It was a rush that was typical of our modern life the day I went to pick up this book. I walked through a maze of hallways at a college campus filled with bodies trying find their own ways around me. I walked into a office, talked to a receptionist who picked up a phone and announced me. And with a rush of quick smiles and handshakes I was back out with this slim volume in my hand trying to make my way through another confused mass of bodies. I found a cafeteria and grab a lukewarm cup of coffee and sat down. There is still a confused chunk of humanity around me as I open to the first page.
And within reading the first well-crafted words, I was absorbed into Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education.
Number One Canadian (Excerpt) Page 1
Stutter-stepping. The last fumes out
of Ontario. Beds and sliding doors and dining cars tunnelling
through the forest, its genealogy
of clear-cut, its firework trees new and hot.
We show them our ghost stations. We show them
tea at the window as birch die tangled
in power lines, birch hauling lines
down to the level of marsh, and marsh rising
to meet electricity.
This is the line.
A propane tank every fifty clicks,
wall-eyed shoots and utility corridors,
gift-buying hours in the recreation car and hints
of lake and woodsmoke if you’re looking for them.
No Oh My Nation, No God Save Our Queen,
no colonial imperative except in our being here, in what it means
to shower on a moving train, track rolling under the drainhole,
the luxurious pillows, my last minute discount.
This is what they starved a people for.
Through tree scenes, tableaux in the dome car,
the soldiers, the settlers, the track laid, the way made.
Making goods of them. Servants, subjects, comrades, always
more, and the trees smoulder, the trace smoke in the camera’s vision
that comes of passing too fleetly. We pause at vistas and wildlife,
coniferous worming at the periphery.
A train car neat with men and their rifles.
Outside, thread of campsmoke obscured by clouds, by trees.
Notes Page 107
“NUMBER ONE CANADIAN” is the name of the train that runs from Toronto to Vancouver. When the train returns east, they call it the Number Two.
Graham has woven a complex tapestry here where many historians and other academics have failed for us. The book tells the story of the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake and the settlement of the Prairies. Graham’s poetry here weaves through time, places, impressions, journal entries, letters and so forth to brilliantly give the mind’s eye of any reader a clear impression of the places and the events.
Among the Buffalo Page 17
we were told that in a day or two we would reach the buffalo country
might expect to see considerable herds
day after day no signs
we became skeptical
Saint, hell. Riel’s a criminal.
He brought law out here, one good thing to
come out of
I found several of the party quietly reading
to one of them I asked have you seen the buffalo
he started as if he received a shock from a battery
You’re gonna get the redneck view from this
end of the table
each bend of the river brought us in view of new herds
on both sides not in dense masses
as when migrating but scattered bands from ten to one hundred
sometimes close to the bank
they went at a lumbering gallop as the steamer approached
Next you’ll say I got no right to be here,
been farming this same plot for a full century.
the appearance of the steward with a rifle on his arm
and all was excitement
Graham has gone beyond using just words here. She using layout and typeface to set different moods here that vault the reader from one emotion to another. This is a complex read yet one that is worth savoring.
Frog Lake (Excerpt) Page 21
Ditchweed, fuchsia. The first thing grows after fire.
Chased here by weather, rain then clearing sky,
Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Miserable Man,
Round the Sky, Little Bear, Bad Arrow.
A grave, once unmarked, months from here.
Brome grass in all the places the earth’s been turned.
Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham may be a collection of poetry but it goes where history books have failed us. Graham gives detailed descriptions of emotions, thoughts and actions which causes readers to actually feel and care about the scenes. A great piece of literature.