4 Poems





SAND PLAINS, 1848

When deer are mating:
The clatter of antlers.
Sound of the drum beating-
Log house where the family lived.
Planted maize, sunflowers, and squash.
Plum-red forest berries, wild rice.

To woo a yakon:kwe-
A woman of the Mohawk village.
Warrior playing oboe music.
Outside the well.
Circle dancing and singing.
Under the pines
girl in long buckskin dress.
Beaded tiara, fringed shawl.
Shell earrings, shell necklace.
Deerskin ankle moccasins.

"Grandmother how could you sell our land?"
The Saint Lawrence River
choked, stagnant.
My grandfather's house
behind the church.
A ron:kwe, man,
ohne:ka, water,
- dunes.
Wild sage. Apple trees.

"Who are we really?"
People of the sand plains.

Mohawk graveyard at the pinewoods.
My daughter Kateri died from smallpox.

A mother cutting off her braids 

in mourning-




MI'KMAQ VILLAGE, 1920

White ash beating time on a drum-

voice of a storyteller:

Great-grandfather, Agamok, ill and abandoned.
in fur robe, elk hide moccasins,

inside a wigwam covered with skins and bark,
across the Restigouche River.
Listuguj tribal district Gaspé.

A dirt road under the pines,

dogs killed as sign of grief,
singing and dancing:
Feast to celebrate Agamok's funeral.
Before he died.
It was the beginning of the hunting season,
semi-nomadic Mi'kmaq moving camp.
Moose, caribou, beaver, and muscrat.
With the onset of winter,
deadfalls for predators, fox and bear.
Villagers using snowshoes, sleds and toboggans.
Great-grandfather saying his final farewell.
Dying and injured left behind.

Inside Agamok's teepee:

Birch-bark box decorated with porcupine quills.
Purple glass beads. Dyed spruce roots.
His bride, Kesik, came with her fringed buckskin shawl,
the symbol of her clan.

After the wedding they lived on the Listuguj reserve.
Agamok had nine children: Five were sons.




MOJAVE DESERT, 1984

Along the edge of the desert:
Yucca tree. Salt-crusted dry lakebed.
Iguana. Rattlesnake. Coyote.
Purple cactus pear. 

Three-week family trip
across Canada, West Coast USA:
Harsh sun and wind.
Squatting Navajo selling jewellery,
birch bark baskets. Sheep wool rugs.
Woman in velvet skirt, fringed shawl.
From the window of the train, red earth.
It is not far from here: And I am on this train.
Station stop in Flagstaff:

Your gift, a clay bead necklace-
turquoise, green, aqua.
Get angry, when I undo the silver clasp.

Along the edge of a railroad track,

it is not far from here: The Grand Canyon.
Clusters of hogans mounded from vermillion clay-
Kayenta, a trading post for Hopi,
has one grocery store, a police department,
and one women's shelter.
Along the edge of the railroad track,
it is not far from here:
dune marram grass. Coral pink sand.
Crinkled, white prickly poppy. Rock hibiscus.
Nine minutes train stop-
Where several rail tracks come together:
coaches and an orange caboose.
Bleached saguaro skeletons.




THE ASIAN FLU

Along a ridge of granite, Laurentian foothills.
Two rows of houses line the gravel cul-de-sac.
Twenty arpents wooded lot.
The cottage with an iron stove and no running water.
Magyar immigrant family.

The first winter we live on rang St-François,
the farm village of Blainville,
father calls a doctor to the house. 

My two younger sisters are sick in bed.
A couple of days later, I wake up dizzy. Vomit.
I remember father stroking my forehead.
Grandmother Kisanyuka cooks hot cereal topped
with raspberry marmalade. She takes care
of everyone. In the end, she falls sick. 

A nine-year-old Native girl, Tula, dies
from the Mohawk Reserve.
At the place of a beaver dam, Mille Îles River.

Her sister is in my seventh grade class.
The Rosemère Catholic School taught by
Marguerite Bourgeoys nuns. 

Winter 1957, thirty-eight people die from the
Asian Flu pandemic, in the Province of Québec.