Authors: Lee Maracle
ALSO BY LEE MARACLE
Sojourner's Truth and Other Stories
Daughters are Forever
First Wives Club: Coast Salish Style
Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel
I am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism
Oratory: Coming to Theory
We Get Our Living Like Milk from the Land
Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures
with Betsy Warland, Sky Lee, and Daphne Marlatt)
My Home As I Remember
Reconciliation: The En'owkin Journal of First North American Peoples Vol.
Copyright Â© 2014 Lee Maracle
This edition copyright Â© 2014
Cormorant Books Inc.
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The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for its publishing program. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) for our publishing activities, and the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation, an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Culture, and the Ontario Book Publishing Tax Credit Program.
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Maracle, Lee, 1950â, author
Celia's song / Lee Maracle.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-77086-416-0 (PBK.).â ISBN 978-1-77086-418-4 (html)
PS8576.A6175C44 2014 C813'.54 C2014-905124-7 C2014-905125-5
Cover art and design: Angel Guerra/Archetype
Interior text design: Tannice Goddard, Soul Oasis Networking
Printer: Trigraphik LBF
Printed and bound in Canada.
The interior of this book is printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper.
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Dedicated to all those children
who were removed from our homes
and who did not survive residential school.
THERE IS SOMETHING HELPLESS
in being a witness.
No one comes here anymore, just me. I can't seem to resist returning to the place where everyone died. Some insane kind of illness overtook them, burned them with its heat; the monster illness disfigured them before taking their lives. It's so quiet. The longhouse is decrepit now. I stand, transfixed. It looks as though a single shingle had blown off the roof during a storm, beginning
the process of destruction, precipitating the damage inside. That single missing shingle allowed the rain to leak onto the woven mats covering the bones on every bench of the house, attacking the blankets in the southwest corner. The fire in the centre died long ago, but the wet ashes make the inside seem forlorn. A lonely feast bowl squats near where the fire had been. The damp has spread to all corners and, over the decades, storm rains invaded and reinvaded the longhouse, tearing more and more shingles in a steady rake. The wet penetrated. Summer heat spurred the blankets' decay. The bones lie naked underneath the rotted weavings. Under these the dead rot; even after all this time, the smell of them commingles with the mouldering blankets and mats. The scent is horrific: mould, flesh, and goat fibre rot fill the house. The bones of the dead loathe their own stench.
They should not be here. I worry for the dead.
Piled up in the last longhouse of this village, behind the perishing cedars just before the hill, the bones fret inside the decrepit structure. The people were here one day, then gone. Some small part of me resents their departure. They did not volunteer to leave, but
I resent their departure nonetheless. Some days, I resent their absence; it creates such a desolate landscape, but today is not such a day. Still, I empathize with the petulance that simmers inside the angry bones. The intensity of their rage grows with time. The bones wait; wait for burial, for ceremony, for their final resting place. They shift and rattle their discontent.
I breathe deep. There is not much I can do but visit and witness for them.
That was before the storm broke.
Before the storm, the serpent protecting the house front hung by a thread; no one had fed or acknowledged him. I doubt that many living humans know about this village. It is not the only one, not that it matters. What matters is that the serpent had a right to be upset. The singing had stopped for the house protector before the inhabitants had died. It stopped during the prohibition laws. No singing, the newcomers had said. This seems comic to me and I want to laugh; I mean, how bad can singing be? But it had been devastating to the people and to the serpent, so I restrain myself.
The humans broke their contract with the serpent when they stopped feasting and singing for him. This breach granted permission to the serpent to slide from the house front and return to sea, but both heads did not want to leave â just one did, the restless
head, the one that preferred shadowland. Current living humans
did not seem worried about this breach with the serpent. I wonder
if perhaps they no longer believe they need protection from the
serpent. In any agreement, both parties must hold up their end in
a timely manner for the deal to be secure. I guess in these days of
cars and electric fire, it may not appear all that rational to restore
The bones think me a tad too generous. They lack generosity.
Creeping along the longhouse wall are bracken, wild carrots, and ill-scented weeds, some edible, some not. The plants lack lush leaves. Bent and withering, they died looking crippled before they had a chance to mature â as though the loneliness for humans had affected their ability to grow straight and strong. But still they had reached for the sun. I peek inside the house: the fleshless bones whimper songs of yearning, yearning for the sea as though they continue to miss it. They missed much more. They missed babies gurgling from their cradleboards; they missed toddlers just before they spoke words; they missed the music of song and they missed dance; they missed the sound of eagerness only youth make as they roll out the dugouts and challenge the sea for the first time; they missed the vision of the musculature of their young sons as
they paddled to visit another village.
I miss all this too.
But for the crippled cedars, twisted arbutus, faltering alders, fir and spruce and the odd berry bush, nothing much lives here anymore; the old camas fields and riparian vegetation are dead. No more sea asparagus, sea cabbage, not a single sea vegetable. Coyote, bear, wolf, and deer fled after the people died. They never returned. I am the only visitor. I keep coming back to reminisce. Like the sea, the people who once lived here were by turns vivacious and steady, peaceful and vicious, consistent and variable â hardworking and lazy. I love them. I can't seem to live without them.
Before I get a chance to remember them fully as individuals, rain clouds from the west gather and form a thunderhead. It rolls toward the village. I need to seek cover. The wind storms so much that the cedars edging the lagoon in front of the village have been crippled by it, bent in half as though heading for shore. The inland trees lean away from the wind. I shiver as I imagine the sun quivering before the clouds thicken and obscure its light as they grey the sky. The noise increases.
West Wind screams now, sounds agonized. The storm hits
I take cover behind an old log to watch.
Night crawlers scatter. Eels, electric and dangerous, slither for cover, dive to the bottom of the sea, aiming for the protection of the grasses there. Cracked branches flail. Leaves flip and fly in the raging wind. Arbutus skin peels, swirls among the leaves as wind punishes the coast as for an imagined infraction. West Wind's bite scrapes the water in long furls of twisted rage and hurls it at the
shore. Its rake claws at stone, sand, dirt, folds them, drags them from their moorings and dumps them in a heap at the end of the point marking the bay. The wind pushes and pulls toward the shore and away from it as though unable to decide whether to blow from land to sea or sea to land. It pecks at the soil, attacks every inch of shore, gouging loose the dirt, twirling it in small dusters, tossing it away in disgust.
Disgust is powerful.
The slim point at the end of the lagoon is reshaped by the storm; as the rain gathers dirt from the mountainside and the wind tosses dead wood debris about, the point steadily widens and thickens at one end.
I am fascinated by wind's work. This is no ordinary storm; something is up. I cringe as the wind approaches the log I am standing on and threatens to carry me away
I crouch close to the thin space between land and log, but cannot resist peeking
to watch. In a moment of respite from the wind, I peek out at the land and watch as a lone cedar, ill and fragile, breaks at its base. I gasp.
I know Celia is watching this storm. She lives in Sto:lo territory, a long way from this empty Nuu'chalnulth village. Out of the blue she hears a shriek. “Who is that?” I hear her ask. She stands up in time to see cedar branches scattering in all directions until only their naked trunks face the wind, their roots clutching desperately at what little is left of the soil beneath them. Celia has no idea where the storm is taking place or why she is seeing it.
I know she is a seer. Few people actually believe in seers, but I am mink â the shape-shifter, the people's primary witness. I know things others don't.
Celia stares at the spindly trees buffeted by the wind. “Those trees may not survive.” She sees me. I know what she is thinking: I wonder what mink is doing there. A tear escapes my eye.
I do not mean to do that
. She can see that I want to leave but can't seem to.
“Where is this?”
I don't know if she means this to be said aloud, but I hear it.
My heartbeat speeds up, my legs shake. I can't stop rubbing my paws one over the other as my fear increases.
I need to witness this. There is no one else. The screaming wind, the flying debris, and the pelting rain are too much for me
. Celia hears me.
She watches as mink struggles with fear. She watches him leave his rotting log and duck behind a stone. She isn't crazy about watching the storm, but the pungent scent of decaying cedar soothes her and so she continues to watch mink as he struggles for breath and courage. She hears him say, “This is how it is to die in a war, nothing heroic about it.”
“What is this all about? War? What war?” Celia wonders out loud. “Pick one,” she answers herself. “These people are always at war. There are so many to choose from.”
The wind swirls about me and blows toward the sea. On its way it uproots the last of the firs at the end of the point. The few remaining crippled cedars and spruce perish shortly after. I stand upright, behind my stone.
I am a witness.
I am obligated to watch the destruction.
Celia's attention is drawn to the sunken longhouse, downhill from mink, close to the lagoon. She thinks she hears the bones in the longhouse talking; they seem to want this storm, behave as though they need it. She hears them say: “Someone has to pay for decades of neglect. Someone has to appease our need for respect.” She shudders. Up until now, her delusions have centred on humans in full form; even the dead she saw had bodies. This is the first time she's heard bones talk.
I know the bones are waiting for interment, but there will be no burial for them. The living humans do not know they are here.
The bones want more than interment, they want to hear war songs that capture this drama, commit it to memory and identify
the enemies for them, but the humans who could clarify these things are dead
Inside me an abyss of fear forms. I cannot contain this emptiness, nor can I prevent the fear from sinking roots inside my body. I have been witness to so much of the old bones' mythology; the dead deserve a witness to the story unfolding, but still I do not want to stay.
I have to leave
I so want to leave, but this story
cannot unfold without a witness
This story needs a witness
I rub my paws, one over the other.
The dead cherished myths while alive and the people gave the stories weight at one time, but now so much has changed that I
am not sure of anything
I shift from one foot to the other and then
focus on the storm. In a perverse and fearful way, I like the looking; but I am not so crazy about this business of shaking with fear that the unfolding story inspires in me. I have some doubt about the
intelligence and safety of staying behind to witness, but some piece
of me believes that doubt is somehow the best part of being alive;
I love the suspiciousness of doubt and all the angles for retelling
stories that this doubt spawns.
This story deserves to be told; all stories do. Even the waves of the sea tell a story that deserves to be read. The stories that really
need to be told are those that shake the very soul of you.
I prepare to be shaken.
This happened even if it didn't.
THE SCENE MAKES NO
sense to Celia. In between watching, she fixes herself tea and eventually decides it all happened far away and has nothing to do with her. She lights a candle and settles into
an easy chair at the head of her kitchen table and gets ready to sort her mail. She had put the easy chair there to encourage her to deal with the mundane business of sorting the mail, and although this has made her weird in the eyes of her family she leaves it there. The mail should get her mind off the ocean.
The stack of letters squats stoutly on the table, ready for inspection. She collects mail from Friday to Wednesday, but answers it on Thursday night. Although it is one a.m. she begins to sort the letters in two stacks, junk mail and bills. This is her Thursday ritual. She has taken to retiring not long after supper, fatigued by the business of living in an empty house. Tonight she resisted by watching several hours of television. It has been difficult to carry on the mundane tasks of living since her son died, in fact she can only endure the mundane in her life if she engages it as a ritual. The business
of bill paying is one of her favourite rituals; it makes her feel so grown-up. She also likes the junk mail, brightly coloured and full of promising ads.
The thing about being a shape-shifter is I can alter my presence from one place to the next. One moment I am in Nuu'chalnulth
territory, the next in Sto:lo territory.
By the flicker of candlelight Celia sorts her mail, bills on her left, junk mail on her right. In the eerie glow of candlelight she wrestles with a vague memory. The memory seeks to interrupt her ritual. She shrugs twice to shake off its persistence, but the memory is bent on coming. Se'ealth's words invade and the business of opening bills and writing cheques recedes. “The white man should understand that there is another way of seeing.”
This is not my memory
, Celia thinks
Tiny beads of sweat form across her forehead. She does not want to lose her mind just now. The candle flickers in the direction of the window; a draft spills wisps of fresh air into the room, drawing the candleflame toward it instead of away.
. She shifts her weight.
. For some crazy reason her weight bothers her and a strange fatigue sweeps through her. She sighs just as Se'ealth's longhouse collapses and a little mink leaps away from the house front, barely escaping. Celia is jolted upright. She wonders what some old dead Suquamish chief has to do with her â logging, she supposes, but what is with the mink? She lets the question go.