Two pieces, creative non-fiction and poetry, were included in the fall 2008 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review, guest edited by Keff Kenner.
Avoided, Averted (poem) was later adapted and included in BONES. Below is the creative non-fiction piece:
Imagine that you are in a boat. You are on a body of water, yet within sight of the shore. You are without a lifejacket. You know the water to be cold because your feet are bare, and sitting flat on the bottom of the boat. The water is so cold your feet are sweating. How you came to be in the boat is a mystery. Where you are going is a mystery, as well. Yet the boat is moving of its own accord, and you desperately hope that it is somewhere useful – somewhere that might be warm, and safe.
Yet, you wonder where that may be. A quick scan of the shoreline reveals nothing familiar. Look up, and notice that the sky is grey. Funny, you think to yourself, it always happens to be cloudy at the worst times. Looking back to the shoreline, you manage a small chuckle after realizing the irony of that thought – sunny and warm weather is always preferable to cloudy, cold days.
You look down, and rub the outside of your arms. If you could bring your shoulders up to your ears, you would. If you could find a way to wrap your body up in itself, bring your back all the way around so that it touches and warms the inside of you legs, you would. You notice your breath is cold, and wet. You turn your head to the side, so that it doesn’t wet the front of your body. Yet, you wonder if it is worth leaving your body open to the elements like that.
“Where are my shoes?” you ask aloud. For anger’s sake you continue, “Where is my shirt? And how did I get here?” Your voice answers back, from the shoreline, you are alone. There are no animals to be heard. Or seen. You manage to look over the side of the boat to see if there are any fish under there. You peer through water, attempting to gain a flicker, a shimmer of some sort. If only the Sun could peek out long enough to provide a corridor into the depths – light the void for you. If you could catch something – anything – this might be bearable. But nothing meets your gaze, and again your thoughts turn in on themselves.
You remember how Sunlight travels through water, how it splinters into long shards, and dances into the depths. It was a beautiful thing to swim out into the water and catch a glimmer of moving scales. Seeing a world through glimmering light gave it a magical quality. It was as if the underwater world could speak to you, and the sun was your translator. Green-tinted crystal shards that spoke glimpses of an unknown world to you — a child. Somewhere along the shore, you had two parents that were enjoying the solitude of hard work. Over the sound of water against your skin you could hear the sound of someone chopping wood.
But of course, the water was warmer than it is now. And, you had the comfort of your own bathing suit. In the world of your childhood, you remember that everything required preparation. If you went out into a boat, you wore a life jacket. If it was cold, you were told not to go out. If the water was really cold, you could borrow a wetsuit from one of your older brothers. And, if you peered over the side of this boat, you would see something. You would have recourse – a connection to a world that up until now made sense. Listen again, and notice that you are still alone.
Your right leg is shaking, but you haven’t noticed it until now. Is it really that cold? Look out toward the shore, and wonder, would I make it if I swam? Of course not. As the water under the boat steals the warmth through the arches of your feet, you realize how quickly you could perish. Water this cold has a way of penetrating you – it licks the insides of your armpits, stabs the underside of your ankles. Small pinpoints of pain accompany the numbness that lulls you into sleep.
Look out into the water and shout, “HOW DID I GET HERE? THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!” You look down again, and realize the slight tinge of blue under your fingernails. You begin to despair, in a world you don’t remember – in a boat that is not yours, moving in a direction you never chose.
From over the side of the boat, you hear a soft murmuring of voices — a swell of news reports. You’re not sure what is being said, but you recognize the inflections. These people sound like they know what they are talking about. You chuckle. It amazes you how the sound of authority can pass for true knowledge in this world. You remember someone saying that a sweet voice and a teleprompter can speak the will of a nation. “Not my nation,” you reply, as your voice carries beyond the water.
A sudden movement from underneath slants your vision, and the boat sways to one side with the force of a falling tree. You grab the sides, hoping not to fall in. Your wish is granted, for the moment. Before realizing it, you are lowering yourself into the bottom of the boat, getting as close to the wood as you can. You try to close your legs underneath yourself, to ensure the cold does not get inside you.
From over the side of the boat, you hear someone speaking to you. You slow your breathing to try and hear more. You can come in the water. You simply need to get used to it. See? You’re already doing it. Slow your breathing a little more. Listen to the sound of the waves, and breathe in time with that. You hear nothing. No, listen really hard. Imagine it is there.
Before listening to the voice, you try and remember what brought you here. This whole place seems wrong. You would not have chosen this for yourself – someone had to do it for you.
From the side, another voice is raised, “another round of constitutional talks have been scheduled for the upcoming …”
You are distracted, but try again to remember what brought you he
“…has sought to have Quebec officially sign on to the constitution …”
If you could just get to the point where you can bring some sense into this place.
“ … most remembered for the eloquent ‘no’ that blocked the passage of the …”
Shaking your head, you decide instead not to try and remember. You will defy the cold. Letting go of the sides, you raise yourself into a half-crouching position. The boat rocks in response, and you imagine the cold once more.
“I’m not becoming a part of this place,” you say to yourself, “this is not my place.” Despite the numbness of your legs, and the tickle of cold wind around your thighs, you continue to stand. Looking down at the water, you notice a flicker of darkness on light. Looking up toward the sun, you are shocked to see another person standing there. He is in a boat as well. You can tell by looking down at his lower half that he is just as cold as you are. But the corners of his mouth are turned up slightly, as he looks in the direction you are traveling. All around you are boats, each with their own person. The place no longer seems as cold as it once was.
You smile as you look forward, and reject the rules of this place. This is not your coldness; this is not your water. It makes no sense to you to be here, and so you join the silent chorus in soft exit. As you look to the right at this man who seems to be smiling slightly, you see him mouth the word no.
The cold is still there. And the negotiation of yourself and your place still continues. You shiver in some ways, and you still fear the water. By allowing yourself to say no, you know you’ve started something.
“Quiet dignity. That’s how Elijah Harper is perceived in the eyes of Canadians. When he uttered the firm and eloquent “No” that blocked the passage of the Meech Lake Accord in the Manitoba Legislature in 1990, he exemplified the growing political clout of First Nations across Canada. Eagle feather in hand, Mr. Harper cited the lack of adequate participation by Aboriginal people in Canada’s political process as his reason for blocking the accord.” (NAAF 1996)