B Halfe Skydancer- 2003
Nameless nipapa calls upon his daughter to join
him in his memory,
Do you remember
the small clearing there
on the hill
surrounded by pine trees?
The slough where we collected water.
Where the singing snakes swam.
Do you remember the tent we pitched?
You slept with your pig while everyone
worked? The square hole
of straw and dirt
you kids squeezed between your toes
for plastering the cabin? Even the smallest child
had a hand sawing, stripping bark off the logs,
plastering mud, placing sod.
Keeper of the Stories - Acimowins
I used to walk up
to look at the hole
where the cabin
I cannot name him.
Will not name him.
My poor father.
He is many fathers.
Nameless Nipapa continues the autumn
The first christmas
while you were all gone
I nailed slats, buried
your small footprints.
for your return.
Do you remember
how the bird sat
outside the window sill, chirping?
You were her “land of little sticks.”
She flew into your mouth before she died.
took you before your wings unfolded.
I remember hauling
from the dormitory the day they served fish.
We’d empty the crushed straw in the pigpen.
In the barn we’d load our mattress with fresh hay.
Bodies bundled, we chiselled ice
in the creek that ran a mile from boarding school.
Always frozen, those days. And now, my girl,
you complain about wood hauled through the seasons,
how I stoke your tent stove.
My bones in winter.
They took you.
I met them at the door.
Your mother told you how Wesakecahk tossed his eyes.
He broke the little bird’s rule
and his eyes wouldn’t come back.
She spun this story, rubbed your belly
till you slept.
I stood beneath
those pine trees,
our cabin won’t be cold.
Sawing, chopping, my shirt soaked.
My ears didn’t hear chirps that day.
When I curled against
your mother, cradled her,
her eyes stung.
We never spoke of that raking storm.
The spirits in my fists. My stomach brewing.
Each raging blow
Indian Affairs, priest and nuns -
blizzards in my autumn pain.
Your mother’s laughter, dancing
in chicken coop, pigpen.
In the sugar-beet
fields you’d hoe,
five rows you’d slash. I’d meet you from the other end,
determination on your sunflower face. I saw the span
of your fledgling wings, songs colouring all your dreams.
And though I strained
my eyes, my ears, opened my arms,
you walked ahead. I on homebrew, digging sandwiches
on 97th street, smoking lipstick-stained butts.
Now you tell me
as you hold my cigarette-tarred hands
I’ve been killing myself since you were a child.
These hands, I cannot lift them to your face.
I am snowbound in my stone smoked walls,
my belly leaks into this waltzing woman.
your mother an Elder’s bride.
And you ask me,
Papa, what was it like for you?