Poems for Earth Day: Rita Joe’s “Mother Earth’s Hair”, “There is Life Everywhere” and “When I am gone”Posted: April 22, 2013
Rita Joe (Mi’kmaw poet, 1932-2007)
“Mother Earth’s Hair”
In August 1989 my husband and I were in Maine
Where he died, I went home alone in pain.
We had visited each reservation we knew
Making many friends, today I still know.
Near a road a woman was sitting on the ground
She was carefully picking strands of grass
Discarding some, holding others straight
I asked why was she picking so much.
She said, “They are ten dollars a pound.”
My husband and I sat alongside of her, becoming friends.
A bundle my husband picked then, later my treasure.
I know, as all L’nu’k* know,
that sweetgrass is mother earth’s hair
So dear in my mind my husband picking shyly for me
Which he never did before, in two days he will leave me.
Today as in all days I smell sweetgrass, I think of him
Sitting there so shy, the picture remains dear.
*L’nu = an Aboriginal person
. . .
“There is Life Everywhere”
The ever-moving leaves of a poplar tree lessened my anxiety as I walked through the woods trying to make my mind work on a particular task I was worried about. The ever-moving leaves I touched with care, all the while talking to the tree. “Help me,” I said. There is no help from anywhere, the moving story I want to share. There is a belief that all trees, rocks, anything that grows, is alive, helps us in a way that no man can ever perceive, let alone even imagine. I am a Mi’kmaw woman who has lived a long time and know which is true and not true, you only try if you do not believe, I did, that is why my belief is so convincing to myself. There was a time when I was a little girl, my mother and father had both died and living at yet another foster home which was far away from a native community. The nearest neighbours were non-native and their children never went near our house, though I went to their school and got along with everybody, they still did not go near our home. It was at this time I was so lonely and wanted to play with other children my age which was twelve at the time. I began to experience unusual happiness when I lay on the ground near a brook just a few metres from our yard. At first I lay listening to the water, it seemed to be speaking to me with a comforting tone, a lullaby at times. Finally I moved my playhouse near it to be sure I never missed the comfort from it. Then I developed a friendship with a tree near the brook, the tree was just there, I touched the outside bark, the leaves I did not tear but caressed. A comforting feeling spread over me like warmth, a feeling you cannot experience unless you believe, that belief came when I was saddest. The sadness did not return after I knew that comfortable unity I shared with all living animals, birds, even the well I drew water from. I talked to every bird I saw, the trees received the most hugs. Even today I am sixty-six years old, they do not know the unconditional freedom I have experienced from the knowledge of knowing that this is possible. Try it and see. There is life everywhere, treat it as it is, it will not let you down.
. . .
“When I am gone”
The leaves of the tree will shiver
Because aspen was a friend one time.
Black spruce, her arms will lay low
And across the sky the eagles fly.
The mountains be still
Their wares one time like painted pyramids.
All gold, orange, red splash like we use on face.
The trees do their dances for show
Like once when she spoke
I love you all.
Her moccasin trod so softly, touching mother
The rocks had auras after her sweat
The grass so clean, she pressed it to cheek
Every blade so clean like He wants you to see.
The purification complete.
“Kisu’lkw” you are so good to me.
I leave a memory of laughing stars
Spread across the sky at night.
Try counting, no end, that’s me – no end.
Just look at the leaves of any tree, they shiver
That was my friend, now yours
Poetry is my tool, I write.
. . . . .
For more of Rita Joe’s poems please see our April 11th posts…