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Literary M agazine

fall 2013

Š VOICINGS Literary Magazine 2013

Editor: Natasha Smith Submissions may be sent to: Website: Facebook:

Voicings Literary Magazine is not for profit and always pays its contributors. For details on how to support us by purchasing a copy of our magazine or by donating, please visit our website. For more information, or if you are interested in advertising, please email us at:

Cover art: After the Flood by Gordon Miller. For more by Miller see page 22.



Literary Magazine

The magazine for aboriginal writing and art in Canada Issue 1 fall 2013

Editor’s Note Voicings Literary Magazine is a publication dedicated to literature and art by Aboriginals living in Canada. The multitude of experiences, backgrounds and legacies in Canada means that the artistic production found here crosses not only wide geographical spaces, but also wide creative and intellectual spaces. In this issue of Voicings you will find a representation of the diverse points of view and perspectives found from Ontario to Alberta, Anishinaabe to MÊtis, award-winning poets to new writers. Thank you to all those who have been a part of launching Voicings, be it through contributing, reading, volunteering, or donating. I hope you enjoy this issue, and I look forward to all that is to come in the future. Natasha Smith



Blue Mavis, Lesley Goodyear Sunflower, Stephanie Wesley

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Poetry Other Round Dances - David Groulx Ending Of Our Season(s) - David Groulx Stands in Front - Reyanna Senecal Bursting Colours - Reyanna Senecal Canada - Sandi Auger The Storyteller - Gordon Miller Kokum's Gift - Gordon Miller

1 2 13 13 14 21 23


Four works - Walking With Our Sisters The Storyteller - Gordon Miller Kokum's Gift - Gordon Miller

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Other Round Dances I wanted to kiss you half drunk and hoarse-voice I wanted to kiss you beneath the wretched neon moon kisses sweet like minuteman missiles on our lips carry your muse uttering moving desire Another Round! and wait till closing


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Ending Of Our Season(s) By the time the plane landed you were already gone nobody told me Afraid I might break down alone Fuck’n break down alone uh I asked to see you anyway they took me down to the hospital in your old van the one you were trying to sell because you knew it was coming Sooner than I thought The tape of Tom T. Hall was still playing in the tape deck the one I made for you I had forgotten about that the nurse led me down to the morgue when we got there it was cool and dark, just like the real thing There you lay, a cold slab, nothing on but a white sheet Just sleeping I leaned over and kissed you and your whiskers scratched me just like when I was a kid

David Groulx was raised in Northern Ontario. He is proud of his Aboriginal roots – his mother is Ojibwe Indian and his father French Canadian. He has published six books of poetry, and was the Writer in Residence for OpenBook Toronto November 2012. He has won the Munro Poetry Prize, the Simon J. Lucas Jr. Memorial Award, and the 2011 PoetryNOW Battle of the Bards. His poetry has appeared in over 150 publications in 14 countries. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013



Blue Mavis There. Four years had passed since Marguerite's mother had died, and at last, it had come. "Year one they sleep, year two they creep, year three they leap." Standing on her back steps she heard her mother's familiar words in her lilting Québecois accent. These peonies were particularly slow and had not blossomed much in their third year. But today, after four seasons of waiting, the heirloom had arrived. The bloom was enormous—a huge double blossom with an indigo center that faded to white edges, a dinner plate of a blossom resembling its ancestor, the Baroness Schroeder. Turgid leaves, a strong stalk that had to be staked nonetheless; but, most importantly, most incredibly, it was blue.  After generations of cross-breeding the purest whites and deepest lavenders, the impossible cultivar, the evasive child, had finally been born to Marguerite. “The Blue Mavis,” she whispered, and the sight of it took her breath away.    Peonies had come to Marguerite, rather than the other way around. Her mother, Mavis, had kept them since before Marguerite was born in 1936. Widowed in 1960, Mavis had remained in the family home near the Danforth in Toronto where Marguerite and her two sisters had grown up. Marguerite, Cecile, and Anne-Marie had tended the flowers every summer, and had harvested seed every fall since they were children.  The garden was home, where they worked together, toiling and laughing amongst the glorious flowers and black earth. The garden had been a local legend since the thirties. Neighbours frequented their home to purchase flowers or roots, or to simply admire the splendor of Mavis’s varieties. Pink, white, coral, lavender, and red flowers with stems as thick as your thumb and a heady fragrance grew to over a metre tall, gracing the property in seemingly greater numbers and colours each year. Marguerite had learned to pollinate favoured fathers and mothers to produce beautiful babies under her expert guidance. At night, Marguerite was lulled to


sleep by their perfume and the sound of the breeze in the foliage that drifted gently through her open window. She could not imagine her life without Mavis’s peonies.   In 1974 the foundation of the CN tower was being poured. Toronto had an influx of new residents and a chugging economy. A new housing development called District 10 was under construction that would come to be known as Jane and Finch. Marguerite had just moved there with her husband, Luc, from the apartment where they’d lived for many years just a block away from Mavis. It was hard for Marguerite to leave—Mavis had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before. She made the trip between Jane and Finch and the Danforth frequently after she moved, and watched as Mavis deteriorated quickly over the next few months. Mavis succumbed quietly during a heat wave in August that year, in the bed she'd shared with Marguerite’s father. That autumn, Marguerite harvested everything she could, and brought it to plant at her new home. Some children inherit money, but Marguerite's heirloom were these, her mother's greatest legacy.  “Luc, come look!” Marguerite whirled back through the door, forgetting for a moment that she was not ten years old.   “What?” The response sounded annoyed.    “Come!” Her excitement was not quelled. She ran to him and pulled him urgently to the back door, to the small parcel of land that was utterly consumed by her passion. “Isn’t it amazing? Do you see there, Luc? In the corner? I’ve done it!”   “Yes, yes, Margie, I see the flower. Now, can I go back inside? It’s playoffs and Montreal’s playing.” Luc had never developed an interest in the Leafs after moving to Toronto.  Of course, Montreal would go on to win the Stanley cup that year, 1978, and Marguerite’s peonies would garner even less attention from him than usual. This was a mostly a good thing, with Luc consumed with hockey

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Marguerite was free to work in the garden without interruption.  Unfortunately, Luc would be drinking a lot more frequently, which was potentially dangerous for Marguerite. She’d learned Luc’s ways over the years, though. When his words slowed and his gaze no longer met hers quite directly, she knew to keep her mouth firmly shut lest he be incited by some imaginary insult. Once, while gathering up the numerous bottles from the coffee table, Luc had proven to her just how easy it was to offend him when he was drinking. “I’ll pick those up when I’m ready!” He was aggravated, she was blocking the television. Edith Bunker crowed obliviously in the background. “I just want to move them before one of them gets knocked over, there are too many…” That had been all it required to set him off. “You got a problem with what I do on my night off? You wanna work all day to pay our bills?” Luc stood up roughly, toppling the table and sending several bottles clattering to the floor in a jangling domino line. Before she could answer, he picked one of them up and threw it as hard as he could muster. It sailed past her ear and exploded on the wall above the dining room table, leaving a dent that was now hidden behind a picture of their son. Luc had never understood her passion for her flowers. His tastes were simpler. He was a truck driver for Consolidated Fastfreight, and a Teamster. He loved hockey and a home cooked meal, and in general he was not a difficult man to please. Marguerite had fallen hard for the gritty Montrealer when she was seventeen. They were married in 1956. Their only child, Michael, was born soon after the wedding. Now twenty-one, he lived in Ottawa. Marguerite often lamented the distance, but the sad truth was that Michael’s departure had lifted a financial burden from the household. Jane and Finch had been an answer to several of the couple’s prayers when they moved there after Michael left. Affordable, bustling, modern. Marguerite had known that she would easily be able to find a job with so many plazas nearby. Throughout Michael’s childhood, Marguerite had worked at a job she loved at a local florist. She was sad to quit when she moved, but was fortunate

to be hired at the nearby Towers department store as a cashier. Money was still tight, but Luc was placated with a cold Labatt 50 and Guy Lafleur. As for Marguerite, all she needed was her garden.  Towers was just a ten minute walk away. The following morning, Marguerite rose early and lingered in the yard admiring her accomplishment as long as she could before getting ready for work. Despite Luc’s inability to share her excitement, she was elated. The Blue Mavis was the most amazing thing that had ever happened for Marguerite. Finally, she fetched her purse and set off. Plodding to work, she plotted. The local home and garden show was three weeks away. The show was expensive to enter, but it was the perfect place to introduce the Blue Mavis to the world. Marguerite was transported back to her mother’s table as she walked, each step placing her a bit farther from Luc, a bit closer to her past.   “No one has ever successfully cultivated a blue peony, Marguerite.” The memory of her mother’s sparkling eyes came easily, her name a familiar song on her mother’s tongue, pronounced in a way few Anglophones could duplicate. “But we can play games with Mother Nature, we can fool her, and we can create in time this impossible variety.”  The sidewalk disappeared as Marguerite became immersed in her memory. When she was sixteen, she mustered the courage to ask her mother the question she dared not ask for so long. There was something she sensed was a secret. Something about the flowers and her mother’s childhood that was forbidden.  “Where did you learn so much about peonies, Mama?” Marguerite sat placing newly harvested seeds into moist peat moss for germination. At first there was only the awkward silence that she had known would come in response.  “Why do you care? You just do those seeds like I tell you.” Mavis was busily washing the garden tools in the kitchen basin. Marguerite had expected this. Dutifully, she bent over her work. Her mother stroked the cross on her necklace like she did when she was nervous or worrying. In spite of the warning, Marguerite was compelled to continue, her fingers placing the seeds into the cool moss. “It’s just that they're so

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013


beautiful, Mama. Everyone knows you are the best gardener in the neighbourhood. I want to be just like you one day.” Mavis stopped suddenly, and focused her attention on her daughter. “You don’t wanna be like me, my dear. You wanna to be like your Papa. He is the smart one. You have university in your future, like him. My family, you know, we had nothing when I was growing up. I never got to go to school or anything like that.” Her words were tender, full of love. But there was sadness in her voice. “Mama, you’re smart too! Don’t say you’re not smart like Papa. You know more about flowers than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m so proud to show everyone your garden, Mama. I’m so proud of you.”   Marguerite had always wanted to tell her this, of how proud she was of her mother and her beautiful flowers, how special her mother's gift was, but Mavis was always quick to dismiss praise.   Mavis was silenced. She sat down and smoothed her freshly-set curls with her hands, already arthritic due in part to her days toiling with a trowel. Her eyes flickered with something, though Marguerite wasn't certain of what. After a moment, Mavis took her daughter's hands in her own. “So you want to know where Mama learned her peonies, ah?” Her French accent had grown jaunty and thickened with joy. Marguerite knew this tone. It meant a story was coming.   “Yes!” She said, encouraging the yarn to be spun before her mother changed her mind. “Tell me!”   “OK, OK.” She began. “You know where Mama grew up, yes?” Marguerite knew well. Mavis was born in 1900 in Alberta. She met Marguerite’s father Patrice at a rodeo when she was twenty-four. Patrice was smitten with her. Mavis was stunning in her youth—dark, svelte, athletic, and strong. Patrice proposed and they made the trek eastward to Quebec after marrying in 1925. “When I was little, we lived in a place in the mountains. My family was Métis. We live with other Métis in a place that’s called Jasper Park now. No Métis live there anymore. We all got forced to leave, we lose everything. It was a very sad time for us. I remember my mother cried, and my father was very angry. Papa said that they stole our home from us. We moved near a little town north of the moun-


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tains when I was eight. It was called Teepee Creek. My father did not want to go to live in another Métis place; he said we would do better if people did not know we were Métis, so we only spoke English around other people. I was sad at first because we had a bigger house before and it was hard to stop speaking Michif, but, over time, I came to love it there.”  Her mother was staring past her as she spoke. Marguerite was hushed. She had never heard this story.  “I met a man one day in Teepee Creek. He was black. To me, he looked as black as licorice.He stuck out in our town, like my family did. Anyway, the black man, his name was Cyril Clarke. I always call him Mr. Clarke. One day we were at a market and I saw him. He was holding a bunch of the biggest, whitest peonies.” Mavis’s hands were holding invisible blooms as she spoke. “I never saw such flowers before, although I was nineteen years old; they were so lovely, so very white next to his skin. I went to him, and I ask what they were. He told me they were peonies, and he gave me one. “‘It’s a Baroness Schroeder’ he said. ‘And it is for you, if you like it, Miss.’ It was the prettiest flower I’d ever seen. Mr. Clarke became a friend with my family. He knew everything about the peonies, and he had a big farmstead where he grew them—every kind you could think of. Mr. Clarke let me and my family help him a lot because he was allergic. We made a bit of money, and he let us have some roots we could grow ourselves to sell our own flowers. Our family had nothing of value, you know, until he gave us those. The people who live around us did not like us much, but everybody loved our peonies once they saw them, and they bought from us all the time.” Mavis bit her lip and looked into her lap. "Mr. Clarke gave our family something we could be proud of. He was some kind of genius about the peonies. I know he sent many flowers to the university, and wrote articles about them, and he taught me everything I know. The only thing I ever learn was the peonies.” Mavis paused. “When I met your father, you know that he fell in love with me like that.” Mavis snapped her fingers and smiled. It was well known that Patrice fell head over heels for Mavis. He often told the story himself

when he was alive, of seeing Mavis selling peonies at the Teepee Creek Stampede, wearing a cowboy hat and looking like a young Annie Oakley. “Of course, I said yes, but I was very sad to leave Teepee Creek. I was very sad to leave my family, and Mr. Clarke. For a wedding gift Mr. Clarke gave me some very unusual roots.   “‘These are only for you, Mavis,’ he said to me. ‘These are the most beautiful I have, and they’re very special. One day, if you breed them like I taught you, you may be rewarded with a blue peony. No one has ever made one. But, long after I’m gone, you might do it.’  We moved to Quebec and your Papa helped me to speak French the right way, and I grew the flowers and sell them. Your Papa was just finished school, so that helped us to get on our feet. And now I am teaching you. This is what I have that I can give to you.” Mavis rose from her chair. “So now you know that the peonies have come from a long way! But still, they are not blue for me. But you are so smart Marguerite, I know you will do it one day.” Marguerite sat captivated. She had never heard any of mother’s family history before, that they had lived in the mountains and been forced to leave. She had never even met her mother’s parents. “What’s Métis?” Marguerite asked shyly. The word meant nothing to her.   “It’s like, a—I don’t know—like, a half-breed.”   “Oh.” Marguerite nodded, pretending to understand. A half-breed what? The Towers appeared in front of her then, and she was pulled back to reality. Burton Cummings was crooning through the speakers as she entered the store. Her mind was made up. She would exhibit the Blue Mavis at the home and garden show. She booked the time off work, and pondered how to tell Luc when she arrived home that night. Predictably, Luc was not enthusiastic about her plan, and insisted that they couldn’t afford it. It bothered Marguerite that his thriftiness was never extended to his case-a-week beer habit. Whenever she expressed disagreement, Luc was quick to ire. When it came to the garden though, Marguerite was uniquely stubborn—so much so that Luc usually surrendered in this one area. He gave in when it came to her taking over the new yard, and threw up

his hands when she spent the day tending the beds instead of to him. But this was different, of course, and Marguerite should have known better. When it came to finances, Luc was a dictator. “I just need money for the table fee, Luc. I can use what I earned from working.”  “The show runs for three days! Over a weekend! It’s gonna cost you a week’s wages, and you’ll miss three days of work! It’s stupid! You only have one kind of flower! These people, they are professional. They have flowers.” Luc emphasized the “s” on the end of “flowers.” “I don’t know why you’re so stupid sometimes!”  She said nothing. She knew he would not be swayed. So, she would simply let him assume she was going to do what he told her as always, and then go to the show anyway. Once he realized that the Blue Mavis was going to make them a fortune, he would see that she had made the right decision and would come around. In secrecy, she paid for her spot and put money aside for a cab. It was an expensive option, but without a car she had no choice. She’d be selling seeds, bulbs, and plants. She couldn’t manage carrying it all on the bus.  The day before the show while Luc was at work, she prepared. Roots and seeds were bagged, photos developed. She selected a showpiece peony to place in her booth, about a metre tall, with two perfect, unmarred blossoms. Somehow, she felt as though it held Mavis’s spirit. Reverently, she removed it from the earth and potted it. Her task complete, she left it outside, away from Luc’s prying eyes. She bought supplies to fashion a large poster, spending more than she could afford, but she was so excited.  Marguerite sat alone in her living room and made the poster. Blue Mavis. She painted the words in inspired, curly script. Beneath the large letters, she glued photos of the blossoms, a photo of her mother, and the story of how the Blue Mavis came to be. Hypnotized by the effort, she barely got everything put away before Luc came home. That night as she lay in bed next to Luc with her secret inside of her, she was elated. "We're gonna be famous, Mama," she whispered to the ceiling and fell asleep with a smile on her lips. Marguerite was already envisioning the day when she could fly

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013


back to Teepee Creek in Alberta and proudly present the Blue Mavis to Mr. Clarke’s grandchildren, if he had any, and to show the wonderful flower to the people of Teepee Creek, including her mother’s family, whom she’d never met. When she awoke, she was still lost in her dreams, entangled somewhere between Teepee Creek and her childhood home. Mr. Clarke’s peonies, which had first blossomed sixty years ago in the earth of the Chinook belt, would have their day today. She bounced out of bed like it was Christmas morning. “Luc!” Marguerite was shocked. He should have been at work. Instead, he stood in the living room. From the look on his face it was clear he had discovered what was going on. The showpiece Blue Mavis was in its pot, next to him. Marguerite felt as though she would faint. “You think you're going to that damn show? With my money? You think I don’t know? Huh?” He was enraged. “I, I was going to tell you, Luc, I was, but….” The words were cut short. Luc picked up the Blue Mavis.  “I am never, ever going to be lied to like this again. These flowers, this stupid waste of time, it’s over!” He hurled the pot. It shattered, and his boots came down on the peony in a frenzy. “Stop it!” Marguerite tried to push him away frantically, but her efforts were fruitless against him. “You're killing it! Luc, please stop! You don’t understand!”   “I understand, Marguerite. You don’t listen, you don’t care, you don’t do anything I say.” Each accusation was emphasized as his boots came crashing down. “Luc, they are the future for us. They are going to be…” 
 “No more!” He cut the air with his hands. “Don’t you ever lie to me again!”  He stormed through the house. The roots, the seeds, the poster, the plants, Luc destroyed all of it, cramming it into black trash bags while Marguerite sobbed, frozen in place, standing amongst shards of smashed pottery, dirt, and blue petals in the middle of the living room.   And then the air was heavy. It was silent. Marguerite was as still as a mouse, eyes wide, heart


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humming.  “OK, Luc. Please. Stop,” she said weakly.   “Promise me no more flowers.” His voice was raspy with anger. “I promise.” But even as she said it she knew it was a lie. As soon as her chance arrived in September, she would harvest everything from the garden she could, and she would leave.  Luc often accused Marguerite of not loving him, finally she realized he was right. “You stupid woman. This is what it takes to get it through your thick skull? I don’t understand you. You don’t know what’s good for you. I’m getting out of here. I don’t even want to look at you.”  He carted the bags out. She heard the car squeal away. Tears fell on her feet. Marguerite made her way through the kitchen and out the back door to her precious garden. Unsteady, she half stumbled into the yard.  The world that was inside of her imploded when she stepped outside.   A slaughter had taken place. In the middle of the night, in an obvious and astonishing wrath, her flowerbeds had been ripped out right down to the roots, annihilated, the remains burned in a hasty fire in a metal trashcan. Everything was gone. The garden was in ruin. Without another thought, without pause, Marguerite hastily packed a suitcase of her few precious belongings and walked out the door, slamming it behind her. Her sister Cecile was living in their mother's house now. Marguerite showed up on the porch hysterical, as broken as her flowers. It was decided she would stay there. Before long, Luc tried to mend things, but Marguerite wouldn’t hear of it. Whenever he called or came by, she refused to see him or speak to him. Cecile collected the rest of Marguerite’s belongings from the house, and eventually Luc gave up and moved back to Montreal.   The dreams came quick and furious at night. Mavis, Mr. Clarke—a man she’d never met—Luc, and the mountains she’d never seen haunted her sleep. The weeks following were spent in dejected defeat, with Marguerite rarely venturing outdoors. Cecile tried to comfort her in these times, but Mar-

guerite was inconsolable. The Blue Mavis that had bloomed so briefly was lost forever.   Eventually, Marguerite decided to move on. She managed to get re-hired at the florist she used to work at. The seasons turned from seed to bloom, fell and froze, and Marguerite mutely tended to her life.   June came again and Mavis’s garden renewed itself once more. Marguerite was restless. Late one evening, she stared out the window and watched her mother’s peonies swaying and waving to her beneath the moon. Beckoning to her. The hush and rush of the greenery was a soothing song when she stepped into the night. The air was balmy, the street lit by the stars.   “Year one, they sleep. Year two, they creep. Year three, they leap.” She smiled at the sound of her mother’s voice in her head. She drove her beastly Malibu—her first car, which she’d purchased after saving up several months—north to Jane and Finch. She passed the Towers, her former church, and arrived at the house she and Luc had shared. It was now occupied by a family with young children by the looks of it, stray toys lying abandoned on the lawn. She got out of the car and padded softly around the back. Maybe... She thought. She knew exactly where to reach over the gate for the latch, and exactly how to move it so it wouldn’t squeak. She stepped through and tried to see in the dark. Weeds. Of course there would be nothing else, why would there be? But still, maybe… Her eyes scanned in the darkness, straining. “Please,” she whispered. Her hands were clenched tightly. Just weeds. She took a step back. A hard stem crunched beneath her foot. She sucked in sharply and looked down. She’d stepped on a plant—it was a peony. Just sprouting. She’d crushed it somewhat. She knelt down. Yes. It was. “Ha!” A rush of joy filled her. Fast, coursing, just. “A survivor,” she said quietly. In her pocket—a small trowel, a bag. The tiny, injured plant was removed from the ground. Gently, she placed the Blue Mavis into the bag with

a large soil ball. And that’s when she saw them: two others—even healthier. Two more glorious plants that had somehow escaped Luc’s rampage.  Marguerite carefully placed them together, and quietly left without anyone seeing her.   At 4 A.M. the Danforth was deserted, dark and calm. The only creature stirring on the whole street, Marguerite knelt in her mother’s garden to return the Blue Mavis to the soil. Hope was alive. The tiny plants had been saved, and with them, Marguerite.   Every Blue Mavis that would ever grow lived within these three little plants. Very soon, everyone would learn who Mavis was and how the Blue Peony came to be—including Marguerite.

Lesley Goodyear is a Métis writer and poet residing in Brampton, Ontario with her children and husband, the author Chuck Crabbe. "Blue Mavis" was inspired by real events, and is based partly on her own family history. She is currently seeking a publisher for her first novel.

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013




Shirley Barbeau

Our Sisters

These mocassin tops, or "vamps," are part of a collection of over 1,600 made by people across Canada and around the world to honour and commemorate missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada and the United States. Over 600 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada in the last 20 years. This collaborative art installation is entitled Walking With Our Sisters, and shows in galleries across the country. For more information about the project, and for the exhibit schedule, please visit:


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Dolly Peltier

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013


Dawn Marie Marchand


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Brenda Gabriel

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013



Stands in Front Instincts of the caged Necessary emergence With moral reason Curious watching Notion of desolation Shattered by slumber Perplexing cycles Given obscure mental shape The guest room bookshelf Down we go again An evening of reflection Existence questioned We’re outside the cube Another October, passed Individual Softspoken creature A message left in the clouds Nothing quite equates

Bursting Colours Infernal whispers Uncovered by sky’s blanket Vibrations ascend Dusk unfolds a thought Fountain of seclusion waits Parallel no more Charred remains without Sense of connection within Both intangible Translucent being I come from Hollow Earth To share the way home Suspended by wings Grey areas opened wide Clarity revealed Glimpses come and go Sit patient over the hills Fate’s envelope, sealed

Reyanna Senecal resides in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and is a member of Batchewana First Nation. Her writing endeavors began in 2001 when her parents bought her a small notebook. Since then, countless notebooks have been filled with her poetry, and she is now deeply honored to have her work published by Voicings Magazine. Reyanna's inspiration stems from the profound experiences she has had over the years as a young woman trying to find her place in the world. She is now happily awaiting the arrival of a new addition to her family, and is pleased to present you with "Stands in Front" and "Bursting Colours" at this exciting time.


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Canada 146 years ago nearly obliterated 146 years ago nearly annihilated 146 years of subjugation 146 years of indoctrination 146 years of alienation 146 years of being dehumanized 146 years of being unrecognized 146 years later slow suicide 146 years later self genocide

Sandi Auger was born in Slave Lake, Alberta and raised in Wabasca-Desmarais, Alberta. She moved to Edmonton in 1997 and has been there ever since. She is a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation. She is currently a University of Alberta student. In 2012 she participated in a project regarding "Indigenizing the Academy" and was nominated for the English and Film Studies Aboriginal Literature Award. As a result of her project, she was interviewed by the editor of the journal First Nations Drum for their April 2013 edition. She has a passion for making changes for her people, and believes that using her voice is a part of the decolonization process.

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013



Sunflower Red Lake, Ontario 1964 There was something always a little off about Conor Thompson’s father, Liam. Even Conor, who was nine years old, noticed a difference in the way his father was compared to the fathers of his classmates. Conor often watched other dads picking up their children at school while he usually walked home alone. He heard wonderful stories of how his friends’ fathers took them out fishing, or brought them home a brand new toy. Liam hadn’t taken Conor fishing at all, and he never had any presents for him either. Other dads smiled and laughed while Liam did not. The only time Conor ever saw Liam, who was a bear of a man with dark hair and blue eyes, vaguely smile was when he was out at his cabin. It was located over an hour south from Red Lake. Red Lake was the Thompson’s home, a small town with a lot of mines that was located in Northern Ontario. Liam worked in one of the mines. When he wasn’t working, Liam would spend his free-time off by himself at his secluded property. Conor liked the times when he could go visit Liam out at the cabin because Liam seemed happier there. Conor helped with chores and listened to Liam as he talked about his grandfather and the work they did together before his family immigrated to Canada. Liam spoke a lot about his grandmother— about how she escaped a place called a “Magdalene Asylum” and met Conor’s great-grandfather. “If it wasn’t for that, you wouldn’t be here!” Liam often said when retelling the story to Conor. Liam spoke fondly of his homeland, how different it was there and how he wished he could go back. He often called his own father a wretched man. Conor didn’t understand what any of it really meant. He didn’t understand why his father disliked his grandfather so much. There were times when Conor heard his parents fight. His father drank a lot, and it seemed like his


mother was always crying. It wasn’t very long after Conor’s sixth birthday that Liam moved out and spent most of his days at the Red Lake Inn, renting a room during his working weeks. He could often be found in the bar below the town’s only hotel and Conor would sometimes meet his father outside of the establishment to get candy or money. Conor was waiting outside of the hotel now, beside the steps that lead down into the dark tavern. He wiped the sweat off of his brow as he looked around. He had been waiting for almost twenty minutes. Conor kept his school knapsack beside him. In it he had some baseball cards, a pack of sunflower seeds, his notebook, and an empty bubble bath bottle. The bottle was in the shape of Mighty Mouse, which was Conor’s favourite cartoon character. He had found it on a day-trip to Kenora with his parents. He didn’t care much for baths, but the bottle was cheaper than an actual Mighty Mouse toy. Conor sighed heavily as he waited. He wished his father would come out soon, he didn’t want to have to go in and get him—he didn’t like going inside the bar. As he watched people walk by, Conor wondered if maybe he should just go home instead. The folks who passed him were probably on their way home to their families, to their dinners and TV sets. It was too hot out to be waiting for a chance to see his father. His blue eyes then fell upon a tall Indian woman walking hand in hand with a boy he hadn’t seen in a year. His name was Simon. Simon’s mother smiled warmly at Conor as they stopped in front of him. She had her dark eyes fixed on him. “Hello,” she said in a soft voice, smiling down at him. Her long black hair framed her face and her brown skin glistened in the sun. Conor was told before by his friends that he

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shouldn’t speak to Indians because they “were all drunks, dumb, and had lice.” Regardless of what his friends said, Conor had often played with Simon after school because they lived on the same street, and Simon’s mother was nice and smelled like flowers. “Hi,” Conor said. Simon was peering out at Conor from behind his mother’s blue floral print dress. Conor looked at Simon, wondering what had happened to him—there was a white eye-patch covering Simon’s left eye. “Simon, do you want to sit here and wait while I go inside?” Simon’s mother asked him. Simon shook his head, clutching his mother’s dress. “It’s OK. You can sit with me,” Conor said. “Sit with the nice boy, I won’t be long,” Simon’s mother said. Simon slowly let go of his mother’s dress and stepped out from behind her. He had on a striped t-shirt and ripped jeans. Conor couldn’t help but notice how much thinner Simon looked now. His black hair still hung to his shoulders, though. Conor moved over as Simon sat down beside him. Simon’s mother disappeared into the bar. “Do you remember me?” Conor asked Simon. Simon looked over at Conor with his good eye. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “Where have you been?” Conor asked. “We moved to Vermillion Bay,” Simon said. “Oh. I’ve been there before,” Conor replied. “There’s nothing to do there,” Simon lamented as he picked at his shoes. They both had on black Chuck Taylor basketball shoes except Simon’s were in terrible shape compared to Conor’s. Conor felt bad for having better shoes, and tucked his out of sight under himself. “Do you have friends there?” Conor asked. “Just my cousin.” They sat in silence for a bit as more people walked by going about their day. Conor wanted to ask Simon what happened to his eye, but he didn’t want to be rude. He was going to comment on how hot the weather was, but then he heard a large growl come from Simon’s stomach. Conor laughed a little.

“Are you hungry?” He asked. Simon clutched his stomach and nodded his head. “I only had breakfast this morning,” Simon said. “We had to leave early and we’ve been in town all day doing nothing!” Conor started digging around in his backpack. He pulled out his notebook and the Mighty Mouse bottle and put them down beside him. “I have some sunflower seeds here if you want them,” Conor said as he pulled out the bag of seeds. He noticed Simon had picked up the bottle. “You like Mighty Mouse?” Conor asked him. Simon ran his fingers over the face of the mouse. He had never seen a Mighty Mouse toy before. “Yeah. I watched a cartoon once. There was a comic book at school, too,” he said. Conor smiled, he remembered that comic book from last year at the library as well. “Here’s some sunflower seeds,” Conor said. He wished he had more to give Simon for his grumbling stomach. Simon put Mighty Mouse back down and took the seeds from Conor. “Thanks,” he said. Just then Simon’s mother reappeared from the bar. “Simon, let’s go now. We have to meet our ride and then walk home from Ear Falls,” she said. Ear Falls was a smaller town between Red Lake and Vermillion Bay. Simon groaned. “It’s so hot to walk,” he said as he stood up. “I know, but that’s the furthest our ride will go,” she said. Conor stood up, too. “Well, bye Conor,” Simon said as he glanced at him. “See ya,” Conor said. Simon and his mother turned and started walking back in the direction they had come from. Conor looked down at his Mighty Mouse bubble bath bottle. He felt sorry for Simon being bored out in Vermillion Bay with nothing to do. “Hey wait!” Conor yelled. He snatched up the bottle and rushed over towards Simon and his mother, who had stopped and turned around to

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013


look at Conor. Conor handed the bottle over to Simon. “Here, you can have this if you want,” Conor said. Simon was hesitant at first to take the toy, but then smiled as he took it from Conor. “Really?” he asked Conor in disbelief. “Yeah,” Conor replied. “I don’t mind, I want you to have it.” Simon’s mother smiled warmly down at Conor. “That’s very nice of you,” she said. “No problem,” Conor told her. “Miigwetch, Conor,” Simon said as he looked up, still smiling. Conor nodded, and turned to walk back to the steps to wait for his father. When he sat down he watched as Simon and his mother walked away. He would miss the bottle but he knew that Simon could use it more. *** Simon kicked at the gravel beneath his feet as he and his mother walked along the road towards home. He was sucking on the sunflower seeds. He hadn’t thought Conor would remember him, and he was happy to know Conor was just as nice as he used to be. Simon often endured mean taunts and bullying from other kids in school when he was in Red Lake. Conor was the only one who was kind to him. “Mom, why are some people mean but others are nice?” Conor asked his mom. Althea Paishk looked down at her son. They were coming up to Red Lake Road, which wasn’t too far from Vermillion Bay. At least there they could stop for a drink and get some rest. They had been walking for a couple of hours now, taking their time. “That’s just how the world is sometimes,” Althea said. “People are different.” “But why do they have to be mean?” Simon asked. “Maybe they learned it from their parents,” Althea replied. “But Conor’s parents are mean and he is not,” Simon said. Althea smiled as she thought of the boy’s kind spirit.


“Well, people make their own choices in life, you don’t always have to be like your parents,” Althea said. “Yeah. You’re not like Kookum or Shoom. You don’t drink,” Simon said happily as he took his mom's hand. “No. Not since I had you,” Althea said. Althea was 38 years old, and quitting drinking was something she had never thought she could do. She had spent most of her younger life in Pelican Lake Residential School, where she had experienced sexual and physical abuse that she had trouble healing from. She did not understand what she had done to deserve the treatment inflicted on her and her fellow classmates in Pelican. Previously, the only way to get through her day was to drown the memories in alcohol. When she found out she was pregnant at age 29, Althea decided to give up alcohol and try to give her child a life much different from what she had. She did not want Conor to be taken away from her because of her alcoholism and put in a place like Pelican. The thought of him going through what she did made her stomach tie in knots. Unfortunately for her and her son, she had very little help and they often went hungry for days. They had to move to Vermillion Bay to be close to her brother who helped with food and clothing when he could. Her parents were heavy drinkers, and she did not like to have them around Simon. “I was thinking maybe we could go swimming when we get back,” Althea said. “If we aren’t too tired.” “I want to live in the lake, it’s so hot!” Simon said. Althea looked up and down the deserted road in search of a possible ride. It was almost 7 P.M. and still stifling on that July evening. The blackflies would be chasing the moose out of the bush soon. “Do you think we will ever move back to Red Lake?” Simon asked. “Maybe,” Althea replied. “I want to play with Conor again. He was really nice,” Simon chimed. “Yes, he does seem like a good friend,” Althea said. She looked down at Simon. He had the toy Conor had given him tucked in his back pocket.

Voicings Magazine ISSUE 1

“How is your eye feeling?” Simon shrugged. “It feels OK,” he said. Simon had managed to scratch his eye playing outside of their small house in Vermillion Bay, and now it was a little infected. The nurse had to give him some penicillin. “Mom?” Simon asked. “Yes?” “Do you think Conor and I will still be friends when we are your age?” Althea smiled as she put her arm around his small shoulders as they walked. “I think so,” she said. Althea turned her head to look behind her as she heard a vehicle approaching. One car had already driven past them an hour ago and did not stop to offer them a ride as she had hoped. Her legs were getting tired, and she felt bad for making her son walk so far because they did not have a car. It was a red pick-up truck that was approaching now. She stuck her thumb out and wondered if the driver would stop. Maybe she and Simon could hop in the bed of the truck and get some relief. Maybe they could get home sooner than they thought. *** Red Lake, Ontario 2013 Conor Thompson sat in a chair beside a hospital bed at Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital. The room was quiet, except for a heart monitor that beeped every other second. The monitor was attached to the thin, decrepit remains of a oncestrong man. The doctor had told Conor that his father would not last too much longer, and for a week Conor had been sitting at Liam’s bedside. Conor was 58 years old, and he was now a grandfather. He felt an ache in his stomach, he couldn’t tell if his ulcer was acting up again or if it was something else. Liam was almost 90 years old. Why did Liam

live so long and yet to Conor it seemed like most folk his age were dropping off like flies? Processed foods maybe. Conor had already had a mild heart attack. He remembered it well, and it scared him enough into finally listening to his wife Sarah’s nagging when it came to eating better. Sarah was a tall, dark-haired Ojibwe woman with almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. Conor and Sarah met in Toronto when he left Red Lake to attend school at the age of 20. When he first laid eyes on Sarah, who was clad in a light blue floral print dress at the time, he had a flashback of a woman he had seen in his childhood. She looked like Simon’s mom. Conor repositioned himself in the chair as he thought of Simon, the boy he’d known when they were young, and who had disappeared with his mother without a trace in the 60s. Conor remembered reading a news story about Simon and his mother in the local paper when he was a kid, shortly after he had given Mighty Mouse over to Simon. He also remembered listening to his mother and her friends discuss the disappearance while waiting in line at the grocery store. “She probably ran away. Who would want to stick around in this town with her reputation?” Conor remembered hearing one of the women say. Later on he learned she was rumoured to be an alcoholic, but who wasn’t in this town, he figured. And why was the memory of Simon and his mother seared in his mind, anyway? Over the years, Conor had often thought of Simon. He wondered what had become of him. Was he now a grandfather, too? Did Simon ever have to sit beside his parents’ bedside while they slowly died? Conor looked up at his father.
 Conor had slowly drifted apart from his father as he grew older. His father became even more of a recluse after he lost his job at the mine, and he retired permanently to his cabin, only to return to town whenever he needed supplies. Eventually old age crept up on Liam, and

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013


Conor returned to Red Lake with his new wife to put his father into an old-folks home. Now here he was, several years later, sitting beside his old man’s deathbed. Conor felt the pang again in his stomach. Maybe it was just because his father was leaving this world. He recalled a dream he had earlier in the week where he was sitting in a room like this, and there was a tall Aboriginal man standing at the foot of a bed staring at Conor. He didn’t know what it was that was in the bed. Conor just remembered thinking the bed held something evil, that he didn’t want to be in the same room with it. “Is your father coming now?” was all the man had said to him in the dream. Conor closed his eyes as he tried to remember anything good about his and his father’s life together. His father hadn’t approved of his wife, he hadn’t wanted to spend time with his grandchildren. He had wanted to be left alone. “I’m sorry,” Liam suddenly said in a weak half-whisper. Conor’s eyes flew open. He sat up straight and stared at his father. Liam’s eyes were looking straight ahead. “Dad?” Conor asked, forgetting that his father had only ever wanted to be called Liam. Liam’s eyes closed and the heart monitor flatlined. *** Conor went out to his father’s home a couple of weeks later. Liam had left Conor his small property located on the outskirts of Ear Falls. There was the cabin and a garage, and a rusted-out truck still sitting where his father had left it a few years before. As Conor walked around the property, he remembered the times when his father was sober and he would come out to visit him here. He often wished his father hadn’t become so bitter and reclusive as he aged, and he wished he would have stayed sober. Conor knew his father suffered immensely at the hands of his own parents. He knew his father never really learned how to love because of the abuse. Conor tried his best to not be like his father.


Conor was thinking of tearing down the garage and cabin and rebuilding something new for his family. He had a lot of fun out here. He remembered picking berries outside. In fact, he remembered his father telling him the berries he had stored in the old root cellar had attracted a bear. Conor wondered what became of the root cellar—it used to have a shack over top of it that held supplies. It wasn’t as deep as traditional cellars, but deep enough to keep some foods cool. Conor walked up to the kitchen window to look at where the shack used to be in the backyard. There was nothing but some bushes and a tall sunflower in its place. Liam must have stopped using the shack and cellar. Conor looked at the cupboards above the kitchen window. There was an old cardboard box sitting on top of them. Conor reached up to try and grab the box, shaking it closer with the tips of his fingers to the edge. The box was just out of reach, and he wanted to bring it down safely. The box came tumbling down over his head anyway, and its contents spilled out onto the floor. Conor looked down at his feet and saw a few old newspaper clippings and some other random trinkets. He crouched down and smiled as he noticed an old photo of himself sitting on his father’s lap when he was about three years old, back when his parents were still together. Conor put the photo in his shirt pocket, and then looked at the newspaper clippings that were staring up at him. “Indian mother and son go missing,” read the headline of one of the articles. Conor’s eyes scanned over the headlines in the rest of the clippings. They were all stories about Simon and his mother. Conor was about to get back up when he noticed something sticking out from under the newspapers. It was a faded yellow object. Conor picked it up. It was a plastic Mighty Mouse-shaped bottle. Conor smiled. He hadn’t seen this since he was young. He wondered what it was doing there. As Conor stared at the smiling face of his favourite cartoon character, his smile began to fade. He hadn’t seen this toy since he had given it to Simon.

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He had given the bottle to Simon, along with sunflower seeds. What was this bottle doing here? Conor stood up and peered back out of the window again at where the root cellar used to be. His eyes were fixed on the lone sunflower. Conor went outside and walked to the backyard, past the broken-down, rusted old pick-up truck. He grabbed a shovel that was leaning against the cabin and proceeded to walk towards the sunflower. Something was not right about that flower. It didn’t make sense to be there. His father didn’t garden.

 Conor began to dig, shoving the head of the shovel hard into the earth where the sunflower was. He kept digging deeper. Even though his shoulders burned and his stomach was cramping, he kept digging.
 All he could picture in his mind was Simon and his mother walking away. All he could think of was how nobody seemed to care that they were never seen again. Simon, only eight years old. Eight years old and Indian. Nobody cared. Conor was now waist deep in a big hole of dark earth. He came across shattered jars of old preserved foods and berries. He kept digging, the sunflower now completely unearthed and lying on top of a heap of dirt beside him. He raised the shovel over his head to try and jam it hard into the ground one last time, only to hear a loud thud. The shovel wouldn’t go in any deeper. Breathing heavily, Conor threw the shovel aside and dropped to his knees. He began clawing at the object he had struck, digging away at the dirt. Something white and smooth peeked out from the dark soil. Conor kept digging, eventually unearthing the white object from the ground. His eyes grew wide with horror as he realized what it was. It was a skull, an adult-sized skull. Conor felt sick to his stomach. He put the skull aside, and looked down at the ground below him. He kept digging. His heart was racing in his chest. He felt tears well up in his eyes as he came across something hard and rough. He dug franti-

cally at the object, realizing it was a large burlap sack. His fingers were bleeding and his lungs burned from exertion as he unearthed the sack from the ground. Conor searched hurriedly for an opening—he could feel there was something inside of it. Tears streamed down his dirt-stained face as he found the opening and pulled the sack apart. His heart sank as he laid eyes on a small skull and small bones, with small Chuck Taylor shoes, inside. “Oh no,” he said in a sob-choked voice as he realized what his father had done. He reached in to touch the skull. He ran his fingers gently over its surface and felt a large crack in the side of it. Conor slowly closed the sack, and then clutched it close to his body as he wept. He realized that there were so many unanswered questions. Nobody cared, he thought as he cried. Nobody cared to look. Nobody cared about you, he thought as he hugged the small bones. Nobody cared that you didn’t live. Nobody cared that you didn’t get to have kids. Nobody cared that you weren’t around. “Oh my God,” he stammered as he tried to wipe the tears off of his face. He didn’t want to let go of the bones; he held Simon close to his chest. Nobody cared. “You cared,” he heard a voice say to him.

Stephanie Wesley is a member of Lac Seul First Nation. She was born and raised in Red Lake, Ontario, and now lives in Thunder Bay where she works as a journalist. Prior to settling in Thunder Bay, she spent almost four years in the remote community of North Spirit Lake, First Nation. She learned a lot while living there, she wrote a lot while living there; she feels that it is her home, and she misses it. She has been writing since she was a young girl, and in 2012 she won the Canadian Aboriginal Writing Award. Visit to read her interview with Voicings.

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013



The Storyteller It is dark and cold The lodge covered with snow The five moons of winter Upon us The windigo may be about Looking for prey The drumming starts The heart beat Of the earth The storyteller takes his place In the centre of the room To bring us the teachings Of our glorious past Of the medicine wheel Gitchi Manitou Sky woman Nanabush The flood The circle of life The four powers We sit in wonder Children fascinated Elders with dignity Thinking of the glory Also of hope And what the future will bring

The Storyteller by Gordon Miller →


Voicings Magazine ISSUE 1

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013



Voicings Magazine ISSUE 1

Kokum's Gift Kokum is old Her mind is far away Living in the glorious past When she was very young Remembering the doll Her Kokum made for her Sewn with the same hands That rocked her cradle And taught her the skills That would be required To take her place within The great society that would Form her way of life To ensure the traditions And teachings are continued This she has done and now Holding the tattered doll In her hands smiles and With dignity lays down to rest

Gordon Miller is a visual artist of white and native descent, living and working in Oakville, Ontario. While he has been aware of his native ancestry since childhood, the richness of native culture and art did not play a significant role in his life until much later. His native grandmothers both married Hudson Bay fur traders from Orkney and England, respectively, in the nineteenth century, and through hard work and determination helped build this country. Miller has experienced part of his life as an invisible minority with an internal and unacknowledged otherness. Since he embraced his multicultural roots, he has achieved a spiritual and cultural rebirth that is now reflected in his art. He has a mission to explore the depth, richness and cultural bounty of this great spiritual world filled with philosophy and traditions going back thousands of years. He is attempting to interpret the teachings of this culture and incorporate them into contemporary art to further an understanding between native peoples and other cultures who are unaware of the vast spiritual and cultural world and how art transcends traditional identity. � Kokum’s

Gift by Gordon Miller

Voicings Magazine Fall 2013




Literary Magazine

It is important to share who we are with the world...

When we see one person who is willing to write their stories and share them, it will inspire others to do the same. -Stephanie Wesley in interview at

Voicings Literary Magazine  

The magazine for Aboriginal writing and art in Canada.

Voicings Literary Magazine  

The magazine for Aboriginal writing and art in Canada.