Neal McLeod: “Songs to kill a Wîhtikow” ᐐᐧᐦᑎᑯᐤ

Neal McLeod

Wîhtikow *


They spoke of the time

beings broke the stillness of water

retreating from the pollution

that rested on the skin of days

kî-mistâpâwêhisocik, they drowned themselves

and the water became still


I went to a place to rest

and lay in the remnants of thunder

I collapsed in ripped and dried hollow earth

a fugitive of spent moments

which had outgrown their divinity


The old ones spoke of how the beings dug into the earth,


to retreat from the pollution on the skin of the earth

the old ones spoke of wîhtikow

who hunted dreamers, under thick, dark, coarse sun

took their prey in

like the wind of trains

draws us to the tracks



Wîhtikow wandering


wîhtikow whispers

and pulls the light from the sky

only cluttered cover, electric neon

makes my steps heavy

pass abandoned house

windows opened

no longer covered by glass

emptied of people

and stories

burned out black hollow

my body

has also known

the fire of wîhtikow

bingo caller gives false hope

white johns

circle the wagons of families

cops who drive brothers

to cold places

wîhtikow wanders

in the grey, concrete forest



Crow cross


body heavy wooden

black circling round

crow crowned head

claws extended, cutting

arms extended

wrapped into horizon

feet on hands

abrupt blood pecks

expired fright scarecrow

pulled off

hands fling free

legs fall hard

extend relaxed hand

ready legs

onto road

away from crows

remember tracks

upon skin

sing praises

black crow crying



Kôkôcîs **


plaid crumpled and folded

hidden patterns of fabric

clung around his arms

his brown, storied hands

with lines of memory

which marked events

stories, and words

reached for the chewing tobacco

which slid through the

spaces of his mouth

and with the taste of tobacco

through his tongue

which created words

moving through the room


I remember the open windows

and brown, wet roads

cars and trucks

would pull up

and people would fill the windows

with colours and movement


familiar faces and rhythms

I remember the sound of his voice

of his laugh

the eternal song

up through his mouth

added stories

and layers of memory

to the photographs

bringing old ones alive


I remember kôkôcîs

words came from him like water

formed from the shallow fog

of the early spring afternoon

the room held his voice

the voice of others

pushed through

the fold of eternity

were held in

his textured voice


kôkôcîs, kâ-kî-itiht,

the once called kôkôcîs,

was my living link

to eternity and relatives




Cree-language words:

*  wîhtikow — a being who consumes other beings – greedy, like a vampire

**  kôkôcîs  — the name of the poet’s great-grandfather




Neal McLeod is Cree (having grown up on the James Smith reserve in Saskatchewan),  and Swedish, having had the fortunate opportunity to study abroad at the Swedish Art Academy at Umeå.  He has exhibited art work throughout Canada including at the 2005 exhibition au fil de mes jours (in my lifetime) at Le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec – remounted at the Museum of Civilization in 2007.  In addition to being a painter he is also a curator:  his latest project was as co-curator of the exhibition James Henderson: The Man who Paints the Old Men which was organized by the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Neal’s first book of poetry, entitled Songs to Kill a Wîhtikow, was nominated for several Saskatchewan book awards including book of the year in 2005.  It was nominated for book of the year at the Anskohk McNally Aboriginal Literature Awards, and won poetry book of the year by unanimous decision of the jurors.  In 2007 Neal published Cree Narrative Memory which was also nominated for book of the year at the Anskohk McNally Aboriginal Literature Awards.  In the fall of 2008 he published his second book of poetry entitled Gabriel’s Beach.

Neal is currently editing a volume entitled Indigenous Poetics.  In addition he is working on the following books: Dreaming Blue Horses – a novel, a collection of humour short stories entitled Neechi Hustle, 100 Days of Cree, a biography of Noel Starblanket, and a book of poetry called Casting Spells of Neechery.  He teaches Indigenous Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.