A SONG CALLED EVENING
Enduring a life not lived she tried to sing a song one evening, but what came out
broke her heart and turned her into water. Loneliness filled her body. It so happens
that the more she moved into it the more she began to leak. Gasping for a remedy
she hugged her sleeping babies, but it didn’t work and in the gloom she become
a river, then a rapid, turning into a torrent. She could not contain himself, it was
past eleven, and there she was past the place of returning.
Coming our way the size of a mountain.
The polar caps are melting the water is here
Poor man and rich will taste their fear.
It was a simple song, maybe a country song, or a rock song, or a song for a drum.
What she did know is that it filled the core of her being. A song spilling out of her
heart, her eyes, her mouth, her ears. Swept away she flowed with such force that
to her astonishment she found herself knocking down things – finally! she thought
as she collided with churches and schools, apartment buildings and grocery stories,
corner stores and offices, malls and police stations, you name it.
The bible people gathered to pray
While others danced and sang, and they all had one thing to say
the end of the world is here, the end of the world is here.
Oh my babies, she thought, stretching out her arms in front of her as she had been
taught when she was a little girl. Oh my. But that old feeling of emptiness,
disempowerment, shame, was fleeting because in the moment she felt for
the first time who she was, and she liked it. Why hadn’t she been taught this?
She knew. She flowed with power, and she was going to use it. Hell yes.
Water is power. Water brings beginning. That much she knew.
I’ve seen it it’s true there is no denying.
From each single wave they’ll be no hiding.
It will strike with all the force of creation.
If only she could remember more of the words, but it was getting late and it was time
to return home to snuggle her babies, tidy the place, maybe watch some tv. It was time
to pull the curtains aside. Time to clean things up. Time to make her own way. Nobody
was going to do it for her. It felt good to stretch her entire being. She could do it,
she could make things sing as she plowed through them. This was living. This is what
would get her through another day. Oh, how she loved her two babies. She would
give them the world.
We turn on the tap
without a thought
and with a weary sigh
we greet the day
with things (to do)
while the water runs out
and we stare
like robots (as we fill our coffeepot).
of this and that
but never all the ways
we turn on the tap
without a thought.
Is it because
we think everything
can be sold
as a reward
for our hard work
with our hard-earned pay?
Content to fill
with things (to have)
while the water runs dry.
I can attest
it is true
I have seen the yachts.
The lakes go foul
while the speedboats play
And we continue
to turn on the tap
without a thought.
there comes a time
to connect the dots
because the power
presses to sway
with things (desired).
They make us dream
we’ve hit the jackpot
a continual onslaught
but those who see
know it is time
to take a stand
for we cannot continue
to turn on the tap
without a thought
And submit to a life
of things that are
Between land and water so glassy
not a ripple to disturb what you see,
a plume of green tendril sweeps
across your legs like an invitation,
an invocation that awakens your body,
numb swimmer of absolute beginnings and endings.
Into this morning you go naked
and clear to bedrock
propelled by a shard of beauty,
of what little is left after such a long drought. What is it
that cuts through you through the exhausted surface
to a fourth dimension where fish,
turtle, loon, serpent
mingle below a necklace of cottages,
and – lo and behold – sprout from your limbs,
your trepidation, disbelief, wonderment,
nothing less than a terrestrial gulp
the size of a lake as you continue
harder than ever
to swim on.
"Sentient" from Treaty #, Wolsak & Wynn, 2019.
Armand Garnet Ruffo was born and raised in northern Canada and is a member of the Chapleau Fox Lake Cree First Nation. He is recognized as a major contributor to both contemporary Indigenous literature an Indigenous literary scholarship in Canada. As an educator, he is currently the Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, On. As a poet, he was honoured in 2016 with a “Lifetime Membership Award” from the National Council of The League of Canadian Poets.
He is the author of numerous books including Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing Into Thunderbird, a finalist for a 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award, and Treaty #, a finalist for a 2019 Governor General’s Award. His latest film is a collaboration called “On The Day the World Begins Again,” a short video poem about Indigenous peoples’ incarceration, which premiered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival in 2019. It can be accessed at https://vimeo.com/336947329. He most recently co-edited An Anthology of Indigenous Literature in Canada (Oxford U Press, 2020).
The hermit crab lives alone in its own small shell.
I, too, live in my own small shell.
Its walls are dark and cozy like a cave.
I scuttle about from tide pool to tide pool and I am happy.
But lately my shell/cave paintings trouble me.
Images of dark seagulls and undulating creatures live on my walls.
I fear my shell/cave has grown too heavy.
I fear I no longer know where
the shell/cave ends and where I begin.
I am shell/
I am dark cave.
DEATH IS A MAN WHO FEELS SCARED
Bains Corner, New Brunswick
Trudging over fickle ice crystals,
moss brittle, trees broken,
collecting slight sheets
of birch bark for scribbling,
we hear something cry out
deep in the brush.
What was it?
A deer, perhaps.
A song of sadness,
I am compelled to sing back
but what could I possibly say?
"Shell/Cave" originally appears in Poets for Living Waters. August 5, 2010
“Death is a Man Who Feels Scared” will appear in Ghost Face (DC Books).
Greg Santos is the author of Blackbirds (2018), Rabbit Punch! (2014), and The Emperor’s Sofa (2010). His third full-length poetry collection with DC Books, Ghost Face, is coming soon. Santos is the Editor in Chief of the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s online magazine, carte blanche. He lives in tio’tia:ke/Montréal with his family. As part of the National Arts Centre’s Canada Performs initiative, Santos read excerpts from his forthcoming book on May 2, 2020 on Facebook Live. View the performance in its entirety here.
Niro is a member of the Six Nations Reserve, Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Turtle Clan.
Shelley Niro is a multi-media artist. Her work involves photography, painting, beadwork and film. Niro is conscious the impact post-colonial mediums have had on Indigenous people. Like many artists from different Native communities, she works relentlessly presenting people in realistic and explorative portrayals. Photo series such as MOHAWKS IN BEEHIVES, THIS LAND IS MIME LAND and M: STORIES OF WOMEN are a few of the genre of artwork. Films include: HONEY MOCCASIN, IT STARTS WITH A WHISPER, THE SHIRT, KISSED BY LIGHTNING and ROBERT’S PAINTINGS. Recently she finished her film THE INCREDIBLE 25th YEAR OF MITZI BEARCLAW.
Shelley graduated from the Ontario College of Art, Honours and received her Master of Fine Art from the University of Western Ontario.
Niro was the inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Arts Award presented through the Ontario Arts Council in 2012. In 2017 Niro received the Governor General’s Award For The Arts from the Canada Council, The Scotiabank Photography Award and also received the Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Award. Niro recently received an honorary doctorate from the Ontario College of Arts and Design University. She also was the 2019 Laureate of the Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award for Photography.
Alana Bartol, Orphan Well Adoption Agency, 2017-ongoing
Founded in 2017, Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA) explores new methods of reading, assessing, and understanding the health of sites contaminated by the oil and gas industry. As part of its work, OWAA is dedicated to finding symbolic caretakers for orphan oil and gas wells across Alberta. As of 2020, over 60 wells have been symbolically adopted.
From 2017-2019, Orphan Well Adoption Agency held temporary offices in Alberta at TRUCK Contemporary Art, Latitude 53, and Art Gallery of Grande Prairie. Members of the public were invited to meet with OWAA representatives and apply to symbolically adopt a well. If approved, caretakers received a certificate of adoption with the name and location of an orphan well in Alberta along with a postcard of a well. Caretakers also have the option receive mailed correspondence from their well.
OWAA re-imagines dowsing (aka water-witching) as a form of technology for environmental remediation, one that might shift our relationship to natural resources, while examining remediation, care, and the reliability of information. OWAA dowsers uncover information and messages from well sites which transcribed and mailed to caretakers. Although some wells may be dormant and uncommunicative, the OWAA makes every attempt to reach them.
Part of the OWAA’s mission is to share information and educate the public about the plight of orphan wells and related issues. The number of orphan wells has steadily increased since the OWAA began its work in 2017. As defined by the Orphan Well Association (OWA), a non‐profit organization that operates under the delegated legal authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), an orphan is “an oil or gas well site which has been investigated and confirmed as not having any legally responsible and/or financially able party to deal with its abandonment and reclamation responsibilities”. (Orphan Well Association) These sites threaten to contaminate land, water, and life, with remediation efforts lasting up to a decade. Unlike the OWA, OWAA extends the definition of orphan wells to include the 90,000 inactive (or suspended) and 77,000 abandoned wells in Alberta that are not yet fully reclaimed. (Government of Alberta) Though these well sites are still under the responsibility of their company caretaker, they are in the OWAA orphanage so that they might find the recognition and care they deserve. With no time limits on how long a well can sit dormant, many sit in various states of disrepair and remediation, with leaks, spills and excess gas.
Learn more at: www.orphanwelladoptionagency.com.
Thank you Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Foundation for the Arts for their generous support of this work. The work of the OWAA has been made possible through connections with Surface Rights Groups in Alberta.
Government of Alberta, “Upstream oil and gas liability and orphan well inventory.” Alberta, Government of Alberta, 2020, https://www.alberta.ca/upstream-oil-and-gas-liability-and-orphan-well-inventory.aspx. Accessed 26 Feb 2020.
Orphan Well Association, “FAQ.” Orphan Well Association, 2020, http://www.orphanwell.ca/faq. Accessed 28 Feb 2020.
 Abandoned is an industry term for a well that has been permanently dismantled, meaning that the surface infrastructure was removed, and the well is plugged with cement and capped. Not all abandoned wells are orphan wells, most of the abandoned wells in the province are still the responsibility of the company owner. After abandonment, the next step is to reclaim the site.
Alana Bartol comes from a long line of water witches. Her site-responsive works explore divination as a way of understanding across places, species, and bodies. Through collaborative and individual works, she creates relationships between the personal sphere and the landscape, particular to this time of ecological crisis. A multidisciplinary artist with a B.F.A. from the University of Windsor and an M.F.A. from Detroit’s Wayne State University, she has been a visitor to Treaty 7 territory living and working in Mohkinstsis (Calgary), Alberta for 5 years. Bartol’s work has been exhibited and presented nationally and internationally in galleries and festivals. In 2019, she was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award. She currently teaches at Alberta University of the Arts.
"Shifting Baseline Syndrome" originally appeared in Vallum 13.2
Aaron Kreuter is the author of the poetry collection Arguments for Lawn Chairs (Guernica Editions, 2016) and the short story collection You and Me, Belonging (Tightrope Books, 2018), which won the Miramichi Reader's 2019 'The Very Best!' Short Fiction Award and was shortlisted for a Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature. Aaron is an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. He lives in Toronto, Canada, where he is currently writing a novel that takes place at Jewish sleepover camp. Follow him on Twitter @aaronkreuter.
Ryanne Kap is a Chinese-Canadian writer from Strathroy, Ontario. Her work has been featured in Grain Magazine, Scarborough Fair, Ricepaper Magazine, Feelszine, and The Unpublished City Volume II. Following her BA in English and creative writing at the University of Toronto Scarborough, she will be pursuing an MA in English at Western University.
An anthology of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
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