Brown Names by Marilyn Dumont

.        Memory is a cemetery
                    I’ve visited once or twice, white
.                      ubiquitous and the set aside
       Everywhere underfoot…

.                  —Charles Wright

Ubiquitous walks through me regularly
down streets named Whyte, Grierson, or Jasper
reiterating my absence, I wonder
why this bluff overlooking the North Saskatchewan was envisioned
as brick-works, smoke stacks and glass mills?
When Amiskwaciwaskahikan floated in prairie grass
so high, you used a compass to cross it
after a two month cart ride from Winnipeg
when Karakonti, Calliou, Quinn, or Garneau gathered on the river flats
long before Oliver, Grierson or Strathcona—their names barbed-wire reminders
sewn to the Imperial centre ignore any glimpse of Lapotac, the fort’s hunter flinting
chert for deer-hunting arrows before this city constructed a myth of steel bridges,
concrete stories of “settlement” and “pioneers.”

Ubiquitous rarely owns the brown memory of a Métis great-grandmother, a Cree Iroquois
Mohawk Nakoda or Blackfoot chapan, the Carlton-trail-cart-driving relatives, the
third cousin twice removed in St. Albert, the HBC paymaster or the Orkney York boat
building side of the family

Ubiquitous knows that exile is space without language to speak of it
that alienation is a wall only you can see

 

 

Amiskwaciwaskahikan – Beaver Hills House – Fort Edmonton

 

Copyright © Marilyn Dumont. Originally published in Arc Poetry Magazine (Issue 79, Winter 2016). Marilyn Dumont is a past Arc Poet-in-Residence.

 

Marilyn Dumont’s poetry has won provincial and national awards. She has been the writer-in-residence at five Canadian universities and the Edmonton Public Library as well as an advisor in the Aboriginal Emerging Writers Program at the Banff Centre. She teaches sessional creative writing for Athabasca University and Native studies and English for the University of Alberta. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

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In publication for over 40 years, Arc Poetry Magazine publishes three issues a year including a themed issue each Fall. Arc nurtures and promotes the composition and appreciation of poetry in Canada and abroad, with particular but not exclusive emphasis on poetry written by Canadians. In addition to publishing and distributing the work of poets, Arc also organizes and administers awards, contests, public readings and other events.

This poem was selected for Poetry Pause by Adèle Barclay, Arc‘s outgoing Poet-in-Residence. Arc’s Poet-in-Residence program offers the country-wide community of writers a chance to work with an influential Canadian poet. Participants in the program will have an opportunity to work one-on-one with the Poet-in-Residence to hone and shape their poems over a one-month period. Between 30 and 60 poets participate each year.

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