By reason of wind


John is from Turnor Lake in Saskatchewan. I ask what nation, he says Birch Narrows Dene. I say I’m originally from Saskatchewan too, and he asks where, and I say around Yorkton and he says, Oh…way down south, and smiles.

He spotted me in Beaver Hill Park this afternoon, came over to ask for a cigarette and change. He’s perspiring, shaking a bit, needs a smoke and more. I tell him about Hope Mission, he says he hates to stay in shelters, too many people, some crazy. I give him some money so he can buy a smoke and a coffee, and he says don’t worry, I think of my stomach before the booze. In a moment he returns with a cigarette and sits with me.

I light his cigarette, my hand moves too quickly and he says you’re shaking don’t be nervous, I’m a good guy. I say I thought it was you, but it’s probably just my age. He laughs. We compare. He’s 45. Says he used to be much better looking. Says I should take a picture. What, before it gets worse? He laughs. I take his picture.

We talk about his reserve, about Turnor Lake. He worked in a grocery store, did some carpentry. I ask about trapping and hunting, living off the land. He’s done that. Says though that there’s been too many hunters up there, lots coming from the States, the animals have gone, the trap lines have been let go.

He says his best friend was the chief and I ask him why he doesn’t go back. And he says he can’t find the reason inside. Says there are other things inside he can’t explain, it’s a hard living, but says he likes the river valley here, good shelter from the wind and rain.

He offers his hand, we shake, he says God bless you and leaves.

I was writing this poem, I return and try to finish an unfinishable poem:

By reason of wind
the sparrow wheels
with a red-tailed hawk
and the lake rises
with a breaching bass
the paddle is wrenched
from splintering hands
and the door bashes
against splitting frame
and breath is riven 
from cloven lungs
and straw stabs flesh
a hail of small spears
and the leaf torn from
the petiole whirls
with an unbridled want
that never finds home.


  1. Reads finished to me. The subject is unfinishable. I learn so much from you. Acceptance. Candor. Kindness. Beauty. That we are all one.

  2. It’s a gift to be able to honor what is true without feeling the need to offer solutions, so good on you. Because this man’s truth is that it’s all come apart for him, for his people, and none of the options within his reach are easy.

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