Dumont never
What happened to his parents
In the stone walls
Of old Québec
He scuffed the deep stoneless
Watched branches drift by
On the Red River
"I married a sauvage," he laughed
"I made four Métis.
Beware the sauvages!" hed say
Wagging his finger at the kids.
I made green onion soup
And told them to beware white men, black tobacco, and
"Where are your parents?" they asked their mother
But I laughed, too
Said, "My children will be my parents
You, daughter, will remember me as a sauvage,
As a child of the long grass
And you will be a mother
Of a brave people"
But I wished I could touch
The stone walls
And two old French people
Looking in a mirror
For a long-lost son.
(Heron Feathers signs on to Jeans faith.)
Jean insisted we
get married in the new church.
Fine, I thought, better that his God be on our side
Just in case.
How can one have too many Gods?
I told the priest he had a face like
A mooses afterbirth
But it was in Cree, and quiet so he thought
I was saying "I do."
Jean nearly choked, but
I figured if Jesus was any good Hed have seen us
Married by the lake two years before.
Ive often wondered since if Jesus
Is a lonesome spirit that wanders around
The insides of churches hoping
Someone will come visit
And just how much Cree He knows.
I Guess Im a Métis
(Lollie meets Lucy)
Im a Métis ," I said
Trying to dance around the subject a bit.
She silenced me with a raised hand
Put her fingers on my forehead
"Yup," she said, "you sure are. I can feel it.
Its strong, like the movement of Mother Earth.
Hang loose, babe, well find you
A plug of bannock and sell you a sash
But youll have to leave tobacco
At the foot of a cross, then
Baptize a moose."
"Been there," I said, "Done it.
Didnt get the T-shirt, though. Say
Any more Métis around, or are we
The only two left in this province?"
"Youre a bear for punishment," she sighed
"Theres a Métis band playing tonight at the Legion.
You can buy me a beer."
Then she hugged me.
(A bit of Métis history, according to George.)
We were the bridge
Between the east and the west
The dark forest and the big skies
We were the bridge between
Red and white
Using the Métis bridge
Canada carried itself
Onto the plains
And up to the highest mountains
So what happened?
We were the bridge to the prairies
The road to the mountains
And they walked
People of the Wind
the Cree from the deep woods of
northern Ontario to the open plains)
We became the
Of the wind
Wind brought us
To the coulees
Blew in the buffalo
Scattered sweetgrass smoke
Howled in the oldgrass moon
And left us silent
Of bad spirits
When only the children
We could deal with the spirits
Of the spruce woods
We had a thousand legends
Of bear and loon
But we are all silent
When a crane circles
Eight times in the morning
And the wind dies
(Lollie approaches her first Indian, a woman behind a counter in a reserve crafts store)
"Can I help
you?" she asked
Tan skin, dark hair behind the counter
I hesitated, my light brown hair
Out of place, out of place
"One of my ancestors," I said
Looking at the moose mitts
"Was a Cree."
"Ah," she said, unsmiling
In the August heat.
"An Indian princess, of course?"
"Minnehaha," I said,
"We remember her well
In our legends. She married
"Why yes! Her son,
Medihaha, my great grandfather
Was a famous warrior."
"Would you like to buy a dreamcatcher?" she asked
"In honor of your native roots?"
"Got one," I said. "Real good one.
Made in China."
"Best kind. Be good Injuns,
Them Chinese, soon as
We get them civilized.
Moose mitts? Scalps? Lucky bookmarks?"
"Moose mitts," I said
"Good idea. You never know:
It might get cold."
She wrapped them carefully.
An owl hooted once in broad daylight.
We both paused to listen
For the second call
(Tom Small Wolf tells Lollie about his religion)
Returning to the old religions?
Are you leaving
The Good Book
The World Tomorrow
The smiling priest?
Did you know, he said, that
Jesus had tan skin
A big hooked nose
When Jesus enters Jerusalem
His black hair in braids
And hooked Semitic nose
Just a little out of place
Among tourists from Toronto
Itll be time to talk again
If hes riding a 78 Skidoo
Well hold a powwow
Just for him.
Suffer the little Métis
Gabe never had much truck with religion. Stuck with a religious maniac for a co-conspirator, he spent his later years openly hostile to religion. Maybe that was his aboriginal upbringing. Maybe he was bitter what it had done to Riel and the rebellion.
Suffer the little Métis
To come to the church
Learn the pleasant truth
About God and about birch
Theyll go no more singing
To gather berries in the sun
Their childhood now measured
By the steel rule of a nun.
Suffer the little Métis
To be told about God
While other mens plowshares
Turn their ancestral sod.
Selected by the Bishop of St. Boniface to become the first Métis priest, Louis studied at the College of Montréal. Four months before graduation, he abruptly left the school.
Picture me at
twenty-one years old
Outside the seminary in Montreal
On the stone steps, snow curling around ankles.
"Youre incomplete," they said, "Not willing to
Finish the course."
The priests not wanting to let me go
Wanting a voice among the Métis.
Father René said nothing, just handed me
Oh, I knew what he meant, that a holey
Vessel doesnt get you much soup
But I held it up over my ear, and said
I can still hear the wind this way, Father
I can still hear the wind
And a Métis
Should always be able to hear the wind.
A bit bitter, are we, Gabe? This poet does not recommend anything illegal, including rebellions.
I could write you
About the Métis, Louis
It would go like this:
On the first of July, the Métis steal
Every hubcap in Regina
Put them in boxes
Take them to the legislature
Cover the lawn with hubcaps
Think of it, Louis
The media, the TV cameras
The police cars
The long lines of Métis coming down the street
Chucking hubcaps onto the lawn
Wed have some young woman singing
Red River Valley and selling carnations
Dont knock it, Louis, it makes as much sense
As anything else Ive seen happen to the Métis
In the last hundred years
The Diurnal Breathing of the Land
In the day the
prairie breathes out under the callused hand
At night the west breathes in the haunted cry
Of the Métis
Foolish, imprudent, irresponsible, simple
Maybe even crazy we were
But in our wildest, ranting moment
We were still better than what this
Has come to.
I could give it
all up. Louis
If I were alive, now
Trade the wandering for the works
Strawberry-rhubarb jam, garden hoses
Plush carpets, popcorn, tennis shoes, Toyotas
Niagara wine, mountain bikes, rubber rafts and
Ball-point pens in a plaid shirt pocket
But on top of the
TV, or just beside my recliner
Id keep a little silver bell, for freedom.
Id ring it when the world got too much for me
To say. "you havent gotten all of me, yet."
It would tell the world I am Métis
I signed no treaty.
Once our people
Now they spend their time in chains
Sears, McDonalds, Toys R Us
And even in Blockbuster Video
Renting other peoples dreams
Its alright, you know
As long as they pick one wild flower
For the dash of a car
And look longingly
To the highway
They have not forgotten
They are Gabriels people.
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