On the summer solstice [June 20, 2013], I want to introduce you to the poetry of Marilyn Dumont. The poem below, “The Sky is Promising,” is taken from her collection A Really Good Brown Girl (Brick Books, 1996), which received the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award in 1997. The book carries a sweet title that belies some of the anger between the covers: read her brilliant poem “Circle the Wagons.” I found myself identifying with quite a few of her themes: the outsider, nature vs urban, loss. She shows us that language can be used both to oppress (“The Devil’s Language”) and to liberate (“Squaw Poems”).
Poet, writer, teacher, Marilyn Dumont’s fourth book of poetry explores Métis history, politics and identity through the life and times of her ancestor, Gabriel Dumont; The Pemmican Eaters (2015) won the 2016 Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award. In 2010, she published her first novella, Stray Dog Moccasins. Her book, green girl dreams mountains: poems (Ladysmith, B.C.: Oolichan Press, 2001) was a finalist in the Writers Guild of Alberta Literary Competition 2001. She edited Initiations: a Selection of Young Native Writings (Theytus Books 2007). Dumont has been teaching and mentoring writing since she got her MFA from the University of British Columbia, and now teaches Creative Writing for Athabasca University. While Marilyn Dumont has not lived abroad, she has travelled, reading from her work in Belgium, Scotland and most recently in New Zealand.
THE SKY IS PROMISING
Danny, come home
the ponies are frisky,
the sawdust pile is high,
the spruce are whistling and
the day rolls out before us.
Danny come home to sky
the colour of juniper berries,
it’s summer and
time to twist binder-twine
into long ropes to catch the ponies,
race them to the water trough,
listen for the sound of green
poplar leaves applauding
and dream of prizes,
big silver buckles and
our victories assure us
we have lived our sawdust days well.
Danny come home
the berries are ripe and we’ve collected
lard pails for picking. We’re driving
up the bench road to fill them
with sweet smelling huckleberries
We’ll meet for lunch, use the tailgate for a table,
dump our berries into buckets and
talk about the patch we found,
the deer we saw, the stream
we drank from or the bees’
nest almost stepped on.
Danny come home
the sawdust pile is high and
its slopes are sand
dunes we can slide down
at the bottom we can look
up and see only the crest
of sand and the promising sky.
Danny come home. The men
are riding skid horses into camp,
watering them at the trough,
we can get close, watch
their flared steaming nostrils
sink into the icy water,
see them chew the cool liquid,
teeth the size of our fingers,
water dripping from their chins
throwing their heads back,
harness sounds rippling,
whinnying to the horses in the corral.
Danny come home we can
walk through the warm pine smells
to where the men are falling, we can
listen to them hollering orders
to the skid horses
whose heavy hind legs
lever the still logs
into a moving universe.
- Read her poem “Helen Betty Osborne” at Poetry Foundation.
- Marilyn Dumont received the 2019 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award.
- Interview with Marilyn Dumont at Room Magazine.
- Marilyn Dumont was the guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry 2020 published by Biblioasis.
- Gabriel Dumont (thecanadianencyclopedia.com)
- More on Marilyn Dumont (athabascau.ca)
- Scholarly essay on Dumont’s work (canadianpoetry.org)