As I begin the task of writing, I am distracted by the cacophony of birdsongs that fill the air in this otherwise, quiet afternoon in the Coachella Valley. Spring has returned! The air is filled with insistent tweets, whistles and warbles. Nearby, tiny hummingbirds are hovering expeditiously or is it precipitously over the flowers of the cactus plants ready to burst in fuchsia, orange, red and yellow. Look at us, look at us, they hum in their own unique song. I would like to hold one for just one moment, study its iridescence, but I worry the very act could destroy it, its wings so delicate.
So, I sit still and watch, listening intently, soaking up every ounce of the beauty and energy around me. Something I do often in the stillness of time—a dreaming of sorts. It is human to do so, I think. Like my ancestors before me, who understood the limits of their knowing, I too am humbled and feel small in the midst of life-nature’s grandeur. A week ago, imatout—it cried, all day, sending a mighty torrent down the valley. It prompted human emergency services to put out a call warning of its power to sweep you into its mighty flow if you tried crossing its path. mamaskac! It is incredulous to think we need such reminders! We are not quick to learn, it seems.
Although nature’s energy can be destructive, it is also creative, and I depend on it to keep me alive in every sense of that word. It nurtures my body, my mind, and my spirit. It senses when I am weary, and touches the depths of my being. That part of me that connects me to her/him and holds us together. In my worldview and the language I was born into, she/he is superlative brilliance—the genius of our human existence, and I – the poet – am just her little tag-along shadow wanna-be who wants to understand the intricacies of her graceful, creative, timeless, choreographed movements and powerfully destructive energy. In its grand presence, I am mostly in awe, the-lady-gaga, herself.
(previously published in papîyâhtak, 2004, Thistledown Press)
she was –
wave upon wave
against the shoreline.
she read aloud
her own words
for the first time
but only the trees,
the grass and the stones
were there to listen.
standing at the altar
of heaven and earth
before her eyes.
blessed be the fisherman
standing at the river’s edge
waiting to capture
the slippery glide of a fish.
blessed be the young man
one, with his kayak
skimming the water
to capture the rush of a stormy river.
blessed be a young boy
waving his insect net
chasing the air
to capture the soft stroke of a butterfly.
blessed be the young women
sitting on a rock
mesmerized, reaching out
to capture the vastness of a sky.
blessed be the old woman
sitting in the darkness
to capture the foreboding night sky.
it was then she saw the hawk
assured, diving to the ground
of a thousand years.
it was then she noticed
the pelican striking the water
capturing the fish;
standing there in awe
Navigating a human-centred knowing that is disconnected from the wholeness of itself—the natural world and its life force (which I do not fully comprehend) is sometimes numbing and mind boggling to traverse. The sacredness of life lost. In these moments of loss, I long for a time when squirrels were my relatives. But this was a story I had to learn the hard way. Every now and then, I think about the time my cousins and I raided the squirrels’ nest to steal the hazelnuts they stored in the ground for the winter approaching, and the not-so-gentle scolding we received from our grandfather. Despite our offer to return to the nest what we had taken, it was too late. Our penance was to sit quietly on the tree stump in the hot sun to contemplate our transgression. Years later, a pathetic poem to the squirrel is the best I can offer (unpublished).
one late autumn day
I came upon a discovery
the hazelnut had lost its sting
stored deep in the cool dark earth.
with no regard for my sister squirrel
I stripped its nest and took it all.
you should have heard the clatter
the desperate chatter and scurry
moshôm’s silent swift attention.
a red willow switch-stick in hand
he directed my rump to a tree stump.
my punishment quiet reflection
in an open field in the hot sun.
that day I learned an important lesson.
it was too late for the squirrel
to replenish his nest.
it was too late for me
to reverse my actions
the damage done.
I write and rewrite
this pathetic poem
as if it was enough will ever be enough.
In these moments of loss, I long to hear my grandfather’s voice—nitanis, I am tired, he would announce in relationship. I have been travelling and visiting with all the relatives. But my schooled and empirical mind has observed he has been sitting stationery in one spot under the canopy of pine trees lining our house. Years later, I have come to understand the magic of travelling in this manner, when time and space collapse, and I am immersed in the cosmos, and we (human, the natural world and the energy-spirit holding us together) are one.
In the seeming madness of rampant commodification of land and its resources, laws and rules that protect the propertied, over-consumption of everything, and the ugliness of hatred and greed, I am worried for all of us. In these moments, I often find myself in the public square asking questions. Can we find our way back home to the music of our mother’s movement and voice? There are, of course, moments of grace and I am touched by the spirit-energy that binds us, that unseen force holding all things together. It is an extended hand; it is a barroom conversation; it is a sad, sad note; it is disconnected landscaped lines; it is a November sky; it is poetry.
Rita Bouvier is author of three collections of poetry. nakamowin’sa for the seasons (Thistledown Press, 2015) was the 2016 Sask Book Awards winner of the Rasmussen, Rasmussen & Charowsky Aboriginal Peoples’ Writing Award. Rita’s poetry has appeared as a children’s book, in literary anthologies, musical and television productions, and has been translated into Spanish, German and Cree-Michif of her home community.