Louise Bernice Halfe - Sky Dancer is an icon of Canadian poetry, so it was a celebratory moment when, earlier this week, she was announced as the ninth Parliamentary Poet Laureate, one of the country's highest honours for a writer.
Her powerful collection, Blue Marrow, is being redesigned and re-released (now in its third edition) this March by Kegedonce Press (available now for pre-order).
Blue Marrow features poems that draw on the voices of grandmothers and mothers, weaving English and the Cree language in raw, moving poems that retain a sense of play and toughness even as they delve, unflinching, into Settler violence committed against Indigenous people in Canada. Celebrating the inherent music and poetry of Cree, Halfe's blend of the two languages has become a key element of her signature style.
Halfe, a residential school survivor and social worker, is an advocate for Indigenous voices. She has previously served as Saskatchewan’s second poet laureate, and been nominated for numerous prizes, including the Governor General's Literary Award.
We're thrilled to celebrate Halfe's appointment with an excerpt from Blue Marrow, courtesy of Kegedonce Press.
Excerpt from Blue Marrow by Louise Bernice Halfe:
Bless me, father. I’ve pierced my flesh. Danced
with the Sun. Bathed my face in blood.
I didn’t mean to.
Forgive me, father. I ask for absolution.
I promise to say my rosary and serve my time.
I promise to keep my hands to myself and
swallow my tongue. Amen.
We gathered in the darkened room,
bodies pressed leg to leg. Our breath
mint and garlic, sage and sweet grass
woven into my burlap gown.
We held hands, my love and I.
On each side my mother and father sat.
Blankets tea sugar flour gunpowder.
Tobacco ribbon blueberry cloth.
In the dark they came.
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I bring to you
these Voices I will not name. Voices
filled with bird calls, snorting buffalo,
kicking bears, mountain goats.
I do not recognize who speaks.
Skin unfolds. Sag after sag.
Words squeezed through her
lick till my heart stings, my
Scorched our flesh.
They tore out our tongues.
When we spoke,
my love and I, darkness swelled.
Thunder became our footsteps. This
ceremonial dance of my dead.
We were wedded that night.
The night has no shadow,
her veil always an open mouth.
Listen to the bones.
ohkomipan, I am she who speaks, father, the Eternal
Forgive me father; for I have sinned. It has been since
1492 since my last confession. I have committed the
Ripped my robes. Thrown into sea.
Spirit on their soil.
They tore flesh, breasts became pouches, hung
from their belts. Our bellies spilled.
I hung myself.
Blankets kill us. I am a large scab.
Mass graves. Fingers dig still
through the many bones.
Burned our crops. We live on mice.
We hold a Begging Dance.
Still our bellies echo.
Shot our babies, crushed their skulls against the rocks
The great mother sends more gods
to sprinkle water
on our heads.
The land weeps. I am choking. Choking.
The buffalo are a mountain of bones.
My son is shot for killing their cow.
The Keeper of the Stories – âcimowinis
My canoe is swift.
I become a squaw with blood on my hands.
ohkomipan continues the confession
Let them flog.
Enter my parched land.
I am rich. Five dollar every year until I die.
Until the grass die. Until the river die.
Until the sun die. Until
Squaw marriage. Scrounging.
My son is hung. My father became a skin
slipped through their jail
like a falling star.
Duncan Campbell Scott.
Squaw in mission school.
Moose milk, my joy.
I am fermented
as the sealers
in their cellar.
The Keeper of the Stories – âcimowinis
I will not lose my Pipe.
This holy war I stitch to my dress.
This Skull Dance.
This Ghost Dance.
kahkiyaw iskwêwak, nôtokwêsiwak, câpânak, êkwa
Grandmothers, and the Eternal Grandmothers in a
We are tired, nôsisim – Grandchild
The climb down waking our bones.
Your children’s tears
roused our sleep.
You have filled our scalped breast
Our wombs the medicine bags
of your festering.
Listen, nôsisim – Grandchild
These stories you gather,
our Sundance songs.
Give me my cane.
I’ll awake these sleeping Pipes.
Those Bundles belong to Women,
the wind storms
in the stripes of our flesh.
Our breasts that hang from the belts
of prairie settlers
now sway in the hands of our men.
Oh nôsisim – Grandchild, we cannot
carry your burden.
we are storm-eaten, sun-baked.
We will dance in the teepee
of your children’s songs. Dream.
Dream. nôsisim – Grandchild. Drum.
Drum. The Medicine lives.
This excerpt is taken from Blue Marrow by Louise Bernice Halfe - Sky Dancer, third edition copyright © 2021 by Louise Bernice Halfe. Published by Kegedonce Press. Reprinted with permission.
Louise Bernice Halfe - Sky Dancer first published her poetry in Writing the Circle: Women of Western Canada. She has since published four poetry collections, with a fifth to be released in 2021.
Blue Marrow was first published in 1998 and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Pat Lowther Award, and Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award.