Poem For Duncan Campbell Scott

(Canadian poet who “had a long and distinguished career

in the Department of lndian Affairs, retiring in 1932.”

The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse)

 

Who is this black coat and tie?

Christian severity etched in the lines

he draws from his mouth. Clearly a noble man

who believes in work and mission. See

how he rises from the red velvet chair,

rises out of the boat with the two Union Jacks

fluttering like birds of prey

and makes his way towards our tents.

This man looks as if he could walk on water

and for our benefit probably would,

if he could.

 

He says he comes from Ottawa way, Odawa country,

comes to talk treaty and annuity and destiny,

to make the inevitable less painful,

bearing gifts that must be had.

Notice how he speaks aloud and forthright:

            This or Nothing.

            Beware! Without title to the land

            under the Crown you have no legal right

            to be here.

Speaks as though what has been long decided wasn’t.

As though he wasn’t merely carrying out his duty

To God and King. But sincerely felt.

 

Some whisper this man lives in a house of many rooms,

has a cook and a maid and even a gardener

to cut his grass and water his flowers.

Some don’t care, they don’t like the look of him.

They say he asks many questions but

doesn’t wait to listen. Asks

much about yesterday, little about today

and acts as if he knows tomorrow.

Others don’t like the way he’s always busy writing

stuff in the notebook he carries. Him,

he calls it poetry

and says it will make us who are doomed

live forever.

 

Armand Garnet Ruffo, “Poem for Duncan Campbell Scott,” from Opening in the Sky. Copyright © 1994 by Armand Garnett Ruffo. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Opening in the Sky (Theytus Books, 1994)