How I forgot the days of red-boned men marching across denizen plains; of green-breasted women braiding blood and soil as one from sugared grass and chokecherry leavesLisez l’histoire de Joshua Whitehead
My name is Joshua Whitehead and I am a member of the Peguis First Nation. The poem I wrote is titled, MANitoBAN and deals with the loss of culture and the forgetting of the past. I do not want to pick apart the poem for you, as I feel a poem needs to be enjoyed and interpreted in its own raw, naked form. However, I will elaborate on the themes and my inspiration for this piece.
This poem was inspired by a trip to the Manitoban Museum of Man and Nature wherein I saw Aboriginal artifacts, in all of their sacred beauty, locked away behind plastic. I then thought about how much has been lost through the years, from things such as residential schools, and how much I, as the new generation, am unaware of.
This poem is my response to that loss. This poem is my response to my ancestry and how much of it is locked away in museums or gone forever. No amount of description and/or instructional videos in the museums can make up for that which was lost. But in that, in seeing these artifacts, I am reminded of the strength of my family and of my people. I’m reminded of what these artifacts were used for, how they were used and how they were almighty tools in the hands of our people. I’m reminded of how much this land truly belongs to us. Ultimately I’m reminded, much like how the poem ends, in remembering that I am Canadian and I am as much a citizen as any other.
Beneath this hardened varnish
of marble elegance and
is the clay.
How I forgot the days
of red-boned men
marching across denizen plains;
of green-breasted women
braiding blood and soil as one
from sugared grass and chokecherry leaves;
of saintly-rich smells
summer sweat and wind-burnt flesh
lumpy bread and muddy stew
musky clouds of thyme and sage.
Beneath these white-hot lights
of polyurethane plastic
and stinging lemon fumes
is the red stemmed leaf of man.