nisîmê, my sister, your jokes,
those cracks you’re always looking
for, cracks in the sidewalk, cracks
in the foundation, anything
to goad the gloom.
How do you do it, my sister;
how do you think so fast?
tânisi anima ê-isi-tôtaman, nisîmê.
tânisi anima ê-isi-kisiskâ-mâmitonêyihtaman?
You’re the Mother Magpie.
Such a sense of humour
have you, you don’t mind
presiding over a clutch of crows.
Tell a joke, my sister, that story
the one that makes us laugh
no matter how many times
you tell it.
naniwêyitwê, nisîmê, anima âcimowin
kâ-mâci-pâhpiyâhk mâna ahpô piko
nisîmê, my brother, your giggle,
that one you laugh when you forget
you’re an adult, yes, that one.
It tickles all who hear.
Your children, your sister’s children,
adults, we’re all amused
when something enchants you.
We like to hear your giggle, that one,
the one that beguiles the blahs.
nisîmê, anima kêyakâhpisiwin
nisîmê, yes you, my only brother,
the one who most bears
the evidence of our Cree
inheritance, the baby blue
lumbar bruise, the one who
has to explain he’s not Lebanese
but Métis. Giggle, my brother,
giggle when your funny-bone itches,
and cry when your heart hurts.
It’s okay my brother, giggle your child’s
giggle, cry your grown man’s cry.
kiyâm nisîmê, pâhpi
tâpiskôc ana awâsis
mâto anima mâtowin
tâpiskôc nâpêw kâ-isi-mâtot.
nisîmê, my younger sister,
you are the youngest and the oldest.
Born of a different mother,
but my sister anyhow.
nisîmê, having borne children
yourself, and the burning worry
of a vessel filled with a history
so diagnosable it’s preventable. Protect
your children from this burden, nisîmê.
Laugh, my sister. Celebrate
your children, those children
the ones you love, with laughter.
ôma pwâwatêwin ohci.
pâhpi nisîmê. miyawâsik
miyawâsik, asici pâhpiwin.
Your smile, my youngest sister,
could fill your children’s hearts
to the brim. Fill their hearts, my sister,
with love. Leave no room
for liquid misgivings.
sâkihik kitawâsimisak, nisîmê.
Mom, nikâ, I heard you say twice you wished
you had learned to speak Cree.
Is that so, Mom, or have the curious
stares, restaurant chairs empty
and unavailable, neighbours
from afar, bad neighbours,
ungrateful guests, have
they discouraged you? Laugh at them,
Mom; laugh in their faces.
pâhpihik, nikâ, pâhpihik;
I remember you told us, Mom,
when the leaves on black poplars turn
upwards, it will rain. Did you know,
Mom, this is a natural sign
the Cree use? Remember Dad’s laugh?
Remember how his whole body
would shake with delight?
He’s gone now, Mom, but remember
his laugh, that laugh, the one
that made us all feel better.
nikâ, mâka kiskisitota
opâhpiwin, anima pâhpiwin
All my relatives, you, the ones who
married my siblings,
my nieces and nephews,
my aunties and uncles,
my cousins, my grandparents,
the ones who came before,
the ones who will come after.
kahkiyaw niwâhkômâkanak, kiyawâw
nitânisak êkwa nistimak, nitihkwatimak êkwa nikosisak,
nikâwîsak êkwa nôhcâwîsak,
niciwâmiskwêmak, nitawêmâwak, nicâhkosak êkwa nikêhtê-ayimak,
aniki nistam kâ-kî-pê-takosihkik,
aniki mwêstas kê-takosihkik.
Some of you are Cree,
some of you are not,
but we all live in Cree country.
Close your eyes for just a moment.
Listen for the rhythms
of the region,
pulse of the prairie.
Can you hear it?
kiyâmapi êkwa. Try to block
out all that other noise. There,
you can hear it in the dirges
of the birches, and spruces tuned
with the wind. And there,
in the declarations
of history. In the laughter
of old and young,
then and now.
It’s a pleasing refrain,
the one that won’t go away.
êwako êkâ kâ-pônihtâkwahk.