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maple wood smoke

drifts across the pine

and firs curling

into Inuit ghosts

that pace stealthily

from tree to tree

towering totems carved with bird

wolf bear and snakehead

calling to the old gods

that we were here

we lived and died in these

ancient forests

silver river slithers

through the granite

cutting inlets where

canoe and kayak bobbed and weaved

in search of salmon and trout

before the coming

of the white man

and his devil-brew liquor

that made us happy

numb and angry for a while

before it tore away

the wise and gentle

masks of our priests

Old Crow Flats

Bluefish Caves

Algonkin Arapaho Assiniboin

Atsina Chippewa Cree

Crow Dakota Haida

Hidatsa Huron Iroquois

Kutenai Tionontati

in the green and silver wilderness

we sleep awaiting

the return of the trickster raven



Photograph: Totem Poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver (BC) Canada

(c) Ian Whiteley

canadavancouvernative american godsinuitnative americantotem polestanley parkfirst nations

◄ To Love In Vein

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Laura Taylor

Wed 14th Aug 2013 10:36

If you've not read it, you should read The American West, by Dee Brown. Fantastic book.

I found the grouping of tribal names a little too much, and maybe not absolutely necessary, but understand why you've done it.

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Tue 13th Aug 2013 16:19

Perhaps it didn't need 'softening'. In some sympathetic circles 'savaging' is an apt word. You are connecting here to a Canadian born reader whose basic understanding of the relentless annihilation of 'first peoples' in the 'Americas' runs deep with 'European' regret. So much of the 'noble Red Man' has been generally romanticised, in broad sweeps, as this poem tends to do also, but with irresistible charm and great poetical skill.

Perhaps I wonder at such a wide sweep as you have depicted here. I'm not sure that the the commonalities were that marked. The 'tribes' lived separately over vast areas of what is now the North, South and Central Americas. The Inuit are mostly Arctic peoples, but they may well filter into the conifer belt too. For the record, Original Peoples worked hard at destroying each other too, but admittedly, not with 'firewater' which is still an absolute scourge from coast to coast on both continents.

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Ian Whiteley

Mon 12th Aug 2013 23:24

thanks Harry - and very good point - I've amended it from 'screaming' to 'calling' which softens it a bit
thanks for the feedback - much appreciated

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Harry O'Neill

Mon 12th Aug 2013 23:19

Very much like that:

`silver river slithers
through the granite`

But feel that that:

`screaming to the old gods`

`savages` the previously peaceful picture of
the past a bit too much.

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