Swampy Cree /ᓀᐦᐃᓇᐍᐏᐣ (which has sometimes been known as Maskekon, Omaškêkowak, or anglicized as Omushkego) is a variety of the more widespread Algonquian language – Cree. Swampy Cree has been spoken in Northern Manitoba, central to northeast Saskatchewan, and along the coast of Hudson Bay and James Bay in Northern Ontario. Approximately thirty years ago Swampy Cree had about 4500 native speakers; that number may be as low as 100 today (2014).
“Shaking the Pumpkin”
Translation from Swampy Cree: Howard Norman
One time I wanted two moons
in the sky.
But I needed someone to look up and see
those two moons
because I wanted to hear him
try and convince the others in the village
of what he saw.
I knew it would be funny.
So, I did it.
I wished another moon up!
There it was, across the sky from the old moon.
Along came a man.
Of course I wished him down that open path.
He looked up in the sky.
He had to see that other moon!
One moon for each of his eyes!
He stood looking
up in the sky
a long time.
Then he suspected me, I think.
He looked into the trees
where he thought I might be.
But he could not see me
since I was disguised as the whole night itself!
I wished myself into looking like the whole day,
but this time
I was dressed like the whole night.
Then he said,
“There is something strange
in the sky tonight.”
He said it out loud.
I heard it clearly.
Then he hurried home
and I followed him.
He told the others, “You will not believe this,
but there are ONLY two moons
in the sky tonight.”
He had a funny look on his face.
Then all the others began looking into the woods.
Looking for me, no doubt!
“Only two moons, ha! Who will believe you?
We won’t fall for that!” they all said to him.
They were trying to send the trick back at me!
That was clear to me!
So, I quickly wished a third moon up there
in the sky.
They looked up and saw three moons.
They had to see them!
Then one man
said out loud, “Ah, there, look up!
There is only one moon!
Well, let’s go sleep on this
and in the morning
we will try and figure it out.”
They all agreed, and went in their houses
I was left standing there
with three moons shining on me.
There were three . . . I was sure of it.
all the noises met.
All the noises in the world
met in one place
and I was there
because they met in my house.
My wife said, “Who sent them?”
I said, “Fox or Rabbit,
yes one of those two.
They’re both out for tricking me back today.
Both of them
are mad at me.
Rabbit is mad because I pulled
his brother’s ear
and held him up that way.
Then I ate him.
And Fox is mad because he wanted
to do those things first.”
“Yes, it had to be one of them,”
my wife said.
So, all the noises
These things happen.
Falling-tree noise was there.
Falling-rock noise was there.
Otter-mud-sliding noise was there.
All those noises, and more,
in my house.
“How long do you expect to stay?”
my wife asked them. “We need some sleep!”
They all answered at once!
That’s how my wife and I
sometimes can’t hear well!
I should have wished them all away
. . .
Trickster stories go far back in Cree culture (as elsewhere), but the figure here has been specifically invented by storyteller Jacob Nibenegenesabe, “who lived for some ninety-four years northeast of Lake Winnipeg, Canada.” Nibenegenesabe was also a teller (achimoo) of older trickster narratives, the continuity between old & new never being in question. But the move in the Wishing Bone series is toward a rapidity of plot development & changes, plus a switch into first-person narration as a form of enactment. In the frame for these stories, the trickster figure “has found a wishbone of a snow goose who has wandered into the Swampy Cree region and been killed by a lynx. This person now has a wand of metamorphosis allowing him to wish anything into existence, himself into any situation.” Howard Norman’s method of translation, in turn, involves “first listening to the narratives over & over in the source language, then re-creating them in the same context, story, etc., if notable, ultimately to get a translation word for word.”
[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & later by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years. The full gathering of Howard Norman’s Swampy Cree translations, The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indians, was published by Ross-Erikson Publishing, Santa Barbara, & went out of print with the demise of that press.]
. . .
Three 21st-century Swampy Cree artists:
Itee Pootoogook, an Inuk and artist from Kimmirut, Baffin Island, was born in 1951 to Ishuhungitok and Paulassie Pootoogook. His drawings are characterized by an uncluttered gaze that sees what is directly before it, and an ability to find the profound in the simple. He died earlier this month of cancer; he was 63 years old.
Some artists are rooted in a place; this was Itee Pootoogook, very much so, and his drawings depict life in Nunavut. But great art travels, becomes universal. And so we have gathered poems from Germany, Russia, India and the USA, to accompany a selection of Itee’s drawings…
. . .
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
On a Journey
Don’t be downcast, soon the night will come,
When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret
Over the faint countryside,
And we rest, hand in hand.
Don’t be downcast, the time will soon come
When we can have rest. Our small crosses will stand
On the bright edge of the road together,
And rain falls, and snow falls,
And the winds come and go.
. . .
How Heavy the Days
How heavy the days are,
There’s not a fire that can warm me,
Not a sun to laugh with me,
Everything cold and merciless,
And even the beloved, clear
Stars look desolately down
– Since I learned in my heart that
Love can die.
Translations from the German: James Wright
. . .
Mohan Rana (born 1964, Delhi, India)
I saw the stars far off,
as far as I was from them,
in this moment I saw them,
in a moment of the twinkling past.
In the boundless depths of darkness,
these hours hunt the morning through the night.
And I can’t make up my mind:
am I living this life for the first time?
Or repeating it, forgetting as I live,
that first breath – every time?
Does the fish too drink water?
Does the sun feel the heat?
Does light see the dark?
Does the rain also get wet?
Do dreams ask questions about sleep – as I do?
I walked a long, long way…
and when I saw, I saw the stars – close by.
Today it rained all day long
and words washed away from your face.
Translation from Hindi: Lucy Rosenstein and Bernard O’Donoghue
. . .
Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941)
from: Poems for Blok (1916)
Your name is a—bird in my hand,
a piece of ice on my tongue.
The lips’ quick opening.
Your name—four letters.
A ball caught in flight,
a silver bell in my mouth.
A stone thrown into a silent lake
is—the sound of your name.
The light click of hooves at night
Your name at my temple
—sharp click of a cocked gun.
kiss on my eyes,
the chill of closed eyelids.
Your name—a kiss of snow.
Blue gulp of icy spring water.
With your name—sleep deepens.
Translation from the Russian original: Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine
. . .
Angelyn Hays (Texas/Florida, USA)
One of the Cardinal Seasons
After the hardest snow of the year
the birches huddle in rows.
Ice breaks their wooden bones,
and hangs them by the thumbs
in a March sun too weak to heal them.
Birds call to each other
from the tangle of bare arms.
A red-dark Cardinal feasts in my backyard,
singing to warm his lungs. He enters
just as I am ready to leave.
I had stopped the clock,
put away my mother’s china,
and wanted to sink to timeless black.
But the bird came for me,
signaling me to rise, recall his password.
The window is framed by trees, no longer trees,
sky, no longer sky, but now a watch
by which I measure my days.
Shouting the weight of his pleasure
from fevered beak, he rolls a black eye
and we click off the minute.
Then he swoops over my white garden,
drunk as Li Po, his floating path
a dance on an empty swingset of wind.
Michael Valentine (Maryland, USA)
A Meadow in March
Early Spring snowfall
dusts late Winter bloom
crystalline fractals piling gently
to rest upon vibrant petal
The field now
a riot of pixelated colour
struggling to be seen under
blank canvas tarp of
Winter’s last throes.
Portrait of Nature’s perfect balance
Yin meeting Yang
each becoming the other
flower melts snow into water flowing into flower.
Demonstration of Tao
in this limbo-time between the seasons
that is no longer Winter
and not yet Spring,
when the Universe gives lessons
to remind us that
there is no such thing as
. . .
Mitchell Walters (Temecula, California, USA)
I walked to the river and back.
Something told me I should.
I saw things I hadn’t seen before:
A dog. A deer. A stream.
I saw an old abandoned shack.
It was made entirely of wood.
I walked to the shack and opened the door.
And that was the start of my dream.
. . . . .
Currently, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada, there are works from the permanent collection on view by three conceptual artists who use words – just a phrase, or a crammed page – as the locus of their art. The artists are: Janice Kerbel (born 1969, Canada, now living in London, England); Ron Terada (also 1969, Canada); and Bruce Nauman (born 1941, USA).
Kerbel’s 5-poster series Remarkable, from 2007, presents the viewer with silkscreened prints on what is known as campaign poster paper – something used for 19th-century traveling circus billboard “announcements” or for election hoardings. Using bold black letters on white, Kerbel describes The Regurgitating Lady and The Human Firefly, as if inviting us in to a carnival side-show. Yet her characters are imaginary and so we become completely involved in the artist’s sometimes archaic use of language and her strong typographical arrangements.
Vancouver-based Ron Terada has been very precisely focused in his art on phrases, sentences, written presentation. Twenty years ago he did a series of “ad paintings” that were a branching out of monochromatic minimalism in visual art. He worked in other media for several years then returned in 2010 with the large-scale white-on-black chapter pages of “Jack” (from a biography of painter Jack Goldstein, Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia). Each chapter page is a painting – not a print. To the individual pages of a book, Terada brings the discipline of a serious painter.
Ron Terada’s neon text sculpture, It Is What It Is, It Was What It Was, reflects on present-day use of language, offering a general critique of complacency in society. Severe High makes reference to threat definitions for Homeland Security in the USA.
Bruce Nauman is a multimedia artist who has been heavy on “concept” and “performance”. The online, user-driven encyclopedia Wikipedia describes Nauman’s “practice” as being “characterized by an interest in language, often manifesting itself in a playful, mischievous manner.” And: [Nauman is] fascinated by the nature of communication and language’s inherent problems, as well as the role of the artist as a supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols.”
Among the A.G.O.’s pieces are two lithographs, Ah Ha (1975) and Pay Attention (1973):
The reproduction of Pay Attention shown here (copied many times around the internet) is marred by the lack of print clarity in the word attention, which affects the viewer’s – reader’s ! – ability to quickly “get it”, that is, the power of the statement itself: Pay Attention, Motherfuckers! Interestingly, the print of Pay Attention that belongs to the A.G.O. is much clearer, so that all four words hit the mark. Which is important, especially since the statement is presented to us as a mirror image i.e. backwards.
Some of Nauman’s works now seem dated or stilted, but others have a fresh power in 2014 that comes out of our being awash now in “text” – as all words seem to be called these days – and “text” often without “context”. People’s ubiquitous use of :-) and, most especially, ;-), is indicative of the fact that words and phrases themselves are no longer adequate. What’s the tone – what’s the tone? It’s there you’ll find the meaning. The most effective of all the Nauman works at the A.G.O. is a 1985 videotape installation, Good Boy Bad Boy. There are two older-model TV sets side by side, and each shows its own videocassette of a man – mid-40s black guy, and a woman – mid-40s, white – each of whom speaks a set group of short sentences which are statements, and then does it all over again, but altering the vocal tone. To hear each of them “perform” these statements twice, changing his/her tone, is a simple and clear demonstration of the complexity and muddiness of Language. The man says: I was a bad girl. You were a bad girl. We were baaad girls. We were baaaaad! And he’s enjoying remembering being a slut. The woman says the same things and she is a scolding puritan; she may be speaking of a pet dog who pooped on the Persian carpet, or of two 12 year olds caught smoking cigarettes. Same phrases – entirely different meanings. A good contemporary example of this is two words: Hello and Whatever. Both have pleasant or neutral uses in conversation but both also can be altered via tonal change, pitch, even syllable stress, to communicate irate impatience or deliberate rudeness (Hello); and casual defiance or a kind of hybrid attitude of blasé and crass (Whatever).
Nauman is quoted at the A.G.O. exhibit: “When language begins to break down a little bit it becomes exciting and communicates in nearly the simplest way that it can function. You are forced to be aware of the sounds and the poetic parts of words.”
To whom shall we give the last Word? Why, Wayne Reuben – of course!
Wayne Reuben is the man behind the sometimes wacky ads, proclamations, commands and price cards at Honest Ed’s discount store, the building structure of which is a vivid Toronto landmark, what with the thousands of marquee bulbs that light up its red and yellow exterior. It’s Reuben’s handiwork when, out on the sidewalk, you read: Come In And Get Lost! And it’s Reuben’s blue and red paint letters that tell you, once you’re inside: Don’t Just Stand There – Buy Something!
Two weeks ago, hundreds of Torontonians lined up around the block to get the chance to pore over Mr. Reuben’s thousand-plus handpainted signs that Ed’s never trashed over the decades. The lucky buyer might’ve come away with Fancy Panties or Men’s Mesh Tops, a sign in the shape of a Hallowe’en pumpkin that reads WIGS $6.99, lovingly handpainted price boards for tinned sardines, coconut milk, hair grease or pomades – even Justin Bieber-photosilkscreened pyjamas. Along with Doug Kerr, the left-handed Reuben writes/paints in something like a serif font (and sans serif), to spell out Ed’s commercial message; and the tempera paint palette is strong and basic: blue, red, yellow, black.
So why would people line up to buy ephemeral signboards for 5 to 40 dollars? Is it nostalgia for the handmade? Or the curvilinear ease of Reuben’s brushstroke? No. It’s because Honest Ed Is For The Birds: Cheap Cheap Cheap!
Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959)
Translations by Katsuya Hiromoto
harukaze ya / tohshi idaki te / oka ni tatsu
Full of fight
I stand on the hill
Me tsumureba / wakaki ware ari / haru no yoi
Shutting my eyes
I find a young me found
In the spring evening
Kono niwa no / chijitsu no ishi no / itsumademo
The rocks in this garden
In the lengthening days of spring
Nanigoto mo / shirazu to kotae / oi no haru
”I know nothing”
Is my answer:
Spring in my old age
kore-yori wa / koi ya jigyoh ya / mizu nurumu
From this time on
Love, enterprise, and such:
Water has warmed up
. . .
The following haiku by Kyoshi were translated by Aya Nagayama and James W. Henry:
Toki mono o kaiketsu suru ya haru o matsu
May time solve
Worries and difficulties –
Awaiting the spring
Kin no wa no haru no nemuri ni hairikeri
I have entered
The golden circle of
Tohshi nao sonshite haru no kaze o miru
Steadfast in my soul
My fighting spirit remains
And I see the spring breeze
Hitori ku no suikou o shite osoki hi o
In your solitude
Honing and perfecting your haiku –
On a slow spring day
. . .
Plus: two by Issa – to have with your cup of tea :-)
(Issa was the haiku pen-name of Kobayashi Nobuyuki Yataro. Issa means Cup of Tea.)
Issa / 一茶 (1763-1828)
manroku no haru to nari keri kado no yuki
some “proper spring”
snow at the gate
haru tatsu ya gu no ue ni mata gu ni kaeru
spring begins –
for this fool
. . . . .
Thomas Moore (Irish poet, singer, songwriter, born Dublin, 1779-1853)
”A Canadian Boat Song” (1804)
. . .
Thomas Moore, who would later be renowned for poems and songs such as “The Minstrel Boy”, “The Last Rose of Summer” and “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”, visited Canada when he was 25 years old. He wrote “A Canadian Boat Song” during his time here in 1804.
*St. Anne’s: Moore visited this church – Ste-Anne-du-Bout-de-l’île–located in the town of Ste. Anne de Bellevue, on the tip of Montreal Island where the St. Lawrence River joins the Ottawa River.
*Utawa: an 18th/early 19th-century spelling of Ottawa
*“this green isle”: Montreal Island (L’île de Montréal )
. . .
Zocalo Poets Editor’s Note:
My mother Eileen is a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, though her family emigrated to Canada more than sixty years ago. Ma is in her eighties now, and she most definitely lives in the “here and now”. Yet she has powerful memories of those early years in the new country. She tells me: “I learned A Canadian Boat Song in the early 1950s, after coming to Canada. It was a camp song for the Eaton’s Girls’ Club up at Shadow Lake near Uxbridge. …I also have a memory from back in Ireland: the sound of a marching flute band going by. As children, we simply followed the band, and whistled and sang, as they marched along. They were playing “The Minstrel Boy” by Thomas Moore – and all of it on flutes!”
For more favourite poems of my mother, click on the following ZP link:
. . . . .
Seamus Heaney (Poeta irlandés, 1939-2013)
”El Subterráneo” (versión de Óscar Paúl Castro)
Corríamos envueltos por la bóveda del túnel,
Tú ibas adelante, llevabas puesto tu abrigo bueno,
Y yo, como un ágil dios, ya casi lograba darte alcance
Cuando repentinamente viraste al advertir una brizna de hierba
O alguna una blanca flor reciénnacida, jaspeada de rojo,
Tu abrigo se plegó con violencia y uno tras otro
Se desprendieron los botones, marcando el camino
Que va del Subterráneo al Albert Hall.
Era nuestra luna de miel, pasamos el día vagando y se nos hizo
Tarde para el concierto de los Proms, el eco de nuestros pasos aún
Muere en ese corredor; por eso ahora vuelvo, como Hansel bajo la luz
De la luna desandando el camino de piedras, recogiendo botón tras botón
Hasta llegar a esta fría estación iluminada con luz artificial
De la que ya han partido todos los trenes, las desnudas vías ―como mi ser―
Están tensas y empapadas, toda mi atención concentrada en el eco
De tus pasos tras de mí, la maldición caerá sobre nosotros si miro atrás.
. . .
Óscar Paúl Castro, traductor (Culiacán, México,1979): Sr. Castro ha publicado traducciones en las revistas TextoS, Punto de Partida, Periódico de Poesía de la UNAM, en Refundación, Espiral y Timonel.
”The Underground” (1984)
There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed
Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.
Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons
To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.
. . . . .
Un extracto del comentario por el traductor Miguel A. Montezanti:
”La traducción debería presentarse por sí sola, criatura libre…Pero diré que Seamus Heaney es un poeta difícil de traducir: apenas puede aspirarse a reproducir lo que dice, lo cual en poesía, como se sabe, puede no ser lo más importante. [Importan mucho] su autorreferencialidad lingüística, asentada sobre la dialéctica sutil entre el gaélico y el inglés, su riqueza sonora, y su rescate de formas sucintas pero complejas…”
(nacido en “Mossbawn”, Castledawson, Condado de Londonderry, Irlanda del Norte, 1939-2013)
Ruedas dentro de ruedas
La primera captación en serio que tuve de las cosas.
fue cuando aprendí el arte de pedalear
(con la mano) una bici, colocada al revés
e impulsé la rueda trasera preternaturalmente ligero.
Yo amaba la desaparición de los rayos
el modo como el hueco entre el eje y la llanta
susurraba transparente. Si le arrojabas
una papa, el aire enmarcado en el aro
revolvía papilla y te la salpicaba en la cara;
si lo tocabas con una paja, la pajita chasqueaba.
Algo acerca del modo de esos impulsos pedaleros
funcionaba al principio muy palpablemente en tu contra
y luego comenzaba a impeler tu mano hacia delante
hacia un envión nuevo…; todo eso entraba en mí
como un acceso de poder libre, como si la fe
capturara y revolviera los objetos de la fe
en una órbita lindera con la añoranza.
Pero lo bastante no era bastante. ¿Quién ha visto
alguna vez el límite de lo otorgado?
En unos campos más allá de casa había un pozo
(lo llamábamos “El pozo”. Era más que un agujero
con agua, con espinos pequeños
de un lado, y del otro, un fango cenagoso
todo pisoteado por ganado).
También amaba eso. Amaba el olor turbio,
la vida sumidera del lugar como aceite viejo de cadena.
Allí, acto seguido, llevé la bicicleta.
coloqué el asiento y el manubrio
en el fondo suave, hice que las cubiertas
tocaran la superficie del agua y luego di vuelta los pedales
hasta que, como una rueda de molino arrojando con el pedaleo,
(pero aquí a la inversa y azotando una cola de caballo)
la rueda trasera sumergida, refrescando el mundo
revolvía un rociado y espuma de suciedad ante mis ojos
y me bañaba con mis propios barros regenerados.
Durante semanas hice un nimbo de viejo destello.
Luego el eje se engranó, las llantas se oxidaron, la cadena se cortó.
Nada igualó esa ocasión después de aquello
hasta que en el circo, entre tambores y spots,
chicas vaqueras giraron, cada una inmaculada
en el centro inmóvil de un lazo.
Perpetuum mobile. Pura pirueta
Acróbatas, funambuleros. Volteretas. Stet!
. . .
Wheels within wheels
I / The first real grip I ever got on things / Was when I learned the art of pedalling / (By hand) a bike turned upside down, and drove / Its back wheel preternaturally fast. / I loved the disappearance of the spokes, / The way the space between the hub and rim / Hummed with transparency. If you threw / A potato into it, the hooped air / Spun mush and drizzle back into your face; / If you touched it with a straw, the straw frittered. / Something about the way those pedal treads / Worked very palpably ay first against you / And then began to sweep your hand ahead / Into a new momentum – that all entered me / Like an access of free power, as if relief / Caught up and spun the objects of belief / In an orbit coterminous with longing.
II / But enough was not enough. Who ever saw / The limit in the given anyhow? / In fields beyond our house there was a well / (‘The well’ we called it. It was more a hole / With water in it, with small hawthorn trees / On one side, a muddy, dungy ooze / On the other, all tramped through by cattle). / I loved that too. I loved the turbid smell, / The sump-life of the place like old chain oil. / And there, next thing, I brought my bicycle. / I stood its saddle and its handlebars / Into the soft bottom, I touched the tyres / To the water’s surface, then turned the pedals / Until like a mill-wheel pouring at the treadles / (But here reversed and lashing a mare’s tail) / The world-refreshing and immersed back wheel / Spun lace and dirt-suds there before my eyes / And showered me in my own regenerate clays. / For weeks I made a nimbus of old glit. / Then the hub jammed, rims rusted, the chain snapped.
III / Nothing rose to the occasion after that / Until, in a circus ring, drumrolled and spotlit, / Cowgirls wheeled in, each one immaculate / At the still centre of a lariat. / Perpetuum mobile. Sheer pirouette. / Tumblers, jongleurs. Ring-a-rosies. Stet !
. . . . .