Learning to Count by Emily Riddle
2020 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist
Emily Riddle made the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Learning to Count.
You can read Learning to Count below.
The hotel pub where our kokums used to drink
Now where the white collars buy $17 salads
You are one of these white collars,
Saving to buy a condo built on the land we used to sundance.
NDNs make the best hockey fans, but most of us can't afford tickets.
NDNs make the best Catholics, but Jesus never came for us.
And you told me that's because we didn't need him.
I never smiled so big as when you told me that.
Women told to wear long skirts,
Family names: Bruno, Powder, Durocher, Godin
Starbucks drink: grande half-sweet soy vanilla latte
Drove all afternoon
From misâskwatôminisk to amiskwaciwâskahikanihk
Speeding past askîy cut into neat squares
Asked to pick up firewood on their trip, they stopped in a gas station
They laughed to themselves
What would the ancestors think of plastic wrapped firewood?
But mostos became paskwa-mostos
And now the world is covered in plastic
Ripped Canada flag on top of the band office
The worst coffee imaginable
The cousins who are always in the band office
Oh coffee mate, thou are so grossly delicious
Who's your mom?
Who's her mom?
I stood by your asinîy kehkwahaskanihk ohci,
Except it wasn't a gravestone at all.
There wasn't enough money for that
Peeling wood crosses it is then
Some cousin told my mom he took them all out to mow the lawn
"Looked in the little brown bottle."
And forget where they went
So now all these peeling wooden crosses are all mixed up
"Cree people didn't bury people: we hung them in trees"
But can you imagine?
Advice: you have to be careful of that sâkihitowask
When an Elder tells you how to pray for your ideal person
They might arrive when you're not ready
sâkihitowin isn't cheap
But it won't cost you any sôniyâw either
Shiny $5 bill
Who's a capital I Indian
Whose relatives married too many white guys
The sun's shining
Rivers still flow, even if they're dirty as heck
Grass still growing, because I'm still mowing it
Don't take shit from anyone
Eat everyone for breakfast
Maybe too much
Bombs under the pow wow grounds
No one listened to the elders
Don't sled there
You'll get blown up
Everytime an NDN builds a golf course
Creators shakes their head
From the heights of a bridge that joined two cities
Desperately looking for her
We called out her name into the river
Her love playing love songs
Already knew she was gone
Father buries his son under the sundance grounds
Boy goes home, to the stars
Close your eyes
"Do you see lights?"
"Lights jumping around means spirits are visiting you"
"No, my girl, don't be afraid"
Your ancestors protect you from bad spirits
"Even the colonizer ones?"
Yup, even they love you
But the Cree ones need you to stick around more
Bougie ndns drinking eight dollar beers on a patio
Gwichin, Metis, nehiyaw, 'nish grannies don't approve
Once an Elder told me that if she saw me in the city in pants,
She'd rip them off me
Cree women should wear skirts
Still wearing mini skirts
And loving kokums ever so.
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About Emily Riddle
Emily Riddle is a nehiyaw iskwew and a member of the Alexander First Nation. She is a writer, researcher, and library worker living in Edmonton, Treaty 6 territory. Her nonfiction work and poetry has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Teen Vogue, Canadian Art Magazine, Prism International and other publications. She has a poetry chapbook forthcoming in 2021.
The poem's source of inspiration
"I wrote this poem while I was in Denendeh (Dene territory) taking a writing class with Richard Van Camp. It was one of those lucky times when a poem pours out easily. Being away from home let me reflect on how much Indigenous people whose territories are occupied by cities have lost and how intergenerational love has allowed us to continue with our ever-changing traditions."
The winner of the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.