Friday, August 9, 2013

Voices In The Waterfall - Beth Cuthand

Today's book of poetry:  Voices In The Waterfall.  Beth Cuthand.  Theytus Books.  Pentiction, British Columbia.  2008.

Post-Oka Kinda Woman

Here she comes strutting down your street.
This post-Oka woman don't take no shit.

She's done with victimization, reparation,
degradation, assimilation,
devolution, coddled collusion,
the "plight of the native Peoples."

Post-Oka woman,
She sashay       into your suburbia.
Mackenzie Way, Riel Crescent    belong to her
like software microwave ovens,
plastic Christmas trees and lawn chairs.

Her daughter wears Reeboks and works out.
Her sons cook      and wash up.
Her grandkids don't sass their Kokum!

She drives a Toyota, reads best-sellers,
sweats on week-ends, colors her hair,
sings old songs, gathers herbs.
Two steps Tuesdays
round dances Wednesdays,
twelve steps when she needs it.

Post-Oka woman she's struttin'
not walkin' one step behind her man.
She don't take that shit
Don't need it!         Don't want it!
You want her         then treat her right.

Talk to her of post-modern de-constructivism
She'll say;                    "What took you so long?"
You wanna discuss Land Claims?
She'll tell ya she'd rather leave
her kids with a struggle than a bad settlement.

Indian Government?
                   Show her cold hard cash.

Tell her you've never talked to a real live Indian.
       She'll say:                "Isn't that special."

Post-Oka woman, she's cheeky.
       She's bold                She's cold.

And she don't take no shit.

No shit!.


I could be so wrong but I suspect that might be partially a self portrait, my apologies if I am wrong, but for me this poem embodies Beth Cuthand's poetic.  Informed, educated, and not about to take any crap.

These poems offer an oral history from a seldom listened to perspective about subjects that rarely get our attention or respect.

August Heat

Auntie died after Christmas.
She lay in the band hall,
her strong brown hands
meeting over her ample lap.

Those hands made the best
Saskatoon berry pie.
All the ladies of the four bands
no one could match her skill.

Auntie guarded her berry patch
up on the south hill.
Under the poplars
shaded from the hottest sun
those berries grew fat.

Auntie made it so
carrying water up by her
own strong back and her
iron will alone.

In August when the crows
flocked in the trees and
bears meandered down
from the bush country,
Auntie knew she had to share
those purple jewels
hanging heavy
ready to bow to the weight
of bear's paws and sticky fingered
children picking and eating.

Picking and eating
til lips and teeth turned blue
and purple tongues grew thick
on the blooded prairie sun
shine of purple berries

When the bears and children
ate their fill, Auntie
picked her pails full;
some to freeze for winter dances
and some to bake in pies.

This was Auntie
loving us,
her sweat running off the
ends of her braids
as she bent over her oven
in the late August heat
while thunder rumbled
over the hills.

These were her pies:
              crystallized sugar dusting
              crust that melted
              in our mouths
              mixing with the sweet berry
              juice of Saskatoons
              baked tender with her
              fire and tindered pride.

And when she was sung into the earth
the dogs howled and ran
to the other side
to guide her home.


Beth Cuthand is a poet, and a good one, but you might also think that she is a Social Historian.  As with most narratives, and that of First People's in North America, it is the loudest, most aggressive (read powerful) voices who get heard.  Cuthand is changing that story, one poem at a time.

Cuthand, along with writers like Garry Gottfriedson (Skin Like Mine), and Richard Wagamese (Runaway Dreams), are breaking through an invisible barrier in Canadian letters.  Although they are all clearly aboriginal, Cuthand is Cree, these writers, and others, are breaking through the colonialist facade to be recognized as poets without a necessary tag line, they are just good poets.

This Knowledge

The old man
sits in the cloudy sunlight
to let the day unfold
as it will.

His gnarled hands
speak of a life
well spent in contemplation
of matters more profound
than material.

His eyes are ancient
older than many lifetimes.
He speaks to me
the young one
impatient to be off.

"This knowledge comes in many ways.
Quietly sometimes
in the whisper
of a butterfly's wings,
or the rustling of the grasses
blown by the winds...

It can come quickly
       in a flash so fast
may miss it
   a single bolt of lightning
       in a silent         humid

It can come slowly
    piece by piece
        over the years
           ...partly revealed
in the markings of a feather
    then on to a misty
half remembered dream
         leading to
voices in a waterfall
barely heard
just barely heard.
Those are the times
that try an old man's soul.
You, too, my girl?"

We watch raindrops
on the window pane
The wind is knocking
a tree branch
against the house.

a clock is ticking
silenced         drowned
by the sound
of our beating hearts.


Beth Cuthand's Voices In The Waterfall has a short prose section called Beginnings that is a deeply moving account of her coming to writing and life choices and perhaps could be seen as a mission statement.

There are also poems about Louis Riel and other heroes, and poems about those we'll never know.  Most importantly Beth Cuthand is sharing her dance, telling us her stories, with grace.

It's All in the Stories

It's all in the stories, you say.
Story is metaphor,
your round head nods.

It's not about male nor female.
That's not right.
There are no words for
he or she.

And you grin
your feminist daughter
likes that sort of thing.

It's all there in the stories,
you repeat
and somewhere rabbit
tricks Keewatin yet again.

The thunder tree
shelters the innocent
while horses paint stars
on flanks and withers
and kind old man buffalo
turns to stone.

Story is like a dance -
a metaphor for life
and it's always a different dance.

You understand?

The knotted hairs
gather metaphor and symbol
archetype          and context,
They store them in hankies
and tea cans
under the bed
or back of the house.

They're always gathering
new ways to make
things clear.

Don't listen to the people who
say the stories have to be told
exactly the way they're
given to you.

That rule was made for
who didn't understand
the stories come from down here.

You touch your belly and you grin.

If you feel it, you can tell it.

Write it down.
Make a poem.
Make a video.
There's always new ways
to tell a good story.

Someday my grandchildren
will use computer animation
or virtual reality.

The stories won't die my girl.
As long as we tell them
they'll live.


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