2001: Honour Song

it’s may in montreal

an indigenous arts gathering

peers mentors innovators

politics of identity

the sick thrashing whale

of cultural appropriation


i find i stand with those

who say, we are remaking

theatre in our images

because we need to

appropriating a tool


so it does not become us

to play cultural purist


i find the whole damn

shooting match

somewhat surreal

because i cannot reach out

to the few of these colleagues

i think i know. i cannot

swing into their easy laughter

and the one time i reach out

to try to tell one of them

i am rebuffed; perhaps

because they think i mean

to talk more about politics

and perhaps they disagree

i can’t tell, but i can see

we are colleagues

not friends, after all.


and i just cannot say

all the while we’re gathered to preen

and posture over points

of cultural policy

at home, my sister is getting ready

to pay the ultimate price


she cannot be sick

she cannot be dying

my sister is too fiercely alive

but her cancer rides her down

every bit as fiercely


and she will not tell people


because deep in some part of us

written in childhood

are the stories of bad medicine

all those stories of bad medicine

the stories

of power mad shaman

faithless shapeshifter

of the ones who devour

and on the other side

power mad priest

faithless money servants

anything for a buck

loyal to the hand that holds the gold.


i will spend the last months of her life

trying to convince her to take help

and yet to honour her sovereignty

she doesn’t want her community

to know, because she knows

they might as easily harm her as help.


however hard i press her, however

many tactics i try to break the deadly

isolating fear and pride

i will remember, the whole time

not telling them in montreal

that my sister was dying

and i was afraid, and the weight

was too much, and i needed help

i needed comfort, i needed friends

and for ‘all my relations’ to include me

and my brave and foolish family.


still, when she died, i was there.

even now, at that mystic hour

many early mornings, i wake.

you get to a point in your life

when the scaffolding is built

the evidence enough

that you have set

in your way.

make sure that the secrets

you hold to your chest

are good ones.


and if i could give you anything

at this point in the poem

it would be to know

i wish you healing and joy.

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