For fear of offending the bear –
we speak of him as grandfather –
It takes me back to my own
with his pine-tree scent
how he’d tell me stories of reindeer,
taught me how to lure them.
This way abaga won’t know
I’m hoping to seek him out,
to kill and eat his flesh,
wrap my body in his pelt.
I have love and respect for him
as if he were a grandfather,
who, if he found me first,
would smash my bones like twigs,
tear off my head, limbs from body
fold me into his being,
let my blood
become his own.
We’ve long forgotten our reindeer
their velvety antlers in spring
eyes turning blue in winter, the calls of the rut,
the clicking of their pasterns, their pungent smell
the rough silk of marbled fur.
We’ve forgotten the speed of their migrations,
unfolding the snows as flowers burst
from the melting edges, the sound of teeth tearing
at new growth, the scent of earth.
Once we used to follow them,
galloping on their backs and sleeping in their hides.
We didn’t want to lose them. We forget
we rode our uchakhs to hunt the herds of buyun, driving them
into a canyon by shaping our hats to imitate wolf’s ears
or luring them with the call of a stag.
And now in this bright heat, brown grass scrunching
under our feet like snow, we’ve forgotten
the absence of reindeer in our hearts
as their tundra is pushed closer and closer
to the Arctic Ocean.
Uchakh is a reindeer that has been trained to be ridden
Buyun is a wild reindeer
The last of the Beothuk people became a maid.
Being the last to speak her language
she was of anthropological interest.
Taught to speak English she began to draw maps
of ambushes and massacres, pinpointing
her husband’s death, figures in red war-paint
being frog-marched to slavery
along the meanders of Newfoundland’s rivers
and tributaries where, by the grace of spirits,
they’d hunted and fished, built their mamateeks
from birch, moss and beaver-hide. Beside a lake
her mother and sister had coughed to death.
She’d sewn the bodies into a shroud of birch bark
and sang them the last of their people’s last laments.
Rebecca Gethin had two pamphlets published in 2017. She has been a Hawthornden Fellow and undertook a residency at Brisons Veor. Messages was a winner in the Coast to Coast pamphlet competition. Vanishings is forthcoming from Palewell Press.