Indigenous poet, Hannah Gray McKay
When my friend and fellow writer Belinda Burston sat on my couch one sunny afternoon and began to read some poems from a worn journal she held carefully with two hands – my hurried state slowed down, and I sat transfixed as she read selections aloud in her lilting British accent.
This was some months ago, and at the time I remember telling Lorna Dueck about this 20-year-old Indigenous poet named Hannah Gray McKay, and she said, “Why don’t you write about her?“
And so I did. I began to write and re-write. And then I wrote some more.
Words oozed and flowed out of me like a rolling river of the sincerest admiration for this young poet I recently had the chance to meet in person – the remarkable – Hannah, who, when and if she ever reads this will squirm uncomfortably at my (and many others) adoration.
I wrote about Belinda and her husband Paul Burston and Susan and Ron Stewart who are all part of an incredible and important network called The True North Aboriginal Partnership https://www.tnap.ca/ an organization that began two decades ago to build bridges and true reconciliation between First Nations people and Canadians.
Then I wrote about how Hannah and I go back and forth on Instagram.
When my beloved father David recently passed on to glory – I could barely withstand my deep sadness; and it was around the same time that Hannah’s aunty and uncle died, too – as we volleyed back and forth – Hannah’s words were what comforted me. They flowed into my heart like a secret passageway to where only God can heal, “It won’t be sadness and chaos forever, it is gonna be a resurrection in your heart. He passed and soon he will resurrect back, and you’ll find him sitting there with Jesus.”
Her art is ancient and true – her soulful poems called forth from her intuition, wisdom, blood, sweat, and tears – literally.
All of our personal tragedies and wounds from childhood onward run deep as we go through this God-given life trying to figure everything out. I happened upon a quote from the British mathematician and philosopher best known for his work in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science, Alfred North Whitehead who once said, “The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.”
I don’t think that’s true, do you?
Alas, I have only a couple of poems by Hannah to offer you today, but one day there will be many more.
The Rock Thief – Hannah Gray McKay
I collect rocks—hard bundles of pain
secured on a sanded beach
The uncanny resemblance it has to orchids,
all white, pearled in ambition to hurt.
I collect rocks—not because it’s a hobby
like knitting or humming,
surely ‘cause it’s the very centre of life
on a turtle’s back afar from shore
seeing the delight of pain
looking so delicious to swallow whole
until your insides are hollowed frames
of all the horror you’ve lived
and devoured like a vulture.
I collect rocks—beautiful tragedy in
filling your living room with stones
for all your visitors to see,
a museum with a free admission to grieve.
I collect rocks—breasts an easy journal
to write out all my glory in being female,
all the people who stoned me alive to
remove me from the temple I was born in.
I collect rocks—because life is a bitter
place of growing and showing up to
receive a prize for all that you’ve suffered
all the bruises deep inside.
I collect rocks…
Lilacs in my coffee Hannah Gray McKay
Paul was trimming the lilacs.
I didn’t understand why or how you cut a living thing that still breathes.
Even when it has stopped its bloom.
I walked along side the house, all sheathed in brick and watered down with green pathways.
Perhaps there is a purpose to be ignited out of the trimmings laid out on the ground. They say it will grow better next summer, but that feels so long to wait.
I plucked on out of pity, curiosity, I placed what was left of her in my coffee.
Watched them absorb the colour that floats in a red mug, all white then brown.
How in life are we called to beauty, to be captured by the sounds of sparrows, like an interlude intertwining on a front lawn.
How in life are we called to beauty, to sit here, twirling as the lilacs in my coffee.
As Indigenous History month comes to a close for another year – it is only the beginning for this starlight, or as another Indigenous poet, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800-1842) wrote so perfectly, “Baamewaawaagizhigokwe – Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky.” (1800-1842)