Wednesday, August 08, 2007

An Uncollected Andrew Suknaski poem

While going through 1970s-era issues of The NeWest Review (thanks to Monty Reid), I found this uncollected poem by prairie poet Andrew Suknaski. Too late to go into the selected poems that we're working on (it should be out in September/October), Monty suggests there are probably piles of uncollected Suknaski out there in the world. Found in Volume 2, No. 4, December 1976, this piece also responds to a piece by Myrna Kostash in another issue a few months earlier [see my blog entry on Kostash that explains the connection here].

There Are No Ukrainian-Canadians

today as usual
i am pothering pothering pothering around
unable to find my favorite cracked clay pipe
and the last time this happened
just like my father
snarling his old slavic gypsy curse
i softly swore "slock troff!
ahbeh tehbeh xhoolehrah zahbrahlah fykoo!"
and my pipe fell to the floor shattering
into a hundred hopeless pieces
me cursing again even softer "slock troff!
ahbed tehbeh dgeetko zahbrow!"
and today a young woman who lost 20 pounds and anglicized
her ukrainian surname
to become an instant aircanada success
telle me "there are no ukrainian canadians!"
no this lovely woman whom i adore will be no babah
stealing anything for her geedo
to lay it at his feet
she will never wash her geedo's feet
or even dream of drinking the water
and ah…for this i adore her

and like small children packing hay with their feet in a hayrick
my saskatoon friend greenwood this very moment
is trahmp trahmping a half kilo of cabbage rolls
and pehrooheh smothered in sour cream
while his willowthin wife dunia radiates a smile
as bright as golden wheat shimmering against dark blue
unbelievable sky of the ukraine's babskeh lehto*
and this very moment dunia's dneiper father
has just finished his borsch
and with his shirttail is wiping his father's ornate silver spoon
before hiding it once again in a crack
beneath the round oak table bought in the thirties
this a habit beginning when all wood and earth dried and cracked
while noon skies turned into night and lanterned dreams
and aye "there are no ukrainian canadians"

yet my friend sefaras the north battleford greek dentist
speaking perfect classical greek to 50% of his patients
once said to me "we ohr conodions
we mhost cease these othnic hungups
your phoms bhot rhumonions un ukrunions
mean nhothing toh me ahz ah conodion…"
and my friend sefaras whose name means baker of bread
became a full canadian citizen
and after 8 years of immigrant nostalgia
returned home to southern greece to visit his parents
for a few weeks one summer
and upon returning to canada via new york
by an olympic airlines 747 where he savored sweet ouzo
sent away the first patients
and cancelled all appointments for one week
he said "win i rethorned to my worrk on delicote thols
on hod toh lhok ought my first mhoth
after seeing thoh ahcrhopolite ahgen
thah mediterrhoneon on where it ohll beghon
i shok like on alcoholic
thoh humhon mhoth seemed ahz smholl
ahz my mhother's sholver thimbol…
i did nhothing ulse fhorr dhot whol week
bhot cost ah few fhols teeth"
ah…there are no ukrainian canadians

but there is my polish doctor friend pozhalski in edmonton
pozhalski whose name means "have pity" or "brother to sorrow"
and who for several days twice a month practices medicine
aiding indians near lesser slave lake
and he still believes there are indians or indian canadians
and he has learned to think like an indian
pozhalski tells a story an indian chief once arriving to say
"doctor…my daughter was ill once for days
and i phoned the clinic leave a message
asking the nurse to come to my house
and i waited and waited for several days
no one came
no doctor…no nurse
i don’t understand it doctor
fortunately my daughter got better"
and pozhalski replied
"chief…once there was a hudson's bay post near this spot
where we are now sitting
and the good trader had this understanding with the old people
when some of them were not well and needed provisions
they only had to send a message
with one of the younger men
and he the old trader would snowshoe out in the gathering storm
to bring them food
and other things left in exchange for furs
if there were none to be had
he always said he could wait…and now
in that exact spot stands a hardware store
and everyone comes to it
paying for everything in cash
and there are no bills or home deliveries…
it is all different now chief"
the chief nodded his head
"yes doctor…i see"
ah there are no ukrainian canadians

though my poet friend morrissette has just kissed goodbye
his beautiful redheaded social worker /he sometimes lives with in regina/
and once again is on his way to winnipeg
his young balding head humming ole time fiddletunes
while he slowly falls asleep at the wheel to dream
of his female jewish new york psychiatrist
who once told him when he was 30
"love your metis stepparents you must
but you are white
and their world…is not yours
we must find out who your real parents are
or you will never be happy and know where you belong
and what you are…" and in several hours morrissette
will be stopping again at the same gulf station
owned by a greying man in east kildonan
and young morrissette will be murmuring the usual
"fill it up…please" being very careful
as always
to never slip and say "…father"
then morrissette will continue again a few more blocks
into st. boniface to his metis wheelchaired stepfather
in a house still home
and share with him a few more intravenoused days now numbered
yes… life is not so easy as a walk across a field
no there are no ukrainian canadians
only the young aircanada woman
of whom i grow more and more fond each day
for i have had enough of hating
and in the yelloworange poplars on the edge of the garden
buried deep in my chloroformed boyhood memory
a young woman cries while she digs a small hole
with a coalpail shovel
and a young man returning from the barn
hears and sees her
and goes over to help her
"don’t cry don’t cry…there will be others
and no one will ever know" he says holding her close
where they kneel

and deeper still in my chlorophylled boyhood memory
there is a man tearing legs from dolls
before casting them into the heater in the middle of the night
following christmas eve
and after he leaves the heater lid slightly open
beyond the ceiling's laughing crescents of light
move the shadows of a rolling pin
eclipsing both the straight razor and the axe
and the moon becomes a baby's death certificate
i cannot read
while the wind turns the dead grocer's ledger page by page
in the wood mountain nuisance ground
till something dark inside me assumes form emitting a muted cry
from its earthfilled mouth
"MAMMAH! TAHTOO! peter…our first born
i do not know you peter
where you lie in your unmarked grave in the corner
of the cemetery high in the southern hills
peter…i do not know you
your father
our father
and do not want to
they have all paid for it a million times
their tea and tobacco stained dreams and lined faces
etched with tears of a thousand nightmare nights
and the place thereof
prairie grass and straw barn
only a home for mice
and there are no ukrainian canadians
save me!"

*babskeh lehto means "woman's summer" ukrainian for indian summer


bretired said...

Stunning. Just read "What is Remembered" from In the Name of Narid. Quite incredible. Thinking of Saskatchewan poets today, I can't think of anyone writing with the scope of Andy's vision. Anne Szumigalski was the only one who came close, though she was more a down-home Blake type.

bretired said...

Great poem. Just read "What is Remembered" in In The Name Of Narid. The scope of Andy's vision is still greater than anyone writing here today. The possible exceptions being Tim Lilburn, who isn't in Sask any more and Anne Szumigalski, who was more of a down-home Blake type.