Cara-Lyn Morgan is a graduate of the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing program. She attended both the Banff School of the Arts Writing Program as well as the Sage Hill Writing Experience where she completed work on her debut collection of poetry. Her first book, What Became My Grieving Ceremony, was released in 2014 by Thistledown Press. She appeared at the 2014 INSPIRE Toronto International Book Fair in the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Literary Circle. Her literary reviews and poems have appeared in magazines across Canada including Room, CV2, QWERTY, The Antigonish Review, and several others.
Reading this list of names, I find myself
An infant lost in the wild prairie,
thistles and thorny grass
bloodying my skin. Tonight,
the granddaughter, I want
to relearn my tongue.
I speak their names,
a stumble in this tongue
I know, the môniyâw tongue
the white man’s tongue
that replaced their spirit names
with bible names, incorrectly
spelled. I ask them to return to me
in the smudge of sage
let me not be abandoned.
Ni nókoms, long abandoned, all
but these dust-soft pages
these air-blurred photos
stern, heavy women.
I want to hold their black braids
like an ox-tether, I want
to wrap their woolen
shawls across my shoulders.
I call to my body the curl
of their old fingerprints, that they may
enter me like thunder, li toñeur
that shakes the barns
and flickers the lights.
In my most quiet calling,
I speak their grandmother names
the left-behind names
the only names that remain.
Sophia Bird, born 1792
Catherine, second wife
of Henry Hallet (first wife
unnamed, called “Indian”), Catherine,
daughter of Maríe Pruden,
Suzette, born 1815, Clementine,
mother of Catherine, who married
a Scotsman, Margrette Monkman
born 1832, Nancy Bird, mother
of Charlotte, dateless,
Caraline Coté, born 1847
Mary Inkster, born 1848
Come awake Mabel Monkman, born 1853,
my mother’s grandmother
Mabel Monkman with the white bone lighter,
who clipped horse-shaped barrettes
in my mother’s hair
remember to me the warm salt smell
of bannock in the outside oven
the smoke of walleye
on the river stones
enter me like the poplar
fluff that whitens the roadsides
and covers the grass
remember to me
my spirit name
let me not be forgotten.
A hearse in the drive. Witches press
their faces to its windows and wiggle
the door handles, seeking
a glimpse of the dead.
Inside the house, my uncle Patrick, lies
like someone sleeping, not dead at all.
When they come to pull the last tube
from his wrist, I want to lick
where the needle was. My mother touches
his forehead, the hollows of his cheeks, that ridge
of bottom lip. She still remembers
the sound of rubber balls against their garage, shooting
.22s at green glass bottles behind the barn, playing
in the old switchyard. Remembers how he drove
their father’s Beetle into the salt lake
to see if it would float. I remember
licking unbaked cheesecake
from his fingers as a kid, while he drank
Lamb’s and seven, and how he taught me to braise
a brisket of freshly-killed moose. Halloween night, and we
are the undead.
My cousin Samuel puts his hands on my cheeks and asks, why?
Why can’t we go out trick or treating?
I push him too hard away and he cries,
his clown face muddied in tears
and I feel better for it.
I want to drink whiskey from a weighted glass, eat
candy while my middle-aged Aunties smoke Patrick’s
stash in the upstairs bathroom and weep fat, slow tears.
My grandmother wears her rosary
around her knuckles like a weapon
but does not pray, thumb pressing the Damascas
pebble against her first and second finger.
Her cup of tea goes cold but she does not drink it.
And Patrick sleeps in the crypt of the hearse,
which the neighbours realize is not a prop.
They bustle their devils and demons away, but
the older children will sneak up the driveway later
to repay us for our lack of candy.
These tears, they do not fall.
for June, who lets them.
For the Cree wives of the Nor’west Company,
the HBC Company, those men
who bounced their beds, brought pale-skinned
babies into wilderness homes, kneeled them
in makeshift Churches, then left. Returned
to the cities when winter was over, bellies
full once the buffalo returned.
For the Indian Schools, the dip of vacant
swings, the taken children, native
tongues beaten from bodies, touched
in the night on their secret skin,
and the bibleless click of the lost languages.
And for those light-skinned girls who learned
to pass, who cut their hair, corseted
breasts in bent whalebone, forgot
the smell of sweetgrass smoke, thick
linger of pemmican on the tongue
and teeth. Who married well and adopted
the smile of looking away.
But as well,
for the runaway slaves, secreted here
inside of pianos, pine coffins, feather mattresses,
the false bottoms of merchant wagons. The ones
who crowded the bottleneck
at Amherstburg, came bleeding amidst
the yelp of hunting hounds. Those who sang
of the drinking gourd, limbs iced
in the bounding streams of Georgia, Mississippi,
who came to dry their feet in the soil of Ontario
and found Canada
a very cold place, indeed.
And for the ones who worked the CPR
to own their land, built homes on the Bedford Basin,
and dared request the luxury
of running water, electric lights. Who were answered
by the rumble of garbage trucks
carting their tables, their chairs, to the housing projects
while bulldozers splintered their church and houses.
And so I drink down my tears, river water
in cupped hands. I swallow them hard
as air in my throat. Keep them
from my cheeks. Like fireflies, if there is one
there are thousands,
and should I let them fall, I know
I will never be dry.