Two Poems: North of Middle Island

From Lenape poet D.A. Lockhart, North of Middle Island (Kegedonce Press) is a collection with a fascinating structure: the first half contains poems about the landscape, history, and culture in and around Pelee Island where the author lives part time; and the second half is an epic poem inspired by the format and style of “Beowulf.” Read two poems from the book and a comment from D.A. on the epic poem in his collection.

The cover of North of Middle Island by D.A. Lockhart.


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Two Poems from North of Middle Island

Achimëwakàn of a Pumphouse

after Wallace Stevens

They placed this pumphouse
along the island’s eastern shore.
It made this slovenly wetland
surround us like a lake couldn’t.

All the ways that a simple shed
can dominate creation around it,
more than a jar, more than a flag,
more than a clearcut forest, here
the domination is more mundane.

Dry land behind us, still water
canals gouged well below water
line idle beside and Kildeers sing 
out to the fields, to the wind breaks,
to the crusty gravel road shoulders,
each note over fallow fields, each
not a misplaced sun-warmed kiss.
And the cormorants and gulls circle
the sky and heave of water before
us. And the pumphouse still, took
dominion everywhere water dare
not touch, cast out what came in. 

Waabiishkiigo Gchigami Stills Herself
in the Presence of the Pelee Islander II

She stills herself, body like Erie
Street cement, punctuated by ridges,
ripples of the tension cast by wind
patterns. Know that resting gulls shall
be tossed in the fury that must follow.
Now they bob languid in surface eddies
of a loading ferry, this steadying 
of evening performed by new monarch
as she floats dockside. At rest before
the last mainland run of this ending day
from this island, both lake and boat
are indifferent to three passing bikers,
I want them to make note of those 
choosing to leave before another week
sets in. Survivors are those that weather
a still lake, a nasty northwestern clipper,
the steady rise of lake waters. We live 
our lives as if this stillness that proceeds
departures is the world each of us shares.
Yet, we live in between. Know the Neutral
Sea reflects a white and two-tone blue hull
with gold foil windows that is the boat
of consequence here at the edge of a nation.
Subtle, rippled, a near mirror to the world
above our sea hints nothing of lake bottom
littered with shipwrecks and front over 
Michigan that shall unleash a poorer fate
for the gulls that bob leisurely in the space
between closing car deck and concrete dock.

D.A. Lockhart on his epic poem, “Piper”

Historically poetry of this kind was everything. Meaning all of the language, stories, culture were passed orally by these Anglo Saxon storytellers. The connection point between their mead houses and praise of warriors and leaders to our Big House ceremonies and the critical role of our storytellers is pretty clear. There is an Indigenousness to poems like “Beowulf” that is a clear spark for me as a scholar and a writer. Most often these epics were about warriors. And as I had this story of Rowdy Piper coming to Pelee Island from some of the locals and boat crews, I decided to try and tell a story of this in a similar fashion.

Epic poems of the nature of Piper are fairly rare today. This might have something to do with narrative poetry falling out of favour with the North American audience. Although when they do appear, they rarely attempt to hold the old, more difficult forms, of the poems. Sure, they were meant to be sung. And that changes the structure of anything, the need to actually match rhythm and melody. Free-verse dominates everything today. Because it is quick and easy. And often, it works. But I wanted more. A challenge, if you will. A way to illustrate that Indigenous peoples can know, understand, and utilize the breadth of cultural experiences that colonization brought with it. It is, in a way, showing off. Stating that I am not a successful poet because I am Indigenous. But rather, I am good at what I  do. I know the colonizers’ forms, can work with them, and often do them better than the colonizers themselves. Perhaps this is the equivalent of fancy dancing in an Armani suit with a Shinola pocket watch and Italian Alligator skin shoes. And it is all built around a modern myth of warriors. Wrestlers being our pop culture standard for war heroes, today.

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D.A. Lockhart is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Devil in the Woods (Brick Books 2019) and Tukhone: Where the River Narrows and the Shores Bend (Black Moss Press 2020). His work has appeared in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2019, TriQuarterly, ARC Poetry Magazine, Grain, Belt, and the Malahat Review among many. He is a Turtle Clan member of Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (Lenape), a registered member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and currently resides at the south shore of Waawiiyaatanong (Windsor,ON-Detroit, MI) and Pelee Island.

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To purchase a copy of North of Middle Island, click here.

For more from Two Poems, click here.