“Xigubo”(1964): seleção de poemas do poeta moçambicano José Craveirinha (1922 – 2003)

Illustrações de José Craveirinha Junior., da segunda edição de “Xigubo”(1980, Edições 70)

.

Xigubo”
(para Claude Coufon)
.
Minha mãe África
meu irmão Zambeze
Culucumba! Culucumba!
.
Xigubo estremece terra do mato
e negros fundem-se ao sopro da xipalapala
e negrinhos de peitos nus na sua cadência
levantam os braços para o lume da irmã lua
e dançam as danças do tempo da guerra
das velhas tribos da margem do rio.
.
Ao tantã do tambor
o leopardo traiçoeiro fugiu.
E na noite de assombrações
brilham alucinados de vermelho
os olhos dos homens e brilha ainda
mais o fio azul do aço das catanas.
.
Dum-dum!
Tantã!
E negro Maiela
músculos tensos na azagaia rubra
salta o fogo da fogueira amarela
e dança as danças do tempo da guerra
das velhas tribos da margem do rio.
.
E a noite desflorada
abre o sexo ao orgasmo do tambor
e a planície arde todas as luas cheias
no feitiço viril da insuperstição das catanas.
.
Tantã!
E os negros dançam ao ritmo da Lua Nova
rangem os dentes na volúpia do xigubo
e provam o aço ardente das catanas ferozes
na carne sangrenta da micaia grande.
.
E as vozes rasgam o silêncio da terra
enquanto os pés batem
enquanto os tambores batem
e enquanto a planície vibra os ecos milenários
aqui outra vez os homens desta terra
dançam as danças do tempo da guerra
das velhas tribos juntas na margem do rio.

.

(1958)

.     .     .

Grito Negro”
.
Eu sou carvão!
E tu arrancas-me brutalmente do chão
E fazes-me tua mina
Patrão!
.
Eu sou carvão!
E tu acendes-me, patrão
Para te servir eternamente como força motriz
mas eternamente não
Patrão!
.
Eu sou carvão!
E tenho que arder, sim
E queimar tudo com a força da minha combustão.
.
Eu sou carvão!
Tenho que arder na exploração
Arder até às cinzas da maldição
Arder vivo como alcatrão, meu Irmão
Até não ser mais tua mina
Patrão!
.
Eu sou carvão!
Tenho que arder
E queimar tudo com o fogo da minha combustão.
.
Sim!
Eu serei o teu carvão
Patrão!

.     .     .

África”

.
Em meus lábios grossos fermenta
a farinha do sarcasmo que coloniza minha Mãe África
e meus ouvidos não levam ao coração seco
misturada com o sal dos pensamentos
a sintaxe anglo-latina de novas palavras.

.
Amam-me com a única verdade dos seus evangelhos
a mística das suas missangas e da sua pólvora
a lógica das suas rajadas de metralhadora
e enchem-me de sons que não sinto
das canções das suas terras
que não conheço.
.
E dão-me
a única permitida grandeza dos seus heróis
a glória dos seus monumentos de pedra
a sedução dos seus pornográficos Rolls-Royce
e a dádiva quotidiana das suas casas de passe.
Ajoelham-me aos pés dos seus deuses de cabelos lisos
e na minha boca diluem o abstracto
sabor da carne de hóstias em milionésimas
circunferências hipóteses católicas de pão.
.
E em vez dos meus amuletos de garras de leopardo
vendem-me a sua desinfectante benção
a vergonha de uma certidão de filho de pai incógnito
uma educativa sessão de ‘strip-tease’ e meio litro
de vinho tinto com graduação de álcool de branco
exacta só para negro
um gramofone de magaíza
um filme de heróis de carabina a vencer traiçoeiros
selvagens armados de penas e flechas
e o ósculo das suas balas e dos seus gases lacrimogéneos
civiliza o meu casto impudor africano.
.
Efígies de Cristo suspendem ao meu pescoço
em rodelas de latão em vez dos meus autênticos
mutovanas de chuva e da fecundidade das virgens
do ciúme e da colheita de amendoim novo.
E aprendo que os homens inventaram
a confortável cadeira eléctrica
a técnica de Buchenwald e as bombas V2
acenderam fogos de artifício nas pupilas
de ex-meninos vivos de Varsóvia
criaram Al Capone, Hollywood, Harlem
a seita Ku-Klux-Klan, Cato Manor e Sharpeville*
e emprenharam o pássaro que fez o choco
sobre os ninhos mornos de Hiroshima e Nagasaki
conheciam o segredo das parábolas de Charlie Chaplin
lêem Platão, Marx, Gandhi, Einstein e Jean-Paul Sartre
e sabem que Garcia Lorca não morreu mas foi assassinado
são os filhos dos santos que descobriram a Inquisição
perverteram de labaredas a crucificada nudez
da sua Joana D’Arc e agora vêm
arar os meus campos com charruas ‘Made in Germany’
mas já não ouvem a subtil voz das árvores
nos ouvidos surdos do espasmo das turbinas
não lêem nos meus livros de nuvens
o sinal das cheias e das secas
e nos seus olhos ofuscados pelos clarões metalúrgicos
extinguiu-se a eloquente epidérmica beleza de todas
as cores das flores do universo
e já não entendem o gorjeio romântico das aves de casta
instintos de asas em bando nas pistas do éter
infalíveis e simultâneos bicos trespassando sôfregos
a infinita côdea impalpável de um céu que não existe.
E no colo macio das ondas não adivinham os vermelhos
sulcos das quilhas negreiras e não sentem
como eu sinto o prenúncio mágico sob os transatlânticos
da cólera das catanas de ossos nos batuques do mar.
E no coração deles a grandeza do sentimento
é do tamanho ‘cowboy’ do nimbo dos átomos
desfolhados no duplo rodeo aéreo no Japão.
.
Mas nos verdes caminhos oníricos do nosso desespero
perdoo-lhes a sua bela civilização à custa do sangue
ouro, marfim, améns
e bíceps do meus povo.
.
E ao som másculo dos tantãs tribais o Eros
do meu grito fecunda o húmus dos navios negreiros…
E ergo no equinócio da minha Terra
o moçambicano rubi do nosso mais belo canto xi-ronga
e na insólita brancura dos rins da plena Madrugada
a necessária carícia dos meus dedos selvagens
é a tácita harmonia de azagaias no cio das raças
belas como altivos falos de ouro
erectos no ventre nervoso da noite africana.

.

*Cato Manor e Sharpeville – nomes de lugares onde ocorreram repressões policiais sangrentas na África do Sul contra trabalhadores africanos

.     .     .

Illustrações de José Craveirinha Junior., da segunda edição de “Xigubo”(1980, Edições 70)

.

Manifesto”

.

Oh!
Meus belos e curtos cabelos crespos
e meus olhos negros como insurrectas
grandes luas de pasmo na noite mais bela
das mais belas noites inesquecíveis das terras do Zambeze.

.

Como pássaros desconfiados
incorruptos voando com estrelas nas asas meus olhos
enormes de pesadelos e fantasmas estranhos motorizados
e minhas maravilhosas mãos escuras raízes do cosmos
nostálgicas de novos ritos de iniciação
dura da velha rota das canoas das tribos
e belas como carvões de micaias
na noite das quizumbas.
E a minha boca de lábios túmidos
cheios da bela virilidade ímpia de negro
mordendo a nudez lúbrica de um pão
ao som da orgia dos insectos urbanos
apodrecendo na manhã nova
cantando a cega-rega inútil das cigarras obesas.

.

Oh! E meus belos dentes brancos de marfim espoliado
puros brilhando na minha negra reencarnada face altiva
e no ventre maternal dos campos da nossa indisfrutada colheita de milho
o cálido encantamento selvagem da minha pele tropical.

.

Ah! E meu
corpo flexível como o relâmpago fatal da flecha de caça
e meus ombros lisos de negro da Guiné
e meus músculos tensos e brunidos ao sol das colheitas e da carga
e na capulana austral de um céu intangível
os búzios de gente soprando os velhos sons cabalísticos de África.

.

Ah!
o fogo
a lua
o suor amadurecendo os milhos
a grande irmã água dos nossos rios moçambicanos
e a púrpura do nascente no gume azul dos seios das montanhas.

.

Ah! Mãe África no meu rosto escuro de diamante
de belas e largas narinas másculas
frementes haurindo o odor florestal
e as tatuadas bailarinas macondes
nuas
na bárbara maravilha eurítmica
das sensuais ancas puras

e no bater uníssono dos mil pés descalços.

.

Oh! E meu peito da tonalidade mais bela do bréu
e no embondeiro da nossa inaudita esperança gravado
o tótem mais invencível tótem do Mundo
e minha voz estentórea de homem do Tanganhica,
do Congo, Angola, Moçambique e Senegal.

.

Ah! Outra vez eu chefe zulo
eu azagaia banto
eu lançador de malefícios contra as insaciáveis
pragas de gafanhotos invasores.
Eu tambor
Eu suruma
Eu negro suaíli
Eu Tchaca
Eu Mahazul e Dingana
Eu Zichacha na confidência dos ossinhos mágicos do tintlholo
Eu insubordinada árvore de Munhuana
Eu tocador de presságios nas teclas das timbilas chopes
Eu caçador de leopardos traiçoeiros
E xiguilo no batuque.
E nas fronteiras de água do Rovuma ao Incomáti
Eu-cidadão dos espíritos das luas
carregadas de anátemas de Moçambique.

.     .     .

Illustrações de José Craveirinha Junior, da segunda edição de “Xigubo”(1980, Edições 70)

.     .     .     .     .


O Festival Internacional do Tambor Muhtadi: “Quero ser tambor” / “I want to be a drum”

ZP_Muhtadi Festival in Toronto_June 9th 2013_AA performer deeply involved in the energy of The Drum_Muhtadi International Drumming Festival in Toronto_June 9th 2013_photograph by Elisabeth Springate

.

José Craveirinha

(1922–2003, Maputo, Moçambique)

Quero ser tambor”

.

Tambor está velho de gritar
Oh velho Deus dos homens
deixa-me ser tambor
corpo e alma só tambor
só tambor gritando na noite quente dos trópicos.

.

Nem flor nascida no mato do desespero
Nem rio correndo para o mar do desespero
Nem zagaia temperada no lume vivo do desespero
Nem mesmo poesia forjada na dor rubra do desespero.

.

Nem nada!

.

Só tambor velho de gritar na lua cheia da minha terra
Só tambor de pele curtida ao sol da minha terra
Só tambor cavado nos troncos duros da minha terra.

.

Eu!

.

Só tambor rebentando o silêncio amargo da Mafalala
Só tambor velho de sentar no batuque da minha terra
Só tambor perdido na escuridão da noite perdida.

.

Ó velho Deus dos homens
eu quero ser tambor
e nem rio
e nem flor
e nem zagaia por enquanto
e nem mesmo poesia.

.

Só tambor ecoando como a canção da força e da vida
Só tambor noite e dia
dia e noite só tambor
até à consumação da grande festa do batuque!

.

Oh velho Deus dos homens
deixa-me ser tambor
só tambor!

.

ZP_Muhtadi Festival in Toronto_June 9th 2013_CIsshin Daiko (“One Heart” Japanese-traditional drummers)_Muhtadi International Drumming Festival in Toronto_June 9th 2013_photograph by Elisabeth Springate

.

José Craveirinha

I want to be a drum”

.

The drum is all weary from screaming

Oh ancient God of mankind
let me be a drum because I want to be a drum
body and soul – just a drum
just a drum playing in the hot tropical night.

I don’t want to be a flower born in the forest of despair
I don’t want to be a river flowing toward the sea of despair
I don’t want to be an assegai spear tempered in the hot flame of despair
Not even a poem forged in the searing pain of despair.

.

Nothing like that – I want to be a drum!

.

Just a drum worn from wailing in the full moon of my land
Just a drumskin cured in the sun of my land
Just a drum carved from the solid tree trunks of my land.

.

Just a drum splitting the bitter silence of Mafalala village
Just a drum worn from sitting in on the batuque jam-sessions of my land
Just a drum lost in the darkness of the lost night.

.

Oh ancient God of mankind
I want to be a drum – just a drum
not a river
not a flower
not an assegai spear just for now
and not even a poem – I don’t want to be a poem.
Only a drum echoing like the song of strength and life
Only a drum night and day,
day and night, only a drum
until the final great batuque jam session!
Oh ancient God of mankind
let me be a drum
just a drum!

.     .     .

Mafalala – a neighbourhood or bairro in the city of Maputo, Mozambique

batuque – festival of drumming

assegai – an African hardwood, used to make the iron-tipped “zagaia” spear

.

ZP_Muhtadi Festival in Toronto_June 9th 2013_BDhol Circle_Muhtadi International Drumming Festival in Toronto_June 9th 2013_photograph by Elisabeth Springate

.

José Craveirinha  é considerado o poeta maior de Moçambique. Em 1991, tornou-se o primeiro autor africano galardoado com o Prémio Camões, o mais importante prémio literário da língua portuguesa.

José Craveirinha (1922 – 2003) was a Mozambican journalist, short-story writer, and poet.  He was the child of a Portuguese father and a black (Ronga) Mozambican mother.  An impassioned supporter of the anti-Colonial group Frelimo during the Portuguese Colonial War/War of Liberation, he was imprisoned from 1966 to 1974.  Craveirinha was one of the pioneers of Poesia Moçambicana da Negritude, a literary movement that highlighted African traditions and the reaffirmation of African values.

.

Master drummer Muhtadi Thomas came to Canada in 1974 from Trinidad and Tobago.  He settled in Toronto where he has established himself as the premier percussion-instrument mentor among students in the city’s school and community programmes.  He plays djembe, bongos, congas, timbales, plus T&T’s steel pan – among other world drums.   June 8th and 9th, 2013, marked the 14th year of the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival.

.

Our thanks to Professor Kwachirere of the University of Zimbabwe for his Portuguese-into-English poem translation

.     .     .     .     .


Rita Bouvier: Nakamowin’sa kahkiyaw ay’sînôwak kici / Wordsongs for all human beings

Gabriel Dumont, Métis Leader, photographed by Orlando Scott Goff, around 1886-1888

.

Rita Bouvier ( Île-à-la-Crosse (Sakittawak), Saskatchewan )

that was a long time ago, and here we are today

.

that was a long time ago

and here we are today

.

listen, listen

the heart of the land beats

.

our children curious

as all children are

will ask the right questions

.

why does a nation take up arms

in a battle knowing it will lose?

knowing it will lose

.

listen, listen

the heart of the land beats

.

when the long night turns to day

remember, hope is the morning

a songbird’s prayer

.     .     .

I am created

(for my father, Emile)

.

I am created by a natural bond

between a man and a woman,

but this one, is forever two.

one is white, the Other, red.

a polarity of being, absorbed

as one.  I am nature with clarity.

.

against my body, white rejects red

and red rejects white.  instinctively,

I have learned to love – I have learned to live

though the politics of polarity

is never far away.  still, I am

waiting, waiting.

.     .     .

a spider tale

.

behind the shed

in the tall yellow grass

a cardboard box

is my make-believe home

no one can see me

but I can see

all

their comings

and goings

my auntie Albertine

is washing clothes today

and needs the power

of my long arms

and lanky legs

to haul pails and pails

of water from the lake

.

I watch

as she searches for me

mumbles something about

kihtimigan – that lazy one

walks back inside the house

and out again

calling my name

.

when I appear

out of nowhere

she looks relieved to see me

nitânis, tânitê oma î kîtotîyin?”

my daughter, where in the world have you been?”

I tell her –

I was here all along

.

what I don’t tell her is

that I have been spinning tales

trying to understand

the possibility of…

myself as a spider

all legs

travelling here and there

with disturbing speed

my preoccupation with food

my home a web

so intricate and fragile

yet strong as sinew

.

today I remembered

not as sure footed

as I would like to be

someone calling my name

I lost my footing

falling, falling

.     .     .

we say we want it all

.

we fight amongst ourselves

jealous, one of us is standing.

.

there are no celebrations

for brave deeds among the chaos, instead

.

we joing the banner call for rights

forgetting an idea from the past –

.

responsibility.  we join the march

for freedom, forgetting an idea

.

from the past – peace keeping.

we say we want, want it all

.

a piece of the action we know destroys

our home – our relations with each other

.

we are mired so deep, drowning

in our own thinking, thinking

.

we too could have it all, if only…

if only we could see ourselves

Louis Riel's two children, Jean-Louis and Angelique, age 6 and 5_photographed at Steele and Wings studio in Winnipeg_around 1888Louis Riel’s two children, Jean-Louis and Angélique, ages 6 and 5, photographed at Steele and Wings studio in Winnipeg, 1888

.

Riel is dead, and I am alive

.

I listen passively while strangers

claim monopoly of the truth.

one claims Riel is hero

while the other insists Riel was mad.

.

I can feel a tension rising, a sterile talk

presenting the life of a living people,

sometime in eighteen eighty five.

now, some time in nineteen ninety five

.

a celebration of some odd sort.

I want to scream.  listen you idiots,

Riel is dead! and I am alive!

instead, I sit there mute and voiceless.

.

the truth unravelling, as academics

parade their lines, and cultural imperialists

wave their flags.  this time the gatling gun

is academic discourse, followed

.

by a weak response of political rhetoric.

all mumbo-jumbo for a past that is

irreconcilable.  this much I know

when I remember – I remember

.

my mother – her hands tender, to touch

my grandmother – her eyes, blue, the sky

my great grandmother – a story, a star gazer

who could read plants, animals and the sky.

.     .     .

that’s three for you

.

a young man came to me one day wanting

to understand me – the distance between

separate worlds, his and mine, his and mine.

surely, he begged, we could forsake the past

for the future, yours and mine, yours and mine.

.

I listened intently trying to find

the right words to say, to reassure him

my intentions, telling my story – the same.

I told him perhaps the past remembered

holds our future, yours and mine, yours and mine.

.

I wish it was easy to forget

as it is writing this poem for you.

I wish I could believe, I wish we could

break this damn cycle of separate worlds.

I wish I wish I wish.  that’s three for you.

.     .     .

last night at Lydia’s

.

Celtic toe-tapping fiddle

Red River jigging rhythm

runs in my veins

a surge like lightning

.

that testosterone

in the mix tonight.

ohhhh, it feels good

to be alive

.

plaid shirted, tight blue jeans

good-looking, knows it kind-a-man

you hurt my eyes

.

pony-tailed, dark skinned

women in arm kind-a-man

your hurt my eyes

.

rugged, canoe-paddling

handsome kind-a-man

you hurt my eyes

.

muscle busting, v-necked

silver buckled kind-a-man

you hurt my eyes

.

cool leathered, scotch-sipping

drinking kind-a-man

you hurt my eyes

.

quiet wire-rimmed

spectacled kind-a-man

you hurt my eyes

.

you – you – you –

holding my hand kind-a-man

ohhhh, you hurt my eyes

Shane Yellowbird_Cree country-music singer from Alberta

.

hand on hand

.

we made a pact but you were only three.

I was so much older I should have known

better.  I promised then to take care of you

as long as my hands were bigger than yours.

.

in return, you promised to take care of

me, when your hands would grow bigger than mine.

today, you came to me wanting to measure

your hand against mine;  I said, go away

.

your hands growing way, way too fast for me.

just then, a thick fog descended across

the street.  you ran into it curious

unafraid, unaware you were disappearing

.

with every step you took.  I ran after you

trying as best as I could to hold on

with you in sight, letting go at each step.

hand on hand we made a pact, you were three.

.     .     .

wordsongs of a warrior

.

what is poetry?  how do I explain

this affliction to my mother

in the language she understands,

words strung together, woven

pieces of memory, naming

and telling the truth in a way

that dances, swings and sways

.

why the subject of my poetry

is sometimes difficult to deliver

why my subjects are terrorized

even controversial, why

the subjects are the essence

of my own being – close to the bone.

.

nakamowin’sa   wordsongs

kahkiyaw ay’sînôwak kici   for all human beings

ta sohkihtama  kipimâsonaw   to give strength on this journey

kitahtawî ayis êkwa   one of these days, for sure now

kam’skâtonanaw   we will find each other

.     .     .

when the silence breaks

.

I am a reluctant speaker

violence not just a physical thing.

.

words are one thing

I can hold them in my hand

later embroider them

like you do fine silk

on white deer hide

if I want.

but dead silence

that’s another matter

there is nothing to hold on to

like the falling

before you awaken.

.

I imagine it this way, simply

kitahtawî êkwa

one of these days now

when the silence breaks

the deer will stop in their tracks

pausing eyes wide

the wolverine will roll over and over

on the hillside, and

you will hear my voice

as if for the first time

distant and then melodic

and you will recognize it

as your very own.

kitahtawî êkwa

.     .     .

a ritual for goodbye

(in memory of Albertine)

.

walking the shoreline

this crisp spring morning

in our matching

red-line rubber boots

my cousin and I

are reminiscing

the days gone by

.

I remember first

one early spring

the water so low

we could get

from one island

to the next

our clothes piled high

over our heads

.

she remembers then

no human debris

like there is now

just the odd

piece of driftwood

she reminded me

we wondered then

where it came from

a guessing game

.

walking the shoreline

this crisp spring morning

our walk is certain

clinging close

to what we know best

this shoreline, this bond,

we don’t speak of the fact

that our aunt is dying

.     .     .

earthly matters

.

when I came to your grave site

late last fall, a chill in the air,

I was feeling sorry for myself.

I came looking for a sign

one might say it was –

guidance on earthly matters.

.

lifting my face skyward

I found nothing but blue sky.

I searched the horizon,

it was then I discovered

a la Bouleau in the distance.

I smiled, recalling

that walk we took

through the new cemetery

on a break from city life.

you didn’t want to be buried

near the saints anyway,

roped in, in a chain-link fence.

you were pointing out,

as if it were a daily business

family plots here and there.

best of all, you claimed

you had selected the ideal plot

for yourself and your family,

a la Bouleau in the distance.

.     .     .

All poems © Rita Bouvier – from her Thistledown Press collection entitled Papîyâhtak.   In the Cree language Papîyâhtak means:  to act in a thoughtful way,  a respectful way,  a joyful way,  a balanced way.

.

Rita Bouvier is a journeyer who searches along the way.  Her poems are unafraid to take chances;  they are complex in emotion, unsparing in intellect.  Papîyâhtak includes a number of poems written for actors in The Batoche Musical which was conceived and developed by a theatre and writers’ collective and performed at Back to Batoche Days in Batoche, Saskatchewan.  The poem That was a long time ago, and we are here today was inspired by an essay written by South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.

.     .     .

Gabriel Dumont (1837 – 1906) was a leader of the Métis people in what is now the province of Saskatchewan.  It was Dumont who brought the exiled Louis Riel (1844 – 1885) back to Canada to pressure Canadian authorities to recognize the Métis as a Nation.  Sharpshooter with a rifle, Dumont was Riel’s chief right-hand man and he led the Métis forces in the North-West Resistance (or Rebellion – as Ottawa-centric history books described it) of 1885.

Louis Riel was one of the towering Hero figures of Canadian history.  For more on Riel – and a letter/poem he wrote to Sir John A. Macdonald, his ideological opposite – (along with a letter/poem addressed to Macdonald by contemporary Métis poet Marilyn Dumont) – click the following ZP link for January 11th, 2012:

http://zocalopoets.com/category/poets-poetas/marilyn-dumont/

.     .     .     .     .


Hydro-Electricity and Eeyou Istchee (The People’s Land): a Cree poet’s perspective

A segment of the massive James Bay hydroelectric project in Québec_ photograph © David Maisel

.

Margaret Sam-Cromarty (born 1936, Fort George Island, James Bay, Québec)

“Rivers”

.

Tears are like rivers;

they never stop flowing.

Rivers are like tears;

they become dry.

.     .     .

“Sphagnum Moss (Baby Moss)”

.

By my door she stood,

an old bag in her hand.

The bag she held

was full of moss from the land.

.

She asked me: Do you need

fresh moss for baby?

Yes, I said,

it keeps the baby dry.

.

She smiled, If you want

I will get more for you.

Knowing her skill,

I nod my head.

.

She goes early to the wet swamps

to find and pick moss

for a little baby.

.

She never wears gloves,

her hands red from cold.

She loves

gathering the soft moss.

.

She chooses a spot

where the sun shines a lot.

The wet cold moss has to dry

before she brings some to me.

.

Over the years I never used

anything so soft and fine

for a baby’s behind

as the moss she brought with a smile.

.     .     .

“A Cree Child”

.

On the east coast of James Bay

both governments didn’t care.

Other matters were more important

than a Cree child

who sometimes had little to eat.

.

There was no dancing,

no feasting,

in this, the height of the Depression.

The Indians had a passion –

hunting and following

the fur-bearing animals.

.

But the price of furs

was at its lowest.

The Crees did their best

to feed and clothe themselves.

.

In the early days

Crees’ lives

meant the Hudson Bay Company

traders who sometimes denied

Indians credit.

.

The church played a part,

an important role,

saw the suicidal conditions,

decided it best to save souls.

.

I recall small steps

in the cold Northern snow,

a sweet life taken,

a little boy with no shoes.

.

Deeply moved, I weep.

He was my brother.

The now-derelict ferry to Fort George Island just off the Chisasibi Road_near James Bay in Québec

.

“Memories of Fort George

and of Alice who lived there until her death”

.

My memories of Fort George

are warm and sad.

Down by the river banks

cooled by gentle breezes

from the open bay

the elders sit on the tall grass

playing checkers all day.

.

Someone shouts, “I see the ship”.

Mr. Duncan, the storekeeper,

is down by the Hudson Bay dock.

Game forgotten, they watch

as John the Native navigator

safely guides the supply ship.

.

Navigation by John and other Crees

was needed by captains.

There were no light beacons

to mark the dangerous

sandbars and rock.

Fort George Island never

joined the mainland.

.

The excitement reached the teepees

surrounding the grounds

of the Hudson Bay store.

Women and children rush to the river,

the smell of smoke in their clothing,

to welcome the supply ship.

.

Another big event –

the long midsummer’s eve service.

The Native catechists

in white robes against the crimson sunset,

the women in bright shawls,

the men in their best clothes,

babies with happy smiles.

.

My memories of a hunt

of the coastal people:

a big seal, a white whale.

Someone shouted, “We share –

bring your pots and pans.”

No money changes hands.

The same sharing if someone

kills a black bear

among the inland people.

.

My fondest memory

is of a lovely lady.

Her baked bannock – so good.

I see her sitting in her smoke teepee,

around her the sweet smell

of many spruce boughs.

.     .     .

“James Bay”

.

James Bay, my home,

is closer than the moon,

its regions so bare,

aloof and remote.

.

Hudson Bay flows

to James Bay,

both beautiful,

wild and free.

.

The rugged coasts

of James Bay and Hudson Bay,

their charm

meets my eyes.

.

The sights and sounds

of James Bay.

They wrap around me,

giving me peace.

.     .     .

“Black Island”

.

I love your high cliffs,

your rocky shores,

the sounds of surf

and the shadows of a midsummer’s eve.

.

I love your coves,

the strong winds

causing high tides

and heavy fog.

.

I love the smell of seaweed

on your beaches, and driftwood,

the hot breezes from the south

causing low tides, bringing sinking mud.

.

I love the rumble of thunder

far away,

lightning zig-zags across the sky,

creatures seeking shelter.

.

I love to hear the wild ducks

feeding in the marshes,

the white gulls hovering,

the heat wave shimmering.

.

I love the islands

in James Bay:

Governor’s Island, Fort George Island,

Grassy Island and Ship Island.

.     .     .

“Steel Towers”

.

One cold day

I stood on the shores of James Bay.

The sun shone bright, the sky blue.

I wanted to find a clue.

.

Why, among the spruce and pine

rows of steel towers stood in line.

They were out of place,

near and Indian camp.

.

Looking for white birds’ tracks,

instead as I turn my back

Tracks of bulldozers meet my sight –

Ruining the landscape in the fading light.

.

Against the sky and beyond

stand stark steel towers.

In this harsh land of ice and snow

these steel towers are colder than forty below.

.

We Cree live in harmony

on this beautiful land.

In a land where no man had trod,

in the fresh snow I read

.

Signs of upheaval of black earth.

Bulldozers making roads

and steel towers standing tall.

.     .     .

“Promises”

(for the many who committed suicide in Chisasibi)

.

I am alone.

I feel so lost.

I am not in need

of material things.

.

I am confused.

Looking at myself

I abuse

love and understanding.

.

Stay with me, for my sake.

Despair I have.

No one hears

my pleas.

.

We lived in fancy houses –

no more outhouses.

The leaders of my people

made promises and promises.

.

I love to learn,

to assure myself

I have a reason

to save my soul.

.

In shame I suffer.

Nobody to ease my hurt.

I found myself afraid,

the problems too great.

.     .     .

“Life”

.

In this time

of steel

and of speed,

we need

poetry.

Like a friend

warm and true

shedding a tear.

See it hang,

roll down,

feel things unseen.

Drawn

to things we see,

like the setting sun

of breathtaking colours.

A new dawn:

in its blue-shadow world

things move so fast.

.

Now moving faster and faster.

.     .     .

Margaret Sam-Cromarty, Cree mother, grandmother, and poet, was among about 5,000 Native people whose villages and hunting lands were flooded as part of the province of Québec’s huge hydro-electricity projects involving many rivers which drain into James Bay (the lower portion of Hudson Bay).  Damming, river diversion, the creation of huge reservoirs – all of this has reconfigured the surrounding landscape – submerging vast tracts of Boreal forest (black spruce and bogs, mainly) under water, and making mercury contamination a health issue (fish and drinking water).  Caribou migration, waterfowl habitat, salmon spawning – all have been affected adversely.  The massive water-energy-harnessing infrastructure building-boom began in 1971 (with the construction of the first permanent road into the “taiga” landscape, the James Bay Road) and continues into 2013.  It has included the La Grande Project (which saw the elimination of Sam-Cromarty’s birthplace-island, Fort George Island, as a habitable place – and the relocation of Cree villagers from FGI and neighbouring settlements to the government-planned town of Chisasibi in 1981);  and the Great Whale Project – a lightning rod for environmental political activism in the early 1990s – which saw Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come garner favourable publicity as he “canoed” to New York City – from Hudson Bay to the Hudson River – and New York State (the #1 hydroelectric energy client of Hydro-Québec) decided not to sign yet another energy agreement with the province.  But North America’s appetite for Energy does not lessen;  the Eastmain and Sarcelle generating stations have since been built, and 70% of the Rupert River was diverted in 2009-2010.  In this latest phase Québec has signed a cooperation agreement over environmental regulations and impact with the Grand Council of the Crees representing 18,000 Crees living on or near present – and future – Hydro Project lands.  One thing is for sure by now, and the poet knows it:   You cannot go Home again – only in dreams and poems.

.     .     .     .     .


Nous connaissons le secret de la petite épinette / We know the secret of the little spruce: poèmes d’une Aînée Crie / poems of a Cree Elder

.

Margaret Sam-Cromarty (née à l’île Fort George, La baie James, Québec, 1936)

“Un étranger très élégant”

.

Un jour, dans un village nordique,

tout le monde se préparait

en vue du départ

pour la chasse printanière.

Vers le début de la soirée,

les enfants en train de jouer ont commencé à crier:

“Nous voyons venir un étranger.

Il est bien habillé.”

.

En effet, l’étranger était saisissant.

Personne ne semblait le connaître.

Les jeunes filles tournaient autour de lui…

les mouches aussi.

.

On l’invita à l’intérieur de la tente.

La chaleur du feu de camp

mit l’étranger mal à l’aise.

Tout le monde se demandait pourquoi.

.

Souriant aux jeunes filles,

il sortit prendre l’air.

Une mauvaise odeur flottait derrière lui

et les mouches lui bourdonnaient tout autour.

.

Les jeunes filles voulaient qu’il reste

mais il est parti comme il était venu.

Bientôt il disparut,

laissant les jeunes filles à leur tristesse.

.

L’une d’entre elles suivit ses traces

qui la menèrent à un tas de fumier.

La chaleur avait fait fondre l’étranger.

Les mouches bourdonnaient et chantaient:

“Merde et vielles guenilles,

merde et vielles guenilles,

s’étaient changées en homme!”

.     .     .

“The Handsome Stranger”

.

Once in a northern village

people were making ready

to move away

for the spring hunt.

.

Now it was towards evening

when children at play began to shout

“We see a stranger coming.

He is smartly dressed.”

Indeed the stranger was striking.

No one seemed to know him.

The young girls hung around him.

So did the flies.

.

He was invited inside the tent.

The heat from the campfire

made the stranger uncomfortable.

Everyone wondered why.

.

Smiling at the girls

he went outside for the air.

The stranger left a wave of smell

and buzzing flies behind.

.

The young girls wanted him to stay

but he left the way he came.

Soon he disappeared,

leaving the girls sad.

.

One of them followed his tracks

until they led to manure.

He had melted from the heat.

Flies buzzing around sang:

“Shit and old rags,

shit and old rags,

turned himself into a man.”

.     .     .

“Un garçon”

.

Des cheveux noirs comme du jais

qu’il avait de naissance,

Des yeux noirs

qui brillaient d’un amour chaleureux.

.

De mains fines,

de bonnes mains de musicien.

Ce garçon a découvert

que grandir était douloureux.

.

Il préférait attraper des grenouilles,

taquiner sa soeur,

serrer ses bras

autour de sa mère.

.

Il a grandi,

aussi grand qu’un arbre.

Une personne gentille,

ce garçon qui est le mien!

.     .     .

“Boy”

.

His jet black hair

he had from birth

His dark eyes

flashed loving warmth

.

His fine shaped hands

right for a musician

This boy who found

Growing up a pain

.

He’d rather catch frogs

tease his sister

Throw his arms

around his mother

.

He has grown

tall as a tree

A gentle person

this boy of mine

.     .     .

“Une fille”

.

Une fille aux yeux noirs et brillants,

au sourire doux et timide,

à la peau fine cuivrée,

qui n’a pas besoin du soleil d’été.

.

Elle avait

de longs cheveux d’ébène.

Plusieurs étaient d’accord:

elle était belle.

.

C’était le vent.

C’était le ciel.

C’était ma fille…

Mary.

.     .    .

“Girl”

.

A girl her dark eyes bright

Her smile shy and sweet

Her fine copper skin

needs no summer sun

.

She was blessed

with long raven hair

many agreed

she was fair

.

She was wind

She was sky

She was my daughter

Mary

.     .     .

“Maman”

.

Une mère

passe à travers

les rejets, les dépressions,

la solitude et les critiques.

.

C’est une femme courageuse

douée d’un humour fin.

Une créature qu’on appelle

Maman.

.     .     .

“Mother”

.

A mother

goes through

rejections, depressions

.

Loneliness and criticism

.

A courageous woman

with gentle humour,

a creature known as

Mother

.     .     .

“Maris et Femmes”

.

Le mari est le ciel

et la femme le nuage.

.

Parfois le ciel

apporte le vent

et le nuage une pluie rafraîchissante.

.

Parfois les nuages

se regroupent

et apportent orages et vents.

Maris et femmes font de même.

.

Maris et femmes dérivent séparément

comme les nuages le font parfois.

Mais au milieu de nuages gris,

jaillit le ciel bleu clair.

.

Comme les nuages se rassemblent

pour former le temps,

ainsi font maris et femmes

pour mener leurs vies.

.

Les anneaux autour du soleil

nous rappellent le mauvais temps.

Les anneaux du mari et de la femme

scellent un amour infini.

.     .     .

“Husbands and Wives”

.

Husband is the sky

a wife the cloud

.

Sometimes the sky

brings wind,

the cloud a refreshing rain

.

Sometimes the clouds

form to gather

It brings storms and winds

Husbands and wives do the same

.

Husbands and wives drift apart

like clouds sometimes do

But between the greyish clouds

burst bright blue skies

.

As the clouds come to gather

to create our weather

So do husbands and wives

carry on with their lives

.

The rings around the sun

remind us of bad weather

The rings of husbands and wives

shield a love forever

.     .     .

“La gentillesse”

.

La gentillesse, c’est faire cuire de la banic,

mélanger la farine et la levure.

Il faut y mettre de l’eau.

.

Pour faire une bonne banic,

on y ajoute de l’huile.

Dans nos vies,

on a besoin de la gentillesse.

.

La gentillesse est comme les graines.

Beaucoup se perdent.

Pas de graine,

Pas de gentillesse.

.     .     .

“Kindness”

.

Kindness is baking bannock

blending flour, baking powder

It’s natural to put water

.

A good bannock

oil is added

In our lives

kindness is needed

.

Kindness is like grain

many are lost

without grain

without kindness

.     .     .

“La Paix”

.

Trouvez la paix dans le silence,

le silence qui règne ici.

Le vent froid

purifie la terre.

.

La splendeur.

Il n’y a pas de terreur.

Des tiges de plantes séchées se tiennent

bien droites.

.

Écoutez le vent impétueux.

Regardez les sentiers blancs, les grands cercles,

la rivière tranquille,

le ciel, bon et puissant.

.     .     .

“Peace”

.

Find peace in silence

Silence it reigns here

The cold wind

Purifies the land

.

The splendour

There is no terror

Stalks of dried plants stand

upright

.

Hear the rushing wind

See the white paths, the wide circles

A quiet river,

the sky, bold and good.

.     .     .     .     .

Quelques pensées de la poétesse:

Mon père et ma mère étaient des Cris.  Ils vivaient à la baie James.  C’est là que je suis née, dans le village de l’île Fort George, où la rivière La Grande se jette dans la baie James.  J’ai appris à parler et à écrire l’anglais.  Les Cris sont des chasseurs et des trappeurs…Nous comprenons les animaux et les oiseaux…Nous connaissons le secret de la petite épinette…Et nous écoutons nos frères et soeurs comme nos Aînés nous l’ont enseigné…  (Maintenant) nous vivons à Chisasibi… Et c’est aussi là que grandissent nos petits-enfants…  Dans ma mémoire vibre encore le village de Fort George, un village qui n’a pas été inondé ni abandonné et qui est plein de Cris joyeux.  C’est de cette façon que je veux me rappeler l’île de Fort George…

Some thoughts from the poet:

My father and mother were Cree.  Their home was James Bay in Northern Québec.  This is where I was born, at a Cree village of Fort George Island, where the La Grande River empties into James Bay.  I was taught to speak and write English.  My people, the Crees, are hunters and trappers… We understand the animals and birds… We know the secret of the little spruce… And we hear our brothers and sisters the way our Elders taught us…  (We) now live in a town called Chisasibi… Our grandchildren are growing up in Chisasibi…  In my memory stands a Cree village of Fort George not flooded or abandoned but full of happy Crees… It’s the way I would like to remember Fort George Island…

.

Editor’s note:  Chisasibi or  ᒋᓴᓯᐱ  in Cree syllabics (meaning Great River) is a town created by the Québec government to relocate Crees who were forced from their James Bay watershed lands (including Fort George Island) because of damming/redirecting of tributary rivers flowing into the La Grande River as part of Hydro-Québec’s James Bay Project which began in the 1970s and continues into the present day.

.     .     .     .     .


“Nêhiyâwin” / “The Cree Way” – as told by Harry Blackbird

Cree Elder Harry Blackbird

(born in the 1920s at Waterhen Lake First Nation,

roots in Makwa Sahgaiehcan (Loon Lake) First Nation, Saskatchewan, Canada)

“Nêhiyâwin”

.

Pêyakwâw êsa mîna ê-nanipât awa pêyak kisîyiniw, kâ-pawâtât onôtokwêma ê-pê-kiyokâkot. nikotwâsik askîy aspin ê-kî-nakataskîyit. êkwa ôma êkwa otahcahkwa kâ- pê-kiyokêyit. mitoni pîkwêyihtam êsa awa kisiyiniw, êkwa ôma ê-kamwâcipayit, ê- simatapit. nohtê-kiskêyihtam ôma, tânêhki kâ-pê-itohtêyit.

.

Mâci-pîkiskwêyiwa êsa ê-itikot, “ê-pê-itisahot ôma Mâmawi-ohtâwîmâw ta-pê- wihtamâtân kîkway. ana ohci oskinikîs kâ-kî-nakataskît ôta namôya kayâs.

.

Ispî kâ-takohtêt ôtê ahcahk-askîhk, pê-nakiskâk oskâpêwisa ê-kiskinohtahikot ê- wêhcasiniyik mêskanaw. pêyakwâyak anita, nîswâyak paski-môniyâw ôma mêskanaw nistam anima kihciniskêhk k-êsi-paskêmok mêskanaw, êyako pimitisahamwak. êyako mîna mitoni miywâsin ta-pimitisahamihk. piyisk kêtahtawê k-ôtihtahkik ita ê-ayâwiht tâskôc ê-wâ-wîkihk. sêmâk ôhi wîci-oskâya pêyakwan ê-ispihcisiyit, kâ-pê-nakiskâkot, êkoni ôhi osk-âya mêtoni nanâkatohkâtik.

.

Kâ-mâci-pîkiskwâtikot ôhi oskâya ê-nêhiyawêyit. mâka namôya nisitohtawêw awa oskinikîs tânisi ê-itwêyit âta wîsta ê-nêhiyawêt. ahpô mîna apihkêw tâskôc mâna ôki nêhiyawak mitoni kâ-pimitisahakik onêhiyâwininiwâw. pîkwêyihtam ê-wanihkêt awa oskinîkîs. âsamîna sipwêhtahik oskâpêwisa kotak êkwa anima mêskanaw ita kâ-kî- ohtohtêcik.

.

Êyako mîna ôma mêskanaw miywâsin êkwa wêhcasin ta-pimitisahamihk. otihtamwak wâskahikana ita câh-cîki ê-wâh-wîkihk. âsamîna êkota kotaka osk-âya pê- nakiskâk mâka êkwa ôki oskâyak namôya cîki pê-nâtik, wâhyawês ohci osâpamik, ê- pômênâkosicik ê-kanawâpamâcik ôhi oskinîkîsa ê-nêhiyâwinâkosiyit. nanitohtawêw ê- kîmôci-pîkiskwêyit. âtiht piko kîkway kâh-kahcicihtam. êkoni êkwa nisitohtawêw oskâya osâm piko ê-âkayâsîmocik, mâka namôya tâpwê cîkêyimik k-îsi-waskawîyit. mâmisihow, ê-pa-pêyakot ê-nitaw-mâmitonêyihtahk tânêhki êkâ nânitaw kâ-kî-wîcihiwêt.

.

Âsamîna êkota ohci sipwêhtahik oskâpêwisa awa oskinîkîs, mâka êkwa êkotê nakatik ita kâ-nîso-paskêmoniyiki mêskanawa, otahcahkwa ê-wanisiniyit mîna ê- papâmâcihoyit êkotê nâyiwâc osâm êkâ ê-ohci-kiskinohamâsot mîna êkâ ohci- wawîyêstahk onêhiyâwiwin mêkwâc ôta askîhk ê-pimâtisit.”

.

“Hâw, kisêyiniw”, itwêw awa nôtokwêw, “otahcahkwa pwâmayî-sipwêhtêt kâwi kiya êkwa piko ta-wihtamawacik, mîna t-âcimostawacik osk-âyak ôma âcimowin k-ôh-pê- itisahokawiyân ta-pê-wihtamâtân.”

“The Cree Way”:  a teaching story told by Cree Elder Harry Blackbird

Translation into English by Mary Anne Martell

.

One day while sleeping, an elderly man was awakened by his deceased wife of six years. She came in spirit form. The elderly man had mixed feelings about this visit but nevertheless managed to remain calm and sat up curious wondering why she had come to visit him.

.

She began to speak, “Listen very carefully… I have been sent by the Creator to tell you about a boy who passed away recently.
.

Upon entering the spirit world he was greeted by an Oskapêwis (Helper) who led the young man down an easy road to follow. At a certain point the road forked going in two directions. They first traveled down the road to the right. This road was also easy to follow. After walking for some time they came to a village. A number of young people about the same age as the youth came running towards him. The group of young people stopped to observe the new boy who’d been brought to them by the Oskapêwis.

.

The young people then began to speak in the language of his ancestry – Nêhiyawêwin (the Cree language). Unfortunately the young man could not make out what they were saying even though he was of the same nation; Nêhiyaw. He even had the two long braids of hair, common trademarks for Nêhiyawak who were following the Nêhiyawin (Cree worldview) way. Confused and feeling lost, the young man was quickly whisked away by the Oskapêwis towards the other road at the fork.

.

This new road was also easy to follow. They came upon a cluster of houses and another group of young people came towards him. Only this time these youth kept their distance with disappointment written all over their faces upon viewing his Aboriginal features. Listening to their conversation as they whispered among themselves, the young man could only make out a few words. He was able to understand these youth because they spoke English, but they obviously weren’t interested in this new boy by their behaviour. He felt betrayed, alone and wondered why he didn’t fit in.

.

The Oskapêwis once again whisked him away and this time left the young man at the fork of the road. His spirit is lost and wandering now because while alive he hadn’t learned to find his way.”

.

“Now, my husband,” the deceased wife’s spirit added just before she vanished, “it is up to you to make certain that young Indian children are told this story I have been sent here to tell you.”

.     .     .     .     .

Top photograph:   Napéu (Man)_Cree_1926 photograph by Edward Curtis

Middle photograph:   Louis Nomee, Kalispel, Montana_photograph by Richard T. Lewis_1940s

Bottom photograph:   An Elder congratulates a boy upon his completion of Grade 6 at an Awasis Day event in Edmonton, Alberta_June 2005.


Mosha Folger: “Leaving my Cold Self behind”

Mosha Folger a.k.a. M.O. was born in Iqaluit.  He is a poet spoken word and hiphop artist.

Mosha Folger

“Ancient Patience”

.

If you look back to the North

A couple of thousand years ago

To where the Atlantic ice fields

Battle the granite shield of the Arctic coast

You’d find a man staking claim to a land

That just doesn’t seem inhabitable

an Eskimo

a patient hunter who stood unmoving for hours

crouched over small bumps in the ice

subtle seal-breathing holes

Wicked winds pushing the temperature back down

from the comfort of twenty below

Facing the low sun so his shadow fell back

away from his goal

Waiting for a freezing breathe-out

to break the crystal white flatness of snow

.

Arm cocked, harpoon ready

eyes unblinking, blazing their own little holes

in the ice floe

Mouth closed, breath low

Because less movement, less sound

meant the night’s dinner was more likely to show

Yet sometimes that hunter

stood till the moon rose

before he finally shifted, breathed hard

and set off for home with nothing but cold toes

Nothing to bloody his wife’s arms to the elbows

Nothing to warm the guts of five kids

or silence the dogs’ moans

.

Nothing but the knowledge that

the next day when he woke

to stand again over that hole

maybe, just maybe

a seal would finally show him his nose

so the harpoon could come down

to deliver its lethal blow

Or maybe, just maybe

no

.

It’s that patience that allowed my people

to settle down and call the Arctic

our home.

.     .     .

“Summer Play”

.

In the Arctic desert where

the earth is sand and rocks

and the lichen cling

to the frayed edges of life

in granite fields

and the wet season feels like

three days of monsoon rains

.

In that place

patches of pavement

to a kid are

hallowed grounds

where devout children

offer their time

as sacrifice

with an endless circling of bikes

and an incessant bouncing of balls

like the pounding

and kneading

of rubber into cement

could stretch out

that holy land

.

How wondrous that

a tiny square of earth

can be home to so many

boundless dreams

.

But the reality is mostly

the sand and rocks

and gravel roads, and so

the games played adapt

games of writing

or drawing in the sand

and for one reason or another

chasing each other around

.

A television drawn in the dirt

with movies and shows

initialed inside

to be guessed at

D dot P dot S dot and

if someone gets it right

a frantic chase ensues

Or I Declare War

with a giant circle divided

into America and the USSR

Canada and sometimes Uganda

where the war of course

is chasing

and the fastest world leader

had dominion over all Man

.

And on the longest nights of daylight

baseball

Inuktitut style where groggy kids

up two days under constant sun

and stumbling

play with a rubber ball

by rules that themselves

are drowsy from the endless light

so the outfield

spans the whole town

making foul balls

as fair as any other

and the bases are run wrongwise

and whacking a runner

with the ball

is an out

.

Which means of course

the rest of the game is secondary

to learning how to throw

to anticipate

to picking off the right kid

in the right spot

every time

.

And so when a parent

with a voice that too

spans the whole town

finally calls in

one too many Expos

the real winners

aren’t on the team

with the most runs

but the team that

on the quick walk home

brags about the best

outs.

.     .    .

“Where have all the Shaman gone?”

.

In the blink of an eye

we’ve gone from a culture where

shaman conjured spirits and

swam, fed and bred

with giant Bowhead whales

for months at a time

And people held out hope that

sometime in their life

they’d be lucky enough to witness

that rare instance

of a distant-Inuit visit

Where men from another planet descended

to collect caches of rich seal fat

overloading their space-sleds

before packing up to head back

But blink

and we wake to a world where

all of that’s been reclassified filed and stacked

under the wild imaginations of

savage heathens

still unclean

cause they hadn’t discovered their

one true saviour and

path to heaven yet

Now elected Nunavut officials can be found

in a big hall amongst a big crowd

falling face down

wailing at the top of their lungs

praising Jesus’s name

and speaking in tongues

The holy spirit come upon their earthly vessel

leaving them convulsing

Spastic believers

shaking under the giant blue and white

Israeli flag they’ve hung

.

Inuit in the day

must have been some of the easiest

lost souls to convert

A hard frozen life of

struggle pain and loss made more palatable

with the promise of a kind of

spiritual dessert

Swallow the death cold and starvation down here

and when you die

enjoy the warm salvation up there

And some of those Arctic locals

fell hard for those lies

Or promises I guess you would call them

if you fell on the other side of the line

But it couldn’t have been made easy

or simplistic could it? No,

First the Anglicans and Catholics

split villages and

pit kin against kin

Families feuding over which clan

would really get to go

And which side

picked the wrong guy’s

rules to abide by

They’ve gotten over it now though

living in a kind harmony

that the rest of what we call

civilized society

should get to know

.

But now in the Arctic we have these

evangelical proselytizing types

whose fervour makes the Anglican and Catholic devotion

seem downright secular cause

they’ve got no HYPE

No souls being sucked

from bodies to on high

No chanting and dancing

with arms to the sky

No religious stakes in the continuation

of the state of Palestine

No possession

The craziest thing they’ve got

is a little blood into wine

Maybe a little shaman incantation

would do those folks some good

Could we at least get them a little reading

from the Koran or Talmud?

That’s unlikely though

Their faith blinds them so deep

The Good News Bible’s the only text

their eyes can see

We’ll have to get a closet shaman

to do a little midnight chanting

see if we can’t set some of those zealots free.

.     .     .

“Leaving my Cold Self behind”

.

Now there will be no more falling down

unique crunching packing sound

or children who know no other way to live winter

than to tumble sideways and upside-down

from snow banks ten feet off the ground

There will be no snow wind-blown

from parts unknown to all

but the most trained hunters

who brave the vast white fields alone

There will be no high-pitched wailing moan

of snowmobiles flying down

snow-packed gravel roads

No riders with grins plastered

Reveling in their temporary freedom from

small-town poor-me isolation syndrome

There will be no husky howls to wake me

to call me to their battle with the wind

the wind that howls back in kind

and relentless remorseless never fails to win

There will be no more dancing northern lights

chased from their nightly show

by southern skyline stage-fright

There will be only the warm glow

of a cold city that states its case

with what it sees as some divine right

to throw its gaudy remnants

high and loud into the night

There will be only nights where time is slowed

No sleep no comfort no peace

only this page this pen my words

and my message that

no matter the price sometimes

you just have to come in out of the cold.

.     .     .

“Old Indifferences”

.

Inuit existence was dependent partly on every member

of the encampment being able to at the very least get up

on their own two feet walk across the jagged tundra to follow

the moving caribou so everyone could eat

.

So we adopted an effective means of excising inefficient limbs

from the family tree that left the aged floating on ice pans and

insolent sons turned away to find their own path through

the cruel Arctic days

.

This isn’t a tradition we should reprise as it slides snugly into

its place in the still mostly unwritten Inuit histories but

it has a related convention that’s made its way down into

unofficial modern Inuit custom

.

If you’ve walked downtown Montreal you’ve seen it and in Ottawa

the spring thaw brings about the re-emergence in earnest of the

panhandling Eskimos downtown between the Mall and King Edward

on Rideau Street

.

Whether these people are a nuisance isn’t a question to me because

I have to ask if these people are friends or family maybe a second cousin

and do I have to follow protocol stop and ask a few

inconsequential questions

.

I try to avoid having to do that by changing up my Inuk stride

and remembering that from a distance I could look Thai

but Inuit could never fully ostracize so when I meet one

I stop say hi and try to be polite

.

I ask about my friend their son despite the likelihood that I

was the last to see their child and it hurts inside when they

ask and I have to tell them I hadn’t seen their kid in a little while but that

I knew he wasn’t going to trial

.

It requires a certain distance to sit back and witness these lives with blood

that courses from the same point as mine float away on slabs of concrete ice

but disease strikes and existence has always insisted

on a little bit of indifference.

.

All poems © Mosha Folger

.     .     .

Mosha Folger (aka M.O.) was born in Frobisher Bay, North-West Territories (now called Iqaluit, Nunavut) to an Inuk mother and American father.  A poet, writer, performer, and “Eskimocentric” spoken-word/hiphop rhymer, Mosha has taken part in the Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival, also at WestFest in Ottawa, the Railway Club in Vancouver, and the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik (where he was chosen a Best New Artist).   His video, Never Saw It (2008), combined breakdancing with traditional Inupiat dancing, and was an official selection at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival.  His very-personal film, Anaana, examined the effects of residential school (upon his mother).  His hiphop song Muscox (2009), with Kinnie Starr, includes lyrics that refer to the suicide of a young friend:  “I couldn’t be there when they buried my boy Taitusi … epitome of a boy who should grow into an Inuk man … artistic and witty … too smart for his own good God DAMN, too smart to live shitty … … Not knowing when he died / part of the rest of us went with him.”  In North America circa 1491 (2011) – from his album String Games (with Geothermal M.C.) – he says he’ll “show you how far back in time you can date my rhyme … I’m a native son but I speak a foreign tongue – this is North America circa 1491.”  And:  “I’m out to win this – but the prize isn’t for the witless.”

Hiphop as self-expression for Inuit youth of the next generation younger than Folger is bursting into being, and performers such as Hannah Tooktoo of Nunavik (Northern Québec) effortlessly combine it with the unique “throat singing” of older generations of Inuk.

Mosha has been an active poetry performer in Ottawa, also a member of the Bill Brown 1-2-3 Slam collective.  At Tungasuvvingat Inuit and at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre he has brought the power and the fun of spoken-word and hiphop to teens and children.

.     .     .     .     .


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 136 other followers