Always I Am Waking – Guest Poetry Blog # 19 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, nêhiýaw-iskwêw and Métis Poet and Photographer, Michelle Poirier Brown – Part One of Two

nêhiýaw-iskwêw  and Métis poet and photographer Michelle Poirier Brown


You dream me still. Racialized, de-racialized, de-colonized. You ask if I have or use a “pre-colonial mind.” You suggest edits to my biography, tell me my stated identity doesn’t exist, and that you know this because you are getting a phd in indigenous lit. You ask me flat out if I’m queer, if you can tick off another box on the grant application.

You dream we are friends, and I become someone you get to say you met for tea in the village. You dream we are friends, and you tell me you’ve taken oranges to the tent city because, of course, that is something I would want to know.

In your dreams, I am often too much, more often not enough. Because of your dreams, you find me repellant, take a prurient interest in my childhood. Your dreams make it hard for me to wake up. I dream I am drowning. I have this dream while I’m awake.

I remember the time we met on the phone, your rude awakening when I showed up at your door. I was still asleep. I checked my shoes to make sure they were clean. As if that had to be the problem.

There was the year you told me it would be best if I chose a different week to rent a cabin, that my daughters were two children too many. You stood beside me on the river bank as I watched the children float by in inner tubes, one of mine vibrant with excitement, the other grinning with fear. I think you dreamed I would never tell.

The grief from that one dreamed me for a long while.

The past is a dream that streams around me, my voice rising through it like bubbles void of vibration, their only sound an almost inaudible pop when they reach the surface. What you cannot see of me fills my lungs.

Always I am waking. I turn up in strange clothes, new words in my mouth, people I no longer know smile as if I remember. I look for others, also awake. Mostly go home alone.

Always I am swimming, cold and asleep, upstream. Bear dips a paw into the stream, flips me breathless against the sky. Wake, he says. Wake.

Michelle Poirier Brown, “Wake”, Winner of the 2019 Earle Birney Poetry Prize, from PRISM international, Issue 57.1


This privilege, first to acknowledge the generosity of the Recovering Words guest poetry bloggers. Now, my deep pleasure to introduce the nineteenth in the series. poet and photographer, Michelle Poirier Brown, who is nêhiýaw-iskwêw and a citizen of the Métis Nation based in Vernon, B.C. on the traditional unceded territories of the Syilx peoples in British Columbia. Her post below, Part One, will be followed by Part Two, her feature on the poem Mood Indigo by the acclaimed American poet William Mathews (1942-1997).

I first met Michelle at a poetry retreat led by the beloved Canadian poet and teacher Patrick Lane around seven or eight years ago.  She had just come back from a research trip to Eastern Europe.  Her passion for the project she had been working on there was palpable. And it felt as if she was finding her feet back in Canada.  And being part of a generative poetry writing intensive with Patrick seemed part of that re-orientation. Her pull to poetry.And I don’t know if it was at that retreat or another where Michelle saw Patrick show with his hands how he would catch a spider in his house and release it into his garden.  But in her 2022 chapbook , Intimacies, from JackPine Press, out of Saskatchewan, she captures that moment exquisitely in this poem:

Small Graces
                                              after watching Patrick Lane mime
                                                         transporting a spider  
The great man raised his great hands
          and swooped them one under the other,
                  manual illustration of the act
                      to catch, then catch again a spider
                                  scooped from the ceiling
                                           now on its way to the garden.

A small rescue he calls it. A grace.

My heart falls in with the spider.
From her point of view,
they are neither small, nor graceful,
these rescues.

All the same, what are the things that save me?

A desk by a window.

Soft boiled eggs.

Reasurance its okay I called.

A well ordered kitchen.

The taste of borage flowers in July.

Superior bathroom hardware.

These sustain me as I swing through the treacherous air,
one hand of god after the other.

Michelle Poirlier Brown from Intimacies, JackPine Press, 2022

So appreciate the move in the poem from the spider and Patrick back to the speaker and her riveting question: All the same, what are the things that save me. Then  a list of domestic comforts before the last line that blows the focus of the poem wide open to include one hand of god after another.

The chapbook was not the only book Michelle published in 2022. Notably, she also published a memoir with such a provocative title: You Might Be Sorry You Read This. Among a number of heart-in-your-throat moments of violence and trauma, Michelle also reveals that she was not aware of her indigenous identity until she was thirty eight.

Michelle was included by CBC in its 2022 Writers to Watch: 30 Canadian writers on the rise. She is also the judge in creative nonfiction for the Malahat Review’s 2024 Open Season Awards.

Now, such a pleasure to hand this blog post over to Michelle:


I was 61 years old when I wrote Wake. It became the first of my poems to be published.

I wrote it in response to a submission call from PRISM international for an issue on “dreams.” At the time, I was five years into recovery from an injury caused by the psychoactive effects of a pain medication I’d been taking. From the very beginning, my writing practice has been an important part of my cognitive therapy.

It was a complicated time. I had been in medical retirement for eight years. I had spent most of that time inside my house, alone. As a retired woman living between Beacon Hill Park and the Ross Bay Cemetery and often carrying binoculars, I had an entirely different wardrobe than I’d had for a high stress job in downtown Vancouver. It was new environment. I needed to grow a new personality. Not something I’d ever been particularly good at.

In addition, I’d taken to pausing with my hand on the knob of the front door and reciting to myself, Remember, you’re about to be Indigenous in public. I wanted to see what it was like to experience the world if I remembered. I often felt a dissonance between being consciousness that others would look at me and see “Indigenous”—and what I had until that moment felt comfortable wearing.

I was also beginning to submit work to lit mags and so had had to work out what to say about my identity in a 50-word biography. It’s fraught. An editor argued with me, another seemed to be using me as a data point. Being in public involved a lot of answering questions for people who wanted to address things they’d been afraid to ask about.

All that was in the background when I picked a day to respond to the call from PRISM. I had nothing in particular to say about dreams, but the deadline to submit was on a Post-It note on my bathroom mirror and I was determined to meet it.

I had decades of experience writing to deadline, from 30-second radio copy, to speeches for cabinet ministers, to strictly formatted briefing notes. I’d recently gone on a couple of days-long poetry retreats that had required the production of at least one poem a day. I felt primed.

It was a sunny, late spring day. I put on my multi-pocketed all-weather traveler’s coat, the approach shoes I wore everywhere because they didn’t hurt and I could find myself on a boulder by the Salish Sea without much thought, and a silk scarf. Before I left the house, I re-read the call:

                       PRISM’s DREAMS themed issue seeks writing that pushes the boundaries of lived and
                       imagined realities. This issue will explore dreams as political acts, as challenges to
                       colonized landscapes, as forces of hope, and as ways to imagine our futures. We’re
                       inviting writers to consider how dreams can be both intimate sites of rebellion and
                       points of connection. We’re open to broad, unexpected, and tangential interpretations of,
                       and associations to, the theme. Send us your stories, your poems, your dreams on the page.

I put on sunglasses and my backpack (with laptop) and, after a pause with my gloved hand on the doorknob, I headed off on a purposeful, 20-minute walk to Starbucks in the Cook Street Village.

You dream me still. arrived as a line about two blocks away from the coffee shop. I walked briskly and if I recite now the lines that followed, I can feel my footsteps under me. I set my laptop at one of the high long-table stools and put down the entire first stanza before I ordered.

The first line of the second stanza arrived as a memory of an afternoon on a similar stool at the trendy coffee shop down the street. It became a poem about memories, the culturing medium a sense of drifting through images, a navigation of past experience. Suspending tight focus, I was seeing things differently. I dreamed a different meaning onto events that had been mysteries, dove deeper into the treacherous feeling that came from going into public when so much still swam so vaguely.

And then bear arrived. Solid. Powerful. On my side.

I finished my decaf and walked home. Sent it in.

By Michelle Poirier Brown, September 2023



  1. Posted September 23, 2023 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    So rich to read these memories of Michelle’s as I remember being at Patrick Lane retreats as well as others with Michelle. And I remember Starbucks in Cook Street Village too and perhaps if going there again her words, although now on paper, may be still hanging in the air there above that particular table.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted October 6, 2023 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much.

  3. Posted September 23, 2023 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Great work by Ms. Brown!

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted October 6, 2023 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Thank Robert!

  5. Posted September 25, 2023 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    i miss you down the street in Victoria, Michelle. so much elegance, so much fine poetry!!!! thanks for yr words. and thanks too to you Richard, for and yr vision, yr energetic dedication!

  6. Richard Osler
    Posted October 6, 2023 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much.

  7. Posted September 28, 2023 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    A wonderful post. Thank you. I love her resilient, intelligent, indomitable spirit.

  8. Richard Osler
    Posted October 6, 2023 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Huge thanks Stephen.

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