Category Archives: Resilience

The Sky Watched

I don’t have the words to praise long enough and well enough what Linda LeGarde Grover has done in The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives (Red Mountain Press, 2015). How she so beautifully, realistically reflects the spirit of her people; how she bears witness to their experiences, their lives, past and present, their strengths and their vulnerabilities. Nor can one overstate the important and necessary way these poems testify about the Indian Boarding School era of American history, and about a people’s will to recover from that (and other) attempts at erasure.
sky watched

We know that one road to recovery –of oneself, of one’s people, of the world– is through the healing rhythms, repetitions, and reiterations of story, of memory. And LeGarde Grover is a marvelous and expert and trustworthy poet-teller and (even in painful places) a gentle, composed, and loving one.

With each telling of the story with each singing of the song
          we once again rise to break the surface and seek
          the finite beyond the grace of this merciful Earth
          the finite beyond the mercy of this graceful Earth
                    (from Redemption, the collection’s opening poem)

 

I am not new to reading fictional and non-fictional treatments of this unspeakable chapter of American (and Canadian) history which, of course, must be spoken about—loudly, and repeatedly, and especially by Native voices. (A number of favorite authors regularly address the subject of Indian Schools: Louise Erdrich, Kent Nerburn, Robin Wall Kimmerer among them. I encourage you to seek them out.)

But I had not experienced a sustained poetic treatment of the subject before; and LeGarde Grover’s The Sky Watched is a really profound one. Her Poems of Ojibwe Lives emerge in part from her own family’s experiences of boarding school and beyond (her grandmother, her aunties, other relatives, children and families they knew).

And let me tell you. The cumulative effect of multiple speakers, of bringing one voice after another to bear on a shared experience, is very powerful. Like any accumulation of voices (as in Our Town, for instance, or in a Spoon River-type anthology) each added voice, each story, each new telling fills in and layers onto what has been said. The combined effect is a truer truth than one over-arching narration could possibly provide, and a surer and more powerful knowing for the reader.

There are also poems in the collection that address another kind of erasure, which is what happens when the “gen-yew-whine” Indian Princess that is sought, commodified, and co-opted for a certain look, a style, a kind of spirituality is based on a hyper-romanticized version of Indian-ness.  “I know what you’re looking for / and that I’m not it,” the speaker insists. Her real reality is not only invisible, but undesired—not what is wanted at all.

But the prevailing iterations of this book are these: strength, the power of family, confidence in the natural world, and gratitude. The closing poem, Migwechiwendam Schaaganaashimowin, gives thanks for grandchildren “their sweet happy hearts” and for grandmothers, long gone but still “among us.” “And then I know I am blessed, a fortunate woman.”

Oh, how I hope you will read this collection! And be sure to read some of it out loud, including this postscript:

and today, Wazhashk, hear us breathe
a continuing song
a continuing song
long before the memory of mortals

——

Now Reading:

indian horse

I have just begun Richard Wagamese’s powerful novel, Indian Horse and at times I don’t dare / can’t bear to turn the page. I hold my breath, knowing another shoe will drop, and another, and another. I fear (rightly) that the varieties and levels of violence done to these young bodies (and minds and souls) at St. Jerome’s Indian ‘School’ have not yet been exhausted. But neither will I look away. None of us should look away — from inhumanity, from injustice, from atrocities past or present. Isn’t it the looking away (by those who are free to do so) that allows evil to continue?

“This Year I’m Cutting Back”

Many of you know how much vegetable gardening means to me. How much I’ve loved every stage: from seed starting, to transplanting, to setting out, to mulching, watering, harvesting, putting by, cooking, eating, sharing. Heck, even weeding is okay by me. And oh how I love to be in the garden. I could putter endlessly. And I do. I like to express my  gratitude to the plants and even talk to the critters. The garden is my self-made habitat, and the perfect one for me. Whether my soul is soaring or aching or somewhere in between, the garden is exactly what I need.

garden bench

And yet, every year I say, “this year I will cut back.” Gardening the way I do is a tremendous amount of work, some light, much of it heavy and difficult; and with every passing year I feel a little more unequal to it. As you can imagine, it’s also a huge time commitment, one that lasts from seed starting in late February through harvesting in late September and clean-up in early October. Hence, most of my travel (which is another tip top priority) and all of my extended travel must happen between October and early February. These months aren’t optimal weather-wise, especially for someone who prefers road trips to flying. But I’ve made it work.

parsley

Despite my annual pronouncements, however, I never do cut back. Well once, in 2015. In February of that year my husband suffered a terrible stroke. I could easily have lost him. It was February 20th, as a matter of fact, a day that usually heralds my seed starting in earnest. And I can still see the seeds, and seed starting mix and trays lined up on the counter. And then the phone rang. It was a harrowing weekend, followed by a month in a stroke rehabilitation unit (together), followed by many more months of intense rehab and myriad adjustments at home. Gardening as I have always known it wasn’t even close to happening that year. And as it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing.

The year got worse. On Sunday night July 12th, 2015, an 8-mile wide by 3-mile deep superstorm (with winds in excess of 110 mph) roared across our lake. When it was over, the gardens I would have planted (as well as the yard, the driveway, the house, the garage) were covered, and I mean covered, with 80-year-old cedars, 150-year-old white pines, and ancient oaks 36” or more in circumference.

storm

I learned many, many things in 2015, about how everything can change in an instant and that people who love each other can make it through the worst shit life can throw them. I learned about resilience, buoyancy, what true strength is, how utterly precious is good health, and how to better honor the time you do have by being more present in it.

And this year, 2018, I really am going to cut back in the garden–not out of tragedy this time, but because I want to. And not even these darling artichoke seedlings will persuade me otherwise.

IMG_2941

I want more time for writing this year. I want to read more and hit the road from time to time in good weather. But it’s also that my heart just doesn’t seem to be where it usually is this time of year. The long extended winter and the seriously delayed garden year has been tough on the seedlings under lights downstairs and on me too. Most of my plants are failing to thrive for one reason or another. Maybe we’ve all missed some window; maybe the wind’s been let out of all our sails. But gosh, those artichoke seedlings are troopers, aren’t they? Wish me luck.