Survivor Poem: Unreconciling

Today, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation opened in Winnipeg.

Here’s a poem for the occasion, fresh from my fingers, inspired by reading about Phil Fontaine’s speech tonight.

Survivor Poem: Unreconciling

They said they were bringing God, but

they brought Demons, who chase us

down the generations. We fight

with love and light.

We are all around you. We look

ordinary, you cannot tell

what mementos we carry

from the hell the survivors

walked out of.

Some of us, you notice,

those who have fallen

by the road; but what about those

too proud to crouch

with hands out?

Those of us who know

we have given enough

to the infernal powers

to give even one more

inch, those of us

who do not cry

to convince you

who defy

the weight, we too

are survivors.

We pledge our lives

and our wellness

to the Truth.

Reconciliation is not

real, if we are always

the ones reaching out

and nobody’s reaching back.

To any of us who has ever

just quietly raged, alone

because we simply want

to be heard without weeping

to be known without bleeding

to be loved when we win:

I am here. I pledge to you

that i will not require of you

that you break, in order

to love you, for being,

evidence of life in spite of it all.

Thank you for being,

simply for being.

A lot of people were at that event in Winnipeg. It must have been awe inspiring, to be at that epicentre of our changing history.

Me, i have work to do here at home. So, today i made for myself a quiet corner for work and prayer, sorting and storing boxes.

Among the boxes, reviews and awards from my short-lived (3 years) theatre company, Big Sky Theatre, which i shut down for two big reasons: I was burning out; i knew it, knew i’d grabbed a strange beast by the tail, and was way over my head, trying to present theatre to an audience that either thought they already knew ‘my story,’ as an Aboriginal person, or just didn’t want to know the truth, or both. We did some good work, but i didn’t have enough support to keep going and stay well. And i needed to stay well. My beloved older sister was dying, and i had to be there for her, to do what i could.

She burnt herself out trying to be ‘good enough,’ outrunning people who had no idea how much further down the track behind them she’d had to start. No, she didn’t die in addictions. She worked hard in white and pink collar jobs all her adult life, and made a career as a singer, too. She landed a gig for her singing group, at Carnegie Hall. People she fired later because they wouldn’t work as hard as she needed to, wouldn’t focus as fiercely, still trade on the cachet of that New York gig.

As for her, her pride drove her onward. She created and taught what was, to my knowledge, the first university course in Canada on Contemporary Indigenous Music. A colleague of hers (and mine, at the time) chattered to me in some surprise about how, as she saw it, she and my sis had ‘just been talking’ about such a course, and suddenly -” the very next day! can you believe it?!” she marveled – sis had the syllabus in hand. If i could’ve got a word in edgewise, i’d have said, well yes, i believe it. I might’ve told her of the many hours travelling with my sister, listening to all sorts of music and talking about it. We talked about distinctive modes (her) and how you could hear the landscape (me) and history (both of us) in the way people sang. We talked what we found authentic and strong, what we found weak and unconvincing. We sang a little, but mostly we talked. She’d been thinking about the subject for a good long while.

Walking with her the last months of her life was one of the hardest things i’ve ever done. And there are people, all around us, walking those hard walks with their loved ones. I hope they are loved, and know they are loved. As for me, love got me through. Love, and learning when to close the box, store it away for another day.

In another box, some books and papers of my late father’s, government backgrounders from the 1970s, with titles like “Who is an Indian” and the like. He’d written his name on them, in a hand that reveals so much, if you take the time to look. Mostly what matters is, however rough and unsophisticated, his writing moved forward, upward. But i closed that box, too.

Today, i am working on poetry about other people, for a project about ‘Reconciliation.’

I am proud to be doing that. It gives me a place to show in public that yes, i too am part of this national story. I serve it to the best of my ability, with all my might. I have poetry, and the rage against the injustice can be channeled into honing, syllable by syllable, the words and sounds that are the best i can muster to convey what i know about our shared history. It is my contribution, the best of what i have to offer to the group. Thank God it is a group project, there are things that are not to be faced alone.

But today, i am also lonely, as is the lot of every writer. When i face the stories that are mine, i must face up to them alone. There’s an old Polish saying that comes to mind, reminding me that, for me, being an Aboriginal Canadian also means honouring my Polish ancestors: the saying translates “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” There are so many ways in which that saying can be employed to good effect.

As for being part of a family of survivors, well, that is my circus, those would be my monkeys. Long may we all cavort,  undisuadable by responses or lack thereof, shrieking out our truth as best we can. There is a National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. I don’t expect it to make everything better, but it is a definite move forward, toward healing the work of demons.

Those demons are the worst of what humans can be. But me and my monkeys, we will do our bit to be on the side of healing, to be on the side of making it better. If there is the worst of us, there is also the best of us. Chi Megwetch to everyone, everywhere, who chooses to try, who gets up and moves forward, reaching for that best nature, reaching to be well.

All my relations.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. gchi miigwech Anna for this! your poetry has always moved me, and your thoughtful words on reconciliation are inspiring!


    1. prairiepomes says:

      well, ichi miigwech right back at you, Vera! it’s great following your blog now, too1

      Liked by 1 person

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