What constitutes an NDN? A myth
doused in midnight? A soul
in the shape of a clenched fist?
Concerning the collapse of organized human life,
I demand my two cents be taken seriously:
God sends his pale horsemen westward every fucking day!
Canadian history — or, how to wage war
on an emotion. For a century,
no one spoke of the extinction of joy.
A village emptied of its children is a haunting.
Every natural phenomenon becomes an elegiac gesture.
Am I a war hero
if I succumb to Mother Nature’s fury
and not to my captor’s?
Poets pledge allegiance to a country I don’t believe in.
A country is how men hunt in the dark.
A man I love but don’t trust kisses me
the way a soldier might press his face into the soil of his old country.
I am a Museum of Modern Misery he storms through.
Which is to say the body signals a crisis of representation.
The body is an archive when it heralds an indictment.
My suffering will multiply.
So what if in the end my living amounts to an evidentiary act.
What I wanted was what I asked for.
I saw my kokum for the first time in weeks.
Miraculously, she is still alive.
All morning I picked bits and pieces of history from her hair.
Copyright © Billy-Ray Belcourt. Originally published in NDN COPING MECHANISMS: NOTES FROM THE FIELD (House of Anansi Press, 2019).
Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation and lives in Edmonton, AB. His books are THIS WOUND IS A WORLD (Frontenac 2017), winner of the 2018 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize, NDN COPING MECHANISMS: NOTES FROM THE FIELD (House of Anansi Press 2019), and A HISTORY OF MY BRIEF BODY (Hamish Hamilton 2020). Find Billy-Ray on Twitter @BillyRayB.