Poetic tales that unfold through the voice of ê-kwêskît, Turn-Around Woman--tales imbued with vital themes of Indigenous experience: culture, language, colonialism, residential schools and more. The poems of The Crooked Good are threaded throughout with names, phrases, and verses in Cree; its personal stories framed within the fireside tales of Rolling Head Woman, who is both nightmare and culture hero. Evocative, moving, and powerful poetry from a master poet.
Louise Bernice Halfe, whose Cree name is Sky Dancer, was born in Two Hills, Alberta. She was raised on the Saddle Lake Indian Reserve and attended Blue Quills Residential School. Halfe first published her poetry in Writing the Circle: Women of Western Canada. She has since published four poetry collections, with a fifth to be released in 2021. A retrospective of her work, Sôhkêyihta, was published by Wilfrid Laurier Press in 2018. Blue Marrow was first published in 1998 and was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Poetry, Pat Lowther Award, and Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award.
Halfe, whose works are well known for their inclusion of Cree language and teachings, served as poet laureate of Saskatchewan, only the second person to do so. She has been awarded three Honourary Degrees of Letters, from Wilfrid Laurier University (2018), the University of Saskatchewan (2019) and Mount Royal University (2021). She works as an Elder at the University of Saskatchewan where she is a consultant in several departments. In 2020 she won the Cheryl & Henry Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence and was awarded a lifetime membership with the League of Canadian poets. She lives just outside of Saskatoon.
ê-kwêskît - TURN-AROUND WOMAN
When I was growing up in the bush, on the hillside,
I watched the sun arrive from the dark, watched her slip
into the dark. I travelled. I didn't know the world back then.
I just travelled. I was afraid
I would never return. I tumbled that hillside
back into myself.
You can tell me
after you hear this story
if my name suits me.
I've yet to figure it out.
In Rib Woman
stories are born.
The Old Man called it psychology. Me,
I just dream it.
These gifted mysterious people of long ago,
kayâs kî-mamâhtâwisiwak iyiniwak,
my mother, Gone-For-Good, would say.
They never died. They are scattered here, there,
everywhere, somewhere. They know the language,
the sleep, the dream, the laws, these singers, these healers,
âtayôhkanak, these ancient story keepers
I, Turn-Around, am not one of them.
I was taught by Old people.
An Indian Man, a White Man.
An Indian Woman, a White Woman.
They worked in lairs, in the full veins of
I sat in their thicket, wailing.
The old ones navigated through my dreams.
Sometimes they dragged, scolded, cajoled,
cheered and celebrated.
I wanted to be with them. Like them.
I am not a saint. I am a crooked good.
My cousins said I was easy, therefore
I've never been a maiden.
I am seventy, but still
I carry my sins. Brothers-in-law
I meet for the first time wipe their hands
as if I am still among the maggots. I didn't
know their women wept when their men
slept in my bed. I am not a saint.
I married Abel, a wide green-eyed man. Fifty years now.
Inside Rib Woman I shook hands with promise.
Promise never forgot, trailed me year after year.
His Big Heavens a morning lake
drowns me in my lair.
I learned how to build Rib Woman
one willow at a time, one skin at a time.
I am only half done. This is part of the story.
I, ê-kwêskît, am a dreamer.
I dream awake. Asleep. On paper.
The Old Man said the universe,
the day, was the story. So,
every day I am born.
The Old White Man taught me
to unfold night visits.
The Old Woman taught me
all of it was real.
The Old White Woman helped me
To cry with the thunder.