The 2River View 17.2 (Winter 2013)

Laurelyn Whitt

Five Unknown Schoolgirls at St. Mary’s

I can look into their eyes and their spirit lives through them. Mi’ksskimm

Missing from the image
is what the Grey Nuns took

parents, grandparents
arms reaching

the voices of five year-olds
ten years gone

thinning into winds,
their names and braids

with their clothes.

They stand shorn
and uniformed and numbered

in white smocks,
laced boots.

Over and ended
the daily rituals

taking up their sisters’ hair,
combing and plaiting

their mothers’
mothers’ skills

how to soften buckskin, to
brain and smoke a hide

patterns of quill
of bead work.

Cropped out with dances,                              

ancestors whose
names they wore

like shawls, like stars, like stories.

Five unknown girls, measured
by anthropologists

arranged and photographed,
specimens in an awkward row.

Eighty years later, hanging
in a museum

relatives find them,
look into their eyes

uneasy but unbroken
whisper thanks.

When they leave, an attendant
sees five yellow post-its, sitting

in a ragged line
along the frame

on each, in Niitsitapi, a name.

This poem is drawn from a 1925 photograph taken by Oxford anthropologist Beatrice Blackwood on the Kainai First Nation reserve in Alberta. It is also endebted to an account of the Lost Identities photographic exhibition presented at Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre in 1999.

Laurelyn Whitt has poems in Nimrod International, Tampa Review, and Rattle. Her first book, Interstices, won the Holland Prize. Her new book Tether is forthcoming from Seraphim Editions. She lives in Minnedosa, Manitoba. contact