What is the difference between motherless and mother loss? Probably the time factor involved. Motherless might go on for a long time while mother loss is seemingly a one time event. Being motherless for me happened when I was about nine and my mother disappeared. She had been coming and going since I was seven but the last time I saw her I did not know I would never see her again. She had been to jail and served about a year’s sentence. Before that, she had been going on long drinking binges. I developed the feeling of shame about her absences. My father said nothing much at all to either comfort or give any information about her.
The result was a growing
silence what went on for years starting in the fifties. I do remember him
saying that she was last heard of as being in Ontario. He mentioned the police
suggested he make a formal inquiry. I had been abandoned by her but did not
know it exactly. I did not know the terminology that went with either the
concept of motherless or mother loss. The motherless aspect took over though I think
of it as a time when I did not think that much about my mother. I did miss her
but had not cried about her leaving. It had been a shock that had numbed out
most of my feelings. I did expect her to return at some time so I did not think
of her as being dead or lost to me forever.
Anishinaabe poet Annharte, a/k/a MarieBaker [see my piece on an earlier collection over at Jacket2], is Miskwagoode (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2022), a collection composed against a backdrop of loss: “Taken from the Anishinaabe for ‘woman wearing red,’ Miskwagoode is an unsettling portrayal of unreconciled Indigenous experience under colonialism, past and present.” The collection opens with an introduction by her son, Forrest Funmaker, and another by her granddaughter Soffia Funmaker. “When my coocoo was just nine years old,” Soffia Funmaker writes, “her mother went missing and was never found. She was one of thousands of Indigenous women who are either missing or murdered in what is now called Canada. My jaji (father) named me Soffia and when he told my coocoo the name he chose for me, he said, ‘I hope she can have a better life than her.’”
Across a layering of shifting form, Annharte’s Miskwagoode offers a collision and cadence of words that flow across possibilities, writing of violence, grief and addiction, and the loss of so many through the legacy of colonial trauma. “where goes this naked ndn // not born Indigenous without,” she writes, as part of “Jack Identity,” “blue mark on bum // fail to act indifferent // national inquiries hold on [.]” The poems explore form, identity, community and “a backdrop of unreconciled realities within Indigenous experience,” from prose bursts to poems set as layered accumulations of staccato phrases, all set as disjointed descriptives across a documentary poetics she’s been crafting for years. “explain what is possible,” she writes, to open the poem “Better Yet Explain,” “for right now create / street surveillance position / post qualifications / employ non-gloved hand / feel out resistance / anticipate interference / from driven class interests / encourage cultural revival / lessen neo-liberal outreach [.]” And, as much as she presents herself as the documentarian, she sits precisely within the scope of her poems; more than simply an observer, she offers commentary, advice and option, neither passive nor unbiased, but deeply invested what is happening, and what should be happening; the ways in which things need to improve, both from without and from within. One might claim this, in the end, a book of deep grief and honesty, and how healing (and reconciliation) can only emerge through a true acknowledgment of the devastation wrought through colonialism. Moving her lyric across a landscape of mourning, the tone of her poems shift slightly in the final section, “Wabang,” through a suite of poems composed as prose declarations, and even calls-to-action. The poems are hopeful, engaged with a playful wit and gymnastic cadence, composing a blend of sound and storytelling to provide something to hold and hold on to.
Down with Big Stink
Fight takes Giant Skunk
down Wolverine held squirter but tail still up
Pressurized spray got right in his face dirty job somebody would do
Suspicious vibrations why Great Skunk followed animals escape after
They cross his path broke rule so they made a stand special bear song
Ask help to take out big bully after all Wolverine washed his face at
Hudson Bay explains why salty dirty water why Winnipeg so named