Poems from The Crooked Good - by Louise Bernice Halfe
The End and the Beginning
I made a trip across the largest lake
I’ve ever seen
to where the long noses live.
There on the hill
in a Talking Circle.
I walked around and gave tobacco.
They squeezed their stone-ground hands
on my chest
as I choked to a decision I had made.
My Beloved held me.
Though I never spoke of it,
somewhere in his secret lair he knew.
I’ve sat with Rib Woman
since Atayohkan became Big Thunder
and her Big Heavens awoke in us.
Many of us have. Some of us never understand.
Some of us have learned to:
hatch these million eyes, these million
ears, these million noses, these ancient roots
that stem through our bodies.
It is these sun-runners who go deep in the
Perhaps, I am one of them.
Two women stare at each other.
Grunts, groans, rippling, meowing and cawing,
they spin these songs:
Of a brook searching. A crane meditating.
A frog croaking. A mantis sucking on a fly.
A beaver caught in an iron jaw.
Thunder shuddered. A pair of lovers parted under a tree.
Lightning smiled through one’s heart.
Dew rolled into the woman’s basket.
The Inuit voices bounced, echoed against
their lodge, wet with death.
A deer rubbed her nose into her mate,
pranced into the meadow,
fell as an arrow flew.
Her robe sliced with fluttering hands.
Her bones become the scraper, skinning knife, needles
and flute. Her sinew thread, rawhide bowls, folding boxes,
drums and medicine bags.
Her skin a lodge of sticks and hide. Her hair, a mattress.
Close by, fur-covered men sat drumming.
This I saw, Ekweski, Turn-Around Woman. I am she.
Ekweski, Turn-Around Woman
When I was growing up in the bush, on the hillside,
I watched the sun arrive from the dark, watch her slip
into the dark. I travelled. I didn’t know the world back then.
I just travelled. I was afraid
I would never return. I tumbled that hillside
back into myself.
You can tell me
after you hear this story
if my name suits me.
I’ve yet to figure it out.
In Rib Woman
stories are born.
The Old Man called it psychology. Me,
I just dream it.
These gifted mysterious people of long ago, Kiyas e-matawisit lyiniwak,
my mother, Gone-For-Good, would say.
They never died. They are scattered here, there, everywhere, somewhere. They know the language, the sleep, the dream, the laws, these singers, these healers, atayohkanak, these ancient story keepers.
I, Turn-Around, am not one of them.
I was taught by Old people.
An Indian Man, a White Man.
An Indian Woman, a White Woman.
They worked in lairs, in the full veins of
I sat in their thicket, wailing.
The old ones navigated through my dreams.
Sometimes they dragged, scolded, cajoled,
cheered and celebrated.
I wanted to be with them. Like them.
I am not a saint. I am a crooked good.
My cousins said I was easy, therefore
I’ve never been a maiden.
I am seventy, but still
I carry my sins. Brothers-in-law
I meet for the first time wipe their hands
as if I am still among the maggots. I didn’t
know their women wept when their men
slept in my bed. I am not a saint.
I married Abel, a wide green-eyed man. Fifty years now.
Inside Rib Woman I shook hands with promise.
Promise never forgot, trailed me year after year.
His Big Heavens a morning lake
drowns me in my lair.
I learned how to build Rib Woman
one willow at a time, one skin at a time.
I am only half done. This is part of the story.
I, Ekweski, am a dreamer.
I dream awake. Asleep. On paper.
The Old Man said the universe,
the day, was the story. So,
every day I am born.
The Old White Man taught me
to unfold night visits.
The Old Woman taught me
all of it was real.
The Old White Woman helped me
to cry with the Thunder.
Poems from The Crooked Good, published November 2007 by Coteau Press.