- Two Poems
I remember one time in Fort Rae I was walking with my cousins,
four girls, who were walking with me. They were laughing at me, those girls, and I was wearing my father’s boots two sizes too big for me.
And these four girls,
these four cousins,
they laughed at me as I dragged my boots.
“You girls,” I said. “What’s so funny?”
One girl, one cousin,
stopped and pointed to my feet:
“Auntie told us, if you’re going to marry a man, listen to his feet when you walk with him.
If he drags his feet when he walks
you must not marry him:
he is lazy—
no good. [End Page 21]
He won’t be a good father.
He won’t be a good husband.”
And those four girls, those four cousins,
They ran far ahead of me laughing.
And this time
when I ran after them
I lifted my feet as high as I could.
The Dene Speak
Someone is throwing snow to look like paper, the way it swirls like puppets on strings caught up in wind, I remember these words whispered to me by a Cree woman who
could put the taste of a spring thaw in her bannock, so soft was the bite that it led me to bliss: ,
“Do you see the snow on the trees?
That is the breath of the caribou— they are so close.”
A Yellowknife Métis, over coffee, told me something that again wonderfully haunts me:
“I have seen the wolves run on their hind legs in the barren lands. Like humans they ran. [End Page 22]
You will never see that in any textbook and I haven’t heard it anywhere else but I have seen it!
I have seen it!
I have once watched Noh-gah, the wolverine,
stand on a winter lake,
Like a man it stood on its hindquarters it shielded its eyes with its paws shielded them against the sun.
When it saw that I was watching he went back to all fours
and dove into the snowbank, under it. Maybe I should not have seen that
but I did!
A Chippewa elder told this to me as she sewed pieces of sky and earth into one of her quilts:
“A rabbit screams like a child when it’s snared. A bear screams like a woman when shot.
So do moose.
So do deer.
You can’t tell me we’re not animals.
You can’t tell me we’re not cousins.” [End Page 23]
This is something I wanted to share, something I’ve picked up
and never wanted to put down, something that’s yours, ours,
hers and his, something worth waiting for, something worth
MahsiMahsi... [End Page 24]
Richard Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. He is the author of two children’s books with the Cree artist George Littlechild: A Man Called Raven (1997) and What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? (1998). He has published a novel, The Lesser Blessed (1996), which is now a feature film with First Generation Films. His collections of short fiction include Angel Wing Splash Pattern (2002), The Moon of Letting Go and Other Stories (2010), and Godless but Loyal to Heaven (2012). He is the author of three baby books: Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, Nighty Night: A Bedtime Song for Babies, and Little You. He is also the author of two comic books published by Healthy Aboriginal Network: Kiss Me Deadly and Path of the Warrior.