Friday, March 16, 2018

I Wish I'd Written This


sacred


a native man looks me in the eyes as he refuses to hold my hand during a round dance. i pretend that his pupils are like bullets and i wonder what kind of pain he's been through to not want me in this world anymore. and i wince a little because the earth hasn't held all of me for quite some time now and i am lonely in a way that doesn't hurt anymore.
you see, a round dance is a ceremony for both grief and love and each body joined by the flesh is encircled by the spirits of ancestors who’ve already left this world. i ask myself how many of them never knew what desire tasted like because they loved their kookums more than they loved themselves.
i dance with my arm hanging by my side like an appendage my body doesn’t want anymore. the gap between him and i keeps getting bigger so i fill it with the memories of native boys who couldn’t be warriors because their bodies were too fragile to carry all of that anger. the ones who loved in that reckless kind of way. you know, when you give up your body for him.
and i think about the time an elder told me to be a man and to decolonize in the same breath. there are days when i want to wear nail polish more than i want to protest. but then i remember that i wasn’t meant to live life here and i paint my nails because 1) it looks cute and 2) it is a protest. and even though i know i am too queer to be sacred anymore, i dance that broken circle dance because i am still waiting for hands who want to hold mine too.
Billy-Ray Belcourt, February, 2016


I could not have written this, as I am not First Nations, nor a young man. But we thought you might enjoy meeting one of Canada’s rising young poets, Billy-Ray Belcourt, a member of the Driftpile Cree Nation.

He began writing poetry at nineteen, and was immediately recognized as a big talent. Now in his early twenties, he has already garnered significant attention on the Canadian literary scene.   He graduated from Oxford in 2017, Canada’s first Indigenous Rhodes scholar. His studies focused on the effects of colonialism on indigenous people's health, medical anthropology and women’s studies.

He is now a PhD student at the University of Alberta in the Department of English and Film studies.




His book of poems called “This Wound is a World” was published in 2017 by Frontenac House.

CBC Books has called Billy-Ray “one of 6 Indigenous writers to watch,” and rated his book “the best Canadian poetry of 2017”.




Of his book, Billy-Ray has said, “I think that this book is a call to arms of sorts. It is a manifesto, a prayer and an instruction manual for something like a queer Indigenous future.

“For me to have been able to break into the writing scene at nineteen, as someone who is Indigenous and openly queer, I had to inject my poems with some critical, academic ethos. But I think, in the end, it made my poetry better.” 

Let’s look at another of this young man’s powerful poems.


*****


THE CREE WORD FOR A BODY
LIKE MINE IS WEESAGEECHAK



the cree word for a body like mine is weesageechak
the old ones know of this kind of shape-shifting:
sometimes i sweat and sweat until my bones puddle on the carpet in my living room and i am like the water that comes before new life
i was born during a falling leaves moon. which is to say: i have always been good at sacrifice
it is believed that women are most powerful during their moontime and because of this do not take part in ceremonies in order to let the body cleanse itself
there are weesageechak days when gender is a magic trick i forgot how to perform and my groin floods and floods trying to cleanse itself like the women and i too become toxic to men who have built cages out of broken boys

maybe if i surrendered myself to Grandmother Moon she would know what to do with these pickaxe wounds: there is so much i need to tell her about how my rivers and lakes are crowded and narrowing. how i managed to piece together a sweat lodge out of mud and fish and bacteria
she gives me the cree name weesageechak and translates it to ‘sadness is a carcass his tears leave behind’

and the crows and flies who don’t care about gender will one day make away with my jet-black finger nails and scraggly armpit hairs and lay tobacco at my grave and tell their crow and fly kin that i was once a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans
Billy-Ray Belcourt, July, 2016
*****
Belcourt writes, “Heartbreak is sonic: it is the sound one makes when one becomes those who refuse to be put to rest. Everywhere we see that there is an aesthetic component to the brutalities of a world where the pace of everyday life vibrates with Native misery.”

When I hear about a young voice this powerful, I have to believe there will be less Native misery in the years ahead, thanks to young people like him shining their light into all the dark corners of Canadian colonialism. (Which is still alive and well, I am sorry to say.)

Billy-Ray’s website can be found here. He is also on facebook here.


Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.

18 comments:

  1. Wonderful, Sherry! What a powerful voice indeed, and such a unique and honest one. I'm glad we decided to start introducing more Canadian poets here, and very glad you chose this one to begin with.

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  2. My goodness! This is incredibly powerful work.

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  3. He is one to watch, my friends. I am blown away by him.

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  4. Wow! These poems are filled with power and also an incredible yearning and sadness. In the first poem, contradictions of being alive and unique feel like tears in life's fabric: "to be a man and to decolonize in the same breath," for example. I want to hold his hand! Thanking God right now that he has the courage to be a writer and teacher in this world.

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  5. Yes, courage, indeed, Susan. It gives me hope, all of these young voices being raised to say this world can and should be so much kinder than it is.

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  6. This was awesome, thank you, Sherry! I wrote a short story about a young Cree warrior you might like to read. It's got talking animals and the young man finds his place in the world. I wrote it after finding the picture and doing some research. But I'm not a Cree Indian so it's fiction.
    https://postcardfictionblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-mudjikiwis/
    Have a great weekend! Hugs!

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  7. Thanks so much for the introduction to an amazing young poet. Here is someone I look forward to reading.

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  8. Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow, Sherry.....this just blew my mind....what an amazing, truthful, in your face, tell it like it is voice.....his story and truth will blaze a light into all those dark places. Much like the young people we are seeing today....so many blazing a light! Thank you for introducing him here to us!

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  9. The young are going to BE the change we so badly need, and this young poet is blazing a trail in his community, I am sure. I am pleased you are happy to be meeting him, my friends.

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  10. OMG...Sherry I am too overwhelmed to speak a word about this young poet. Such powerful words! And I love the quote "Earth is not round. It is in the shape of a broken heart."...Thank you so much for this introduction.

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  11. It's my first experience of this kind of prose poem by a Canadian First Nation poet. I hadn't even heard of the Driftpile Cree Nation. I am amazed. I especially enjoyed 'The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesagechak' for introducing me to this Cree word (I studied linguistics at university), for the shape-shifting and references to the moon. I love the phrases:
    'there are weesageechak days when gender is a magic trick i forgot how to perform' and 'there is so much i need to tell her about how my rivers and lakes are crowded and narrowing. how i managed to piece together a sweat lodge out of mud and fish and bacteria', and the translation of weesageechak: 'sadness is a carcass his tears leave behind’.

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  12. Wow, Sherry, what a strong and powerful poem! I am awed by his writing & his bravery in sharing himself with the world. And what an honor for such a young poet to have a book which is considered the best Canadian poetry of 2017! A young man to follow indeed.

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  13. A fantastic - and truly edifying - post. Billy-Ray's poetry is the stuff of revelation. I use the word 'revelation' because Billy-Ray writes from a perspective in human experience that I would not have known. Work, such as this, 'connects' human existence. That is the power of great poetry.

    These are impactful, important pieces. Thank you for introducing me to this gifted poet, Sherry.

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  14. Amazing poet!
    thank you or sharing, Sherry.

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  15. I knew you would be blown away, friends. I love what Wendy says about "revelation". Yes, this work transcends. I SO wish I could write the way this young warrior does. He is a trailblazer and heaven knows we need them.

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  16. Such a candid courageous voice, Sherry thanks for the upfront and personal on this poet, new to me.

    much love...

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  17. Welcome to the world that needs you, Billy-Ray Belcourt. Writing is lonely at times, and having Sherry makes you believe in goodness.

    Great piece, dearest Sherry. I hope for your sake, it’s spring already!

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