Friday, July 27, 2018

I Wish I'd Written This


dirt road
open windows

beautiful one, too perfect for this world

the immediacy of mosquitos
humidity choking breath

my beautiful singing bird

five year old ogitchidaakwe*
crying silent, petrified tears in the backseat
until the dam finally bursts

you are the breath over the ice on the lake. you are the one the grandmothers sing to through the rapids. you are the saved seeds of allies. you are the space between embraces

she’s always going to remember this

you are rebellion, resistance, re-imagination

her body will remember

you are dug up roads, 27 day standoffs, the foil of industry prospectors 

she can’t speak about it for a year, which is 1/6 of her life 

for every one of your questions there is a story hidden in the skin of the forest. use them as flint, fodder, love songs, medicine. you are from a place of unflinching power, the holder of our stories, the one who speaks up

the chance for spoken up words drowned in ambush

you are not a vessel for white settler shame,

even if I am the housing that failed you

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

*(ogichidaakwe is holy woman)

Leanne Simpson wrote this poem, made into a song, when her small daughter experienced racism for the first time. One feels the pain of a mother who cannot protect her child from a sometimes hostile world. In her closing line, she takes the blame on herself for failing her child. But the fault lies with the one causing the hurt, and the nation-wide dominant culture of colonialism and oppression. My whiteness is part of that cultural hurt. I struggle with that.

I have just discovered this amazing poet, writer, singer/songwriter, activist and academic, and am excited to share her with you. Ms Simpson is a noted and powerful voice on indigenous issues in Canada. She is from Mississauga, Ontario, and has authored many books and papers, making many appearances where she speaks eloquently on these topics. Active in the Idle No More protests,  her songs, story-telling and spoken word performances speak about the effects of colonization on indigenous cultures, about racism, the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada, and the very personal feelings of being indigenous in a settler society.

At the closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ms Simpson said, “I felt angry, not reconciled.” (Rather than reconciliation, perhaps we should be aiming for reparation. In my opinion.)

Leanne Simpson is of Michi Saaqiig Nishnaabeg ancestry, and is a member of the Alderville First Nation in Mississauga, a sub-nation of the Ojibways.

She has been quoted as saying, “Poetry holds space for other worlds. Worlds that exist in spite of the tremendous violence of colonialism or anti-Blackness. Poetry allows us to feel and taste and breathe freedom.” Aho.

If you are interested in reading more of her work, I recommend “i am graffiti”, “Broken Berries”, and “Spacing”. She writes so powerfully, with love, humour, and anguish, about the truth of her life, and the lives of her people. She has many books out, and you can find out more about her and her work at her website 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.


  1. Thank you for sharing Leanne's message! It saddens me to think of this child's view of the world being altered by people-who lack humanity. We all share the gifts and burden of being connected to the world's patchwork of love and hate. I see threads weekly in my own corner of the galaxy. Why can't we relate? Life is hard and let's do our best, be our best, and not attack others because they are different. I was raised with the Golden Rule-what happened to this concept?! There are more churches going up in my area yet, the profound message I learned as a child is not heeded.
    Thank you, Sherry for holding space for Leanne's wisdom, heart, and voice~

  2. Thank you for posting this beautiful poem. It is deep, deep, wise and wonderful. xoxo

  3. It is a privilege, Ella. Thank you for your thoughtful, loving voice. The golden rule is wise and inclusive. We need to turn back to it, and away from the divisiveness spreading like bad weeds among the misguided.

  4. The center of this poem, like the center of the child and of you and me--holds the beauty and the terror, the traumatic loss of memory for a year. And it holds the (re)awakening of power, too, nurtured by "story hidden in the skin of the forest." How beautiful and how true! The poetic space contains worlds of possibility and "Leaks" reveals its power. Wow!

  5. Thank you for sharing poem, poet and background, Sherry! I love being introduced to poets from around the world who I would otherwise not have heard of. It is so interesting to learn a little about Michi Saaqiig Nishnaabeg, the Alderville First Nation in Mississauga and the Ojibways. I'm amazed at the many wonderful ancient cultures I have yet to find out about.
    The poem is particularly touching and relevant to me because of my little grandson, which is why my favourite lines are:
    'you are the breath over the ice on the lake. you are the one the grandmothers sing to through the are the space between embraces'.
    I also love these lines:
    'for every one of your questions there is a story hidden in the skin of the forest. use them as flint, fodder, love songs, medicine. you are from a place of unflinching power, the holder of our stories, the one who speaks up'.

  6. I love those lines, too, Kim. The power of a mother's love, and a child's beauty and innocence. Sigh. When will divisiveness end and we become the family of humans we are meant to be?

  7. truly beautiful. the words, people, all of it.

  8. Oh, Sherry, you have me crying, sobbing with the beauty of this woman and her child.
    Meanwhile my dear little dog sees me crying and wants to comfort me.

  9. Ah, Kay, you have such a tender heart. Isn't the little girl precious? She has a wonderful mom, so she will grow up a woman warrior, I am sure.

  10. The more oppression the more will be such voices and one day these voices will rule. May not be in my lifetime but surely they will Rise. Thanks Sherry for this amazing share. My favorite lines have already been quoted.

  11. Thank you Sherry, for sharing the voices of indigenous people.
    the poem, recited with music, adds a level of immediacy and intimacy. "dug up roads, 27 day standoffs", oh man, reminds me of the oil pipelines protests.

  12. wow loved it Deep feeling gorgeous poem Beautiful video as well

  13. I am so happy to share this with you all. What a find!

  14. I too thought of the oil pipeline protests. A powerful, moving, beautiful piece. But your link to Broken Berries leads instead to Spacing (which is also at the link to Spacing).

  15. Oh that is so beautiful, Sherry. I watched to video and read the words. What a powerful voice. I am so sad for all of the mothers who cannot protect their children from the hostile world. What a wonderful talent this poet/singer has! May she sing on!

  16. Thanks for introducing the work of this poet/songwriter. I hope her words are read by many.

  17. A beautiful and impactful piece. A mother's heart holds so much and never aches more than when she feels she has not protected her child from the meanness of this world. A lovely and poignant share.


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