Learning to Bead by Elena Bentley

Poem name: Learning to Bead
Poet name: Elena Bentley
Poem: My anxious fingers fumble with the beads. In the midst of a pandemic,
alone at home, I grieve for a life not lived. A life without 

Michif on my tongue, fiddle music in my soles, fresh baked bannock 
at the table. I learn to bead from YouTube videos. Watch a stranger’s hands 

lift the needle, chasing glass seeds around a bowl. I listen to her voice,  
try to weave beads into delicate petals. Pink and yellow bursts against 

black felt. I teach myself because my mother and grandmother don’t know 
how to sew. Because my great-grandmother knew one pattern: 

drink, beat, repeat. 

With every sip, she swallowed another bead inside her. Buried them
until the bottles emptied. Her stomach full of amber-coloured memories,

tied shut in double knots. She refused to rip open the past, spill shame
over another generation. I wish I could mend the holes she left in us. 

I reach deep, hide every bead inside myself, follow our roots back
before the battles, flow through to the Red River. To a forgotten place

where little girls sit, nestled in rounds like rows of beads, watching 
their mothers’ and grandmothers’ hands. They listen, learn to be Métis

because there is nothing yet to grieve. Pride passes from palm to palm,
daughter to daughter, their confident fingers teach me how 

to change the pattern. I sew my ancestors’ lessons to my mind.  
Loop beads to my flesh. Stitch tradition, tether it in time:

thread, bead, repeat. 
End of poem. 
Credits and bio: Copyright © Elena Bentley
Previously published in The Malahat Review, Summer 2021 (vol. 215, pg. 42).
Elena Bentley (she/her) is a disabled, bi, and Métis/settler poet, editor, book reviewer, and children’s book author (The Pickle in Grandma’s Fridge, YNWP, 2022) from Treaty 6 territory. She is a Citizen of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, and she holds an MA in English from the University of Toronto. Her poetry has been published in various magazines and journals, including Arc Poetry, The Malahat Review, PRISM international, Room, and Grain. Most recently, Elena was a finalist for Vallum Magazine’s 2022 Vallum Chapbook Award, and she received an Honourable Mention in Grain Magazine’s 2022 Short Grain Contest (poetry category). She is the poetry editor for untethered magazine. Find out more at www.elenabentley.com, or follow Elena on Twitter and Instagram @_elenabentley_