Selected Poems from “We Are the Dreamers: Recent and Early Poetry” by Rita Joe

                    Rita Joe is a Mi’kmaq writer born in We’koqma’q, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1932. Joe was orphaned very young and raised by various extended family members and foster families until she was taken to residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. From there, she worked in the caring professions in Halifax and Boston. Joe married, had eight children and raised two others. She started writing poetry in the sixties and published her first book, Poems of Rita Joe, in 1978. For her later years, she lived in Eskisoqnik on Cape Breton Island, where she was an educator, songwriter, artist, poet and elder. Along with various honorary doctorates, Joe also received the Order of Canada (1989) and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1997). She passed away in 2007.

Joe wrote in both Mi’kmaq and English using a very simple language. Her poems are deeply personal, reflecting on her private life, Indigenous identity, Mi’kmaq beliefs, traditions, and racism in Canadian society. Four of the poems translated here are from her first book and appear in We Are the Dreamers: Recent and Early Poetry (Breton Books, 1999). All were published bilingually, except the preface. (by Sophie M. Lavoie, translator)

❁❁❁

I am the Indian
And the burden
Lies yet with me.
_______________________

The invisible line of the burden is the central idea which keeps banging against my head and cannot drop unless I am satisfied. The satisfaction does not seem to materialize with each problem I try to conquer. The minor self-war has turned into a mountain, I cannot reach the top. The top being my own satisfied conclusion.

That I think is what keeps me going, the day to day problem solving, even looking for it. Like tearing my own poetry apart, meandering into different directions, pecking there or just looking, the many trails too many to take on. But when another day comes there is that spirit rising again to take on any cause just to see if it can be slowed, dumped or won over. The tired body now broken, the spirit hanging on just so it can be pushed to the limit, if not for me but others, the endless trail into another century, then maybe, just maybe…

❁❁❁

Poem 6

Wen net ki’l?
Pipanimit nuji-kina’muet ta’n jipalk.
Netakei, aq i’-naqawey;
Koqoey?

Ktikik nuji-kina’masultite’wk kimelmultijik.
Na epas’si, taqawajitutm,
Aq elui’tmasi
Na na’kwek.

Espi-kjijiteketes,
Ma’jipajita’siw.
Espitutmikewey kina’matneweyiktuk eyk,
Aq kinua’tuates pa’ qlaiwaqnn ni’n nikmaq.

**

Who are you?
Question from a teacher feared.
Blushing, I stammered
What?

Other students tittered.
I sat down forlorn, dejected,
And made a vow
That day

To be great in all learnings,
No more uncertain.
My pride lives in my education,
And I will relate wonders to my people.

❁❁❁

Poem 10

Ai! Mu knu’kwaqnn,
Mu nuji-wi’kikaqnn,
Mu weskitaqawikasinukul kisna
mikekni-napuikasinukul
Kekinua’tuenukul wlakue’l
pa’qalaiwaqnn.

Ta’n teluji-mtua’lukwi’tij nuji-
kina’mua’tijik a.

Ke’ kwilmi’tij,
Maqamikewe’l wisunn,
Apaqte’l wisunn,
Sipu’l;
Mukk kasa’tu mikuite’tmaqnmk
Ula knu’kwaqnn.

Ki’ welaptimikl
Kmtne’l samqwann nisitk,
Kesikawitkl sipu’l.
Ula na kis-napui’kmu’kl
Mikuite’tmaqanminaq.
Nuji-kina’masultioq,
we’jitutoqsip ta’n kisite’tmekl
Wisunn aq ta’n pa’qi-klu’lk,
Tepqatmi’tij L’nu weja’tekemk
weji-nsituita’timk.

**

Aye! no monuments,
No literature,
No scrolls or canvas-drawn pictures
Relate the wonders of our yesterday.

How frustrated the searchings
of the educators.

Let them find
Land names,
Titles of seas,
Rivers;
Wipe them not from memory.
These are our monuments.

Breathtaking views-
Waterfalls on a mountain,
Fast flowing rivers.
These are our sketches
Committed to our memory.
Scholars, you will find our art
In names and scenery,
Betrothed to the Indian
since time began.

❁❁❁

Poem 14

Kiknu na ula maqmikew
Ta’n asoqmisk wju’sn kmtnji’jl
Aq wastewik maqmikew
Aq tekik wju’sn.

Kesatm na telite’tm L’nueymk,
Paqlite’tm, mu kelninukw koqoey;
Aq ankamkik kloqoej
Wejkwakitmui’tij klusuaqn.
Nemitaq ekel na tepknuset tekik wsiskw
Elapekismatl wta’piml samqwan-iktuk.

Teli-ankamkuk
Nkutey nike’ kinu tepknuset
Wej-wskwijnuulti’kw,
Pawikuti’kw,
Tujiw keska’ykw, tujiw apaji-ne’ita’ykw
Kutey nike’ mu pessipketenukek
iapjiweyey.

Mimajuaqnminu siawiaq
Mi’soqo kikisu’a’ti’kw aq nestuo’lti’kw.
Na nuku’ kaqiaq.
Mu na nuku’eimukkw,
Pasik naqtimu’k
L’nu’ qamiksuti ta’n mu nepknukw.

**

Our home is this country
Across the windswept hills
With snow on fields.
The cold air.

I like to think of our native life,
Curious, free;
And look at the stars
Sending icy messages.
My eyes see the cold face of the moon
Cast his net over the bay.

It seems
We are like the moon-
Born,
Grow slowly,
Then fade away, to reappear again
In a never-ending cycle.

Our lives go on
Until we are old and wise.
Then end.
We are no more,
Except we leave
A heritage that never dies.

❁❁❁

Poem 19

Klusuaqnn mu nuku’ nuta’nukul
Tetpaqi-nsitasin.
Mimkwatasik koqoey wettaqne’wasik
L’nueyey iktuk ta’n keska’q
Mu a’tukwaqn eytnukw klusuaqney
panaknutk pewatmikewey
Ta’n teli-kjijituekip seyeimik

Espe’k L’nu’qamiksuti,
Kelo’tmuinamitt ajipjitasuti.
Apoqnmui kwilm nsituowey
Ewikasik ntinink,
Apoqnmui kaqma’si;
Pitoqsi aq melkiknay.

Mi’kmaw na ni’n;
Mukk skmatmu piluey koqoey wja’tuin.

**

Words no long need
Clear meanings.
Hidden things proceed from a lost legacy.
No tale in words bares our desire, hunger,
The freedom we have known.

A heritage of honour
Sustains our hopes.
Help me search the meaning
Written in my life,
Help me stand again
Tall and mighty.

Mi’kmaw I am;
Expect nothing else from me.

❁❁❁

Wenmajita’si

Kiskuk eksitpu’kek alasutmay
Etawey kisi wi’kiken
Etawey kisi ankita’sin
Etawey kiijka’ mlkikno’ti
Ma’w kitu’-kinua’tekey aq kekina’muey
We’jitutoqsip mu i’muann
Ankite’imuloqop msit
Siaw-lukutikw nutqo’itioq
Kisa’tutoqsip na.

**

I am filled with grief

Today, this morning I prayed
I ask to write a little longer
I ask if I may be able to think
I ask for a small strength
I still want to show, teach.
You will find when I am gone
I thought about all of you
Continue the work, you young people
You can do it.

PDF: Rita Joe poems English/Mi’kmaq

 THE TRANSLATOR

Sophie M. Lavoie is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Culture and Media Studies at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada, where she teaches language, literature, film and culture classes. She has published various academic articles in scholarly on Central-American women’s literature, among other topics, in French, English and Spanish. With Hugh Hazelton, she was cotranslator into English of The Vertical Labyrinth by Argentinean poet Nela Rio, she translated the book of poetry We Are the dreamers by Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe into French, and she has a forthcoming translation of the autobiography of the two spirit cri and ojibwe elder, Ma-Nee Chacaby, also into French.

Ruperta Bautista Vázquez: 6 poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light (2013)

Ruperta Bautista Vázquez is a community educator, writer, anthropologist, translator, and Tsotsil Maya actress, from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México. She holds degrees in Creative Writing from the Sociedad General de Escritores de México (SOGEM), Indigenous Rights and Cultures from CIESAS-Sureste, Anthropology from Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, and a Masters Degree in Education and Cultural Diversity. To date she has published Xojobal Jalob te’ (Telar Luminario) Pluralia Ediciones y CONACULTA, México D.F, 2013; Xchamel Ch’ul Balamil (Eclipse en la madre tierra) 2008, Primera edición. 2014, 2da edición; Ch’iel k’opojelal (Vivencias) 2003; and had her work anthologized in Palabra conjurada, cinco Voces cinco Cantos (Coautora) 1999. Her work has been translated into English, French, Italian, Catalán, and Portuguese.

Poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light (2013)

This brief selection of poems comes from the latest published work of the Tsotil Maya poet Ruperta Bautista Vázquez, Xojobal Jalob Te’/Telar luminario (2013), ‘Weaving Light.’ It should be noted that it continues the trajectory established in her previous works, in which humanity must struggle day-in and day-out to survive in a world slowly succumbing to violence and despair. Situated within the context of Maya prophetic texts, Xojobal Jalob Te’ intervenes within both the world of her world and our own. As suggested its name, the book is meant to be a “seeing instrument” in much the same way as the K’iche’ Maya Popol wuj. This particular series of six poems, “Lightning,” “Sustenance,” “Ellipsis,” “Sowing Hope,” “Heirs to the Rain,” and “Ancient Offering,” emphasizes the relationships that people, and above all Maya communities, have with nature. In particular, they seek to revitalize traditional practices that have historically sustained human communities, and that remind us that our relationship with nature is reciprocal, that what we give eventually returns to us in some way. We hope that you enjoy these poems, and that shine a light in the contemporary world (Paul Worley).

PDF: 6 poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light

More about the poet:

  • Four Poems in Latin American Literature Today. Translated by Paul M. Worley
  • Five Poems in the Latin American Literary Review.
    Translated by Paul M. Worley

About the translator

Paul M. Worley is Associate Professor of Global Literature at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures (2013; oral performances recorded as part of this book project are available at tsikbalichmaya.org), and with Rita M Palacios is co-author of the forthcoming Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019). He is a Fulbright Scholar, and 2018 winner of the Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies. In addition to his academic work, he has translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Malina, Adriana López, and Ruperta Bautista, serves as editor-at-large for México for the journal of world literature in English translation, Asymptote, and as poetry editor for the North Dakota Quarterly.

Daniel A. Molina Sierra- Bogotá, Colombia

Daniel is an independent artist with a BA from the National University of Colombia. His works, connecting art and nature, have received several distinctions such as the Scholarship for Art and Nature (Bogotá, 2006) for his project Audioespectros; the prize Youth without Indifference(Bogotá, 2007); and the people’s choice award in Club El Nogal’s Young Art Room (2008). In 2010, he was the curator of the exhibition Nomad Art, Bogota in Helsinki, Kääntöpaikka (Helsinki, Finland), and in 2011 he managed the acquisition of Emberá and Cofán art and culture on behalf of the Kulturien Museum and on behalf of the KIASMA Contemporary Art Museum (Helsinki, Finland). Also, in 2010 and 2011, he coordinated the Paisajes ActivosCreative Lab in the Nariño province on behalf of the Ministry of Culture of ColombiaIn 2017, he exhibited his work at Chateau Sainte Suzanne – Musee Robert Tatin (France). And in 2018, he participated in the National Museum of Memory (Colombia) with his work “In memory of the River and its people, Kimi Pernía”.

In the artist’s words: “I’ve made art with all types of communities, in diverse projects throughout marginalized areas of the city and the country. Sharing with parts of the biological and cultural megadiversity that inhabits this territory we call Colombia, I found weaving to be a profound philosophy, and color theory to be color in action, color in practice, and art in movement. Life in the tropics is one of sharp contrasts and piercing colors. Living in the tropical forests, I have been invited by the native communities to discover the real America through deep and direct contemplation, which has been the best teacher- to listen with my eyes, to the message of the mysteries that flutter with antennas or feathers, to the word expressed by the plants, through all the senses.”

“I work with beads, attaching them to different surfaces, “ritualizing” this action, making the act of painting an act of weaving and meditation, an active visionary invocation. It is in times of crisis that the arts are activated as allied forces to the vitality of the planet, serving a healing role against the grave dangers that stalk us. I make an everyday effort to be there, concentrated in that revitalized energy, without cease, bombarding with color from my quiet, camouflaged trench in the Andean mountains.” Daniel Molina Sierra

Learn more about Daniel’s work