I’ll Teach You Cree

with the tip of my spring tongue, ayîki      frog

your mouth will be the web

catching apihkêsis words,                           spider

a crawling-out ceremony

that cannot be translated.

 

hâw, pîkiskwê!                                             Now, speak!

 

I’ll teach you Cree, nêhiyawêwin                 the Cree language 

that is the taste

of pimiy êkwa saskarômina                         fat and saskatoon berries

Your mouth will be the branches

I am picking clean,

a summer heat ceremony

that cannot be translated.

 

hâw, pîkiskwê!                                              Now, speak!

 

I’ll teach you Cree

in the winter, pipon                                      winter

when the dogs curl against our backs.

Your mouth will be pawâcakinâsis-pîsim     the frost exploding moon

that cannot be translated.

It will be a ceremony.

 

hâw, pîkiskwê!                                               Now, speak!

 

I’ll teach you Cree

ê-kohk mistahi ê-sâkihitan.                           because I love you a lot

It will be in the fall, this ceremony.

You will have the mouth of a beaver,

thick and luminescent.

 

I will make my camp there

ê-kohk mistahi ê-sâkihitan.                           because I love you a lot

This cannot be translated.

 

hâw, pîkiskwê!                                               Now, speak!

 

“I’ll Teach You Cree” by Gregory Scofield from Kipocihkân, Nightwood Editions, 2009, www.nightwoodeditions.com.

Dive in 
  1. The poem mixes Cree words and their translations with descriptions of ceremonies “that cannot be translated.” What do you think gets lost in the translation from one language to another?
  2. How does the poet use repetition in this poem? What’s the effect?
  3. How does the speaker use natural imagery to celebrate his love?
  4. In what ways does the poet invoke sensual imagery in the poem?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what kind of pause would you place between the words in Cree and their translations? Would you use another tone of voice for them?
  6. If you know another language, write a poem that moves between English and your other language, translating what you can and noting what is untranslatable.

Useful Links

Check out the Online Cree Dictionary: http://www.creedictionary.com/

 

Read an interview with Gregory Scofield here: http://www.januarymagazine.com/profiles/scofield.html