The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the...
Out of their torments men carved a flower
which they perched on the high plateaus of their faces
hunger makes a canopy for them
an image dissolves in their last tear
they drank foam rhythmed monsters
to the point of ferocious horror
In those days
there was an
On Seeing a Photograph of My Mother at St. Joseph Residential School for Girls
A black and white picture
The sun is shining through a window behind you
Your hair black short Your small brown hands folded neatly on a tiny wooden desk
Some of the girls in the picture are smiling You are not Your eyes staring into the camera Seem a million miles away
That stare I will see seldom and one day...
I come from the land of
Where You From?
My people dispossessed of their stories
and who have died again and again
in a minstrelsy of afterlives, wakes,
the dead who walk, waiting and
furrowed, like ivy crawling up
All those museums and mausoleums,
lifting languages from rivers.
But I cannot leave them...
Full Metal Oji-Cree
this is the transsensorium
there are indo-robo-women fighting cowboys on the frontier
& winning finally
the premodern is a foundation for the postmodern
wintermute, tessier-ashpool, armitage
theyve revived us via neuromancy
but i am the necromancer
when i tell my mother i need kin
she sends me ten
Whereas my eyes land on the shoreline of “the arrival of Europeans in North America
opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples.” Because in others, I hate the act
of laughing when hurt injured or in cases of danger. That bitter hiding. My daughter picks up
new habits from friends. She’d been running, tripped, slid on knees and palms onto...
My Black heroes don’t drop names like Fendi Gucchi Prada
My Black sheroes rock afros like Angela Davis and Assata
But my sheroes are more than a trend and they’re bigger than a hairstyle
For their people they risk death, imprisonment, and exile
They’ll give you an education in gender, race, and class
So for real knowledge you need to honour...
Sons of Orion
for Alton Sterling, Andrew Loku, Philando Castile, et al.
I wanna live, son. But which son are you?
There where the rivers are made
of moonshine and the lights still wait,
move by the music of the dealer’s bootleg CDs.
Have you left the street-side, the Rigel stage
for another watery home?
i twist and gasp
open and close my mouth
searching for air
whenever a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river
the feel of strange hands touching my body
to be free
to go where i want to go
the impact of stick or rock on bone
the splash of colour...
Now I set out across a minefield,
space having taken all I owned, I’m starting over
from a point where every pebble may explode
beneath my shoe and the flowers blaze up
behind my body as I gasp for air,
although in this world I’ve never known
either flames or dragons or the fury of war
in these lands where the sky was always calm...
I Lost My Talk
I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.
You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.
Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.
Illegalese: Floodgate Dub
(for the Chinese maroons, British Columbia, 1999–2001)
if you arrive in the belly of a rusting imagination, there are grounds to
outlaw you. but Canada is a remix B-side chorus in the globalization
loop: a sampled track of “back home”-desiring, “old days”-admiring,
democracy-dreaming, racism-reaping homesickness that even
Say the Names
— say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
say them like your soul
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
and you were a river
— not the flat borrowed imitations
of foreign names...
The Novel As Manuscript
An ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
like immense museum masterpieces
wrapped in linen, tea stained,
with hemp for strapping...
these colored stamps designed for foreign places
were even printed during famine—
so when they vanished...
St John’s Burns Down for the Umpteenth Time
Let’s say the fix was in. Let’s say history,
Being human and thus short on ideas,
Made change from an old bag of tricks. Say this
Was something reported as news
On a day when your life came to no good.
The new homeless drifting from row houses
Along streets tamped down by the heedless
And paved in afterthought. Out of hollows...
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...
Hotel Centrale, Rotterdam
I am awake between stiff
sheets tonight in room thirty
four, listening to the heat
tick through the radiator,
seeing a television
pour out news of the war
the war in the air, the war
in the Gulf. The walls vibrate
with video light. This is
no room for sleep anymore.
There is no room for...
I Feel the Sun
Down a long, long corridor
I keep walking…
—A window straight ahead so bright it hurts the eyes,
reflective walls on both sides.
I stand with the sunlight.
—The sunlight is so intense!
So warm people stop in their tracks,
so bright people hold their breath.
All the light in...
Entirely windless, today’s sea; of these waters’ many names
the best seemed “field-of-pearl-leaves,” for it smelled like the air
in the house he built entirely of doors: pink school door,
gold of the burnt hotel, two old church blues, the abandoned
bank’s steel doors singular and immovably wedged over
the family’s heads though as with everything...
I've Tasted My Blood
If this brain’s over-tempered
consider that the fire was want
and the hammers were fists.
I’ve tasted my blood too much
to love what I was born to.
But my mother’s look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged...
i am graffiti
i am writing to tell you
that yes, indeed,
we have noticed
you have a new big pink eraser
we are well aware
you are trying to use it.
erasing indians is a good idea
the bleeding-heart liberals
can stop feeling bad
for the stealing
Five Postcards from Jericho
Dear Regret, my leaning this morning, my leather foot, want of
stone, age old, my burnished and bruised, hair lingering, hand
caked, spongy as November, my dear Relentless, my dear Aging,
Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.
Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child’s eyes at a chalkboard,...
Saskatchewan Indians Were Dancing
60s pulled us from starvation into government jobs
antiquated Indians in Saskatchewan danced for rain
Manitoba Indian doings were hidden for a jealous me
all I had was a 50s rock’n’roll step to copy from
not shy you danced for strangers from deep defiance
full regalia hid...
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots...
When I put my finger to the hole they’ve cut for a dimmer switch
in a wall of plaster stiffened with horsehair
it seems I’ve scratched a two-hundred-year-old itch
with a pink and a pink and a pinkie-pick....
In my body flows the blood of Gallic
Bastille stormers and the soft, gentle
ways of Salish/Cree womanhood.
Deep throated base tones dissipate,
swallowed by the earth;...
Image-Nation 21 (territory
wandering to the other, wandering
the spiritual realities, skilled in all
ways of contending, he did not search
out death or courage, did not
found something, a country,
From The Titanic: The Iceberg
Calved from a glacier near Godhaven coast,
It left the fiord for the sea — a host
Of white flotillas gathering in its wake,
And joined by fragments from a Behring floe
Had circumnavigated it to make...
The Cariboo Horses
At 100 Mile House the cowboys ride in rolling
stagey cigarettes with one hand reining
half-tame bronco rebels on a morning grey as stone
— so much like riding dangerous women
with whiskey coloured eyes...
A Stone Diary
At the beginning I noticed
the huge stones on my path
I knew instinctively
why they were there
breathing as naturally
More than a storey high and twice that long,
it looks igneous, the Buhler Versatile 2360,
possessed of the ecology of some hellacious
minor island on which options
are now standard. Cresting the sections...
A Glass Tube Ecstasy
For Hugo Ball
a glass tube
for my leg says Hugo Ball
my hat a cylinder
in blue & white
the night the german ostriches the sink
he pisses in
all these become his world
his dada song, begun there
holds the image
until it comes at us:
the image from its...
All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.
All Greece reviles...
Newfoundland Sealing Disaster
Sent to the ice after white coats,
rough outfit slung on coiled rope belts,
they stooped to the slaughter: gaffed pups,
slit them free of their spotless pelts.
The New Experience
I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.
They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.
The Powwow at the End of the World
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each...
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate...
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless...
Come Up From the Fields Father
Come up from the fields father, here’s a letter from our Pete,
And come to the front door mother, here’s a letter from thy dear son.
Lo, ’tis autumn,
Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,
Cool and sweeten Ohio’s villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind,
Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and...
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted...
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
England in 1819
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, — mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown
A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown,
A route through a heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness,
Our army foil’d with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating,
Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building,
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building,
O Captain! My Captain!
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,...
I Am the People, the Mob
I am the people — the mob — the crowd — the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed...
Pavement slipp’ry, people sneezing,
Lords in ermine, beggars freezing;
Titled gluttons dainties carving,
Genius in a garret starving.
Lofty mansions, warm and spacious;
Courtiers cringing and voracious;
Misers scarce the wretched heeding;
Gallant soldiers fighting, bleeding.
The Man He Killed
“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him...
When I was Fair and Young
When I was fair and young, then favor graced me.
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.
But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some other where; importune me no more.
How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe,
How many sighing hearts I have not skill to show,
But I the prouder...
That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day
And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,
We deemed the secret lost, the spirit gone,
Which spake in Greek simplicity of thought,
And in the forms of gods and heroes wrought
Eternal beauty from the sculptured stone, —
A higher charm than modern culture won
With all the wealth of metaphysic lore,
Gifted to analyze, dissect, explore.
A many-colored light flows from one sun...
The Last Laugh
‘O Jesus Christ! I’m hit,’ he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed, or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped — In vain! vain! vain!
Machine-guns chuckled, — Tut-tut! Tut-tut!
And the Big Gun guffawed.
Another sighed, — ‘O Mother, mother! Dad!’
Then smiled, at nothing, childlike, being dead.
We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while...
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar; —
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!...
On Monsieur’s Departure
I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
My care is like my shadow in the sun,
To Althea, from Prison
When Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my Gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the Grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.
On Shakespeare. 1630
What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument....
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Journey of the Magi
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,...
To the Ladies
Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name:
For when that fatal knot is tied,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride:
Fierce as an Eastern prince he grows,...
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England...