Hope Matters – A Poem for Today’s Pandemic Crisis and Much More: A Celebration of Poems by a Acclaimed Indigenous Canadian Poet and Mum, Lee Maracle, and her Daughters, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter

Indigenous Canadian poet Lee Maracle


    Hope lives inside  the artist:  instrument, brush
    voice, pen,  sculpture, body.  Hope breathes life
    inside  those   shadowy   crevices  where  doubt
    waits  to   feast  on   our weakened  and dimmed
    inner  light. Hope gives  us strength to trudge
    through   the  muck  and  the   mire  to  find
    solid   ground. Hope  is the home of curiosity,
    imagination,  intelligence,  and  compassion.
    Artists are  an  empathic link between hope and
    the outside world. Hope frees, hope relieves, hope
    moves us. Artists move people from inspiration to
    action and direct hope toward a new reality that
    can be shared by everyone. In the end.

Columpa Bobb, Lee Maracle and Tania Carter from Hope Matters, Book*Hug, 2019

Indigenous Canadian poet, actress, photographer and playwright, Columpa Bobb, great grand daughter of Chief Dan George.

Thanks to a young indigenous counselling intern at the residential facility where I lead poetry therapy sessions I heard for the first time of the acclaimed poet and scholar Lee Maracle. The intern told me I had to find Maracle’s poem Blind justice which I did (please see below). And then I also found her new book Hope Matters written with her daughters and with an introduction by her friend Senator Murray Sinclair who Chaired the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015. To hear Maracle read at the launch of Hope Matters please click here.

If I heard Maracle correctly in the video of her launch of the book she said she and her daughters wrote the poems in five days on her porch! None of the poems are credited specifically to any one of them but at the launch she said which of them wrote each poem she read. The title poem, Hope Matters, was written by her daughter Columpa Bobb. And Maracle shared a sweet story about it. Columpa was interviewing her grandfather for material for a poem and according to Maracle he said: If there’s no hope in it, it won’t wash! Well, she doused it in hope!

At this time of unprecedented social changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic I couldn’t think of a better poem to share. A poem that exemplies the inspirational role of poetry in tough times to give us back our courage and resolve. As Columpa says: Artists are an empathic link between hope and/ the outside world. And as a multi-faceted artist herself, Columpa creates that link especially with these lines: Hope breathes life/ inside those shadowy crevices where doubt/ waits to feast on our weakened and dimmed/ inner light. And remember these lines are coming from a woman whose people’s history is full of dislocation, mistreatment and broken promises made to them. Yet she can talk of hope this convincingly. If she can what excuse do I have to not hold hope like a beacon in my dark days!?

Cover for Hope Matters. With an image painted by Tania Carter.

I was also struck by Columpa’s line: Hope is the home of curiosity,/ imagination, intelligence, and compassion. For me that is such an original thought. To put it another way: to be curious is to be hopeful.  I haven’t thought about curiosity this way. But I like the idea.  That curiosity can lead us to make discoveries that enlarge our understanding of the world. And that those discoveries can be hopeful. I do know that being curious can lead to not so hopeful curiosities. I think of my curiosity about Rwanda and its 1994 genocide. But I also know that meeting face to face some of the survivors of that horror and seeing their humanity and courage does make me hopeful.

Maracle has one creative family! Her daughter Tania Carter is also a playwright, poet and actress. And based on the cover art she painted , also a painter. Her mother read the poem Lusty in Hope Matters written by Tania. It is a lusty, fun poem. Lots of uninhibited earthy energy easy to hear in the poem’s last stanza: Words stick in my mouth/ clamp to the edge of my tongue/Afraid to leap off/ And crush you/Wary you will transform into the monster inside/ Devour me/ Spit me out/ Leaving me on dirty sheets./With a bad taste in my mouth. 

Maracle also writes a love poem in Love Matters which she read at the launch and which I found delightful in its simplicity:

            I AM OLDER NOW
    Falling in love is a misnomer
     We rise in it, flying high
       Witless about the drop
           I am older now
        I rise in it sooner
          Fly much higher
        The drop is farther
      It is the landing I mind

I want to briefly talk about what I am guessing might be Maracle’s signature poem mentioned above, Blind justice. Here it is below. It reminds me of a few of American indigenous poet and U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s longer poems. It covers a lot of territory but in it I hear, along with a list of horrors inflicted on her people, a song of astounding resilience. And in the resilience of Maracle we can see the hope of surmounting any disasters, even something as challenging as Covid-19. One of her critical lines: I refuse to be tragic. That says something coming from someone whose history has a lot of tragedy. And this heart cry of survival:

We are builders,
We are singers,
We are dancers
We are speakers
And we are still singing
We are dancing again
We are speaking in poetry
In story, in film

I am so grateful to R. the young indigenous intern. I am bigger and better for having read this poem:

Blind justice

Ts’leil Waututh, Chaytoose, Snauq’w
The mountains rise behind my ancestors
And disappear in the sale of them
Orchestrated by a department that seeks
Their vanquishment – $25.00 becomes millions in the blink of an eye
$25.00 becomes hunger in the next blink
Becomes inadequate in the next blink
Becomes the murder of cedar, sea vegetables, Ouske, whale and sockeye
As I struggle to mature without food
I am sorry too Mr. Harper

Sustained Violence
We could have recovered from small pox
We had Xway-Xway
We had medicine
We had healing songs and dances
But they were banned

Violation We could have recovered
We had friends
Christian friends
But they too were banned
My relations were banned from speaking
Organizing or fighting for land rights
Fishing rights,
Blind justice 135
The right to sing and dance
To raise our children
To educate them

We could have included you in our ceremony
Of facing ourselves,
Recovering ourselves
Transforming ourselves
But our ceremonies were banned.

Still, I am not tragic
Not even in my addicted moments
A needle hanging from the vein of my creased arm
I was not tragic
Even as I jump from a boat in a vain attempt to join my ancestors
I am not tragic

Even in my disconnection from song, from dance,
I am not tragic
Even in seeing you as privileged,
As an occupier of my homeland in my homeless state
Even as men abduct as I hitchhike along these new highways
To disappear along this lonely colonial road
I refuse to be tragic

My body has always understood justice
Everyone eats and so we included you
There is no word for exclusion,
So your whiteness is not threat

We have lived for 11,000 years on this coastline
This is not the first massive death we have endured
We girded up our loins,
Recovered and re-built

We are builders,
We are singers,
We are dancers
We are speakers
And we are still singing
We are dancing again
We are speaking in poetry
In story, in film

In the millennia that we have lived here there are constants
The tide will retreat and it will return
The fishes that are threatened will return
The people who died during those epidemics are returning
The plants, the trees, the animal world will recover
It may take another Tsunami of the sort that nearly killed us all
It may take earthquakes and storms
But the earth, the waters, the skies, the plants and the animals will return

I am a witness
I am inspired by the earth’s response to her desecration
A tsunami cleanses the earth
A hurricane re-arranges rivers
An earthquake is an objection
And we will all have to face ourselves,
Face our sense of justice
To include all life

We will need to nourish our imagination
To include a new equality
And summon our souls, our hearts and our minds to a justice,
which includes all life

Lee Maracle from Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2013,

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