Summer Solstice Festival, Keno City, Yukon Territory
Shirley Sharp-Eyes lights the savoury sage incense
she herself has picked from beside the Lapie Lakes,
cushioning the bowl for her daughter to fan,
with broad eagle feather wafting pungent smoke
into our midnight-sunburned eyes, into our
sweat-lodge cleansed skin, into our dry-cured stories.
I am the unexpected, well welcomed guest here,
stumbling through the blue infinity of sunlight
into this celebration of a last stand against the wild.
The forest is muscling in on Keno City, on all sides:
here is a bear stopping me in my tracks, there is
a ravaging wolverine devouring the empty cabins,
whilst scrub-tough bush dissolves cars, tools, trucks.
Only six families of the People remain. Here before
it was named City; here after it is not even village.
Each family sings for the solstice breakfast feast,
tales of the ancestors, poems of the raven and wolf.
I tell my story when the blackened bowl reaches me,
learning my lines as I go along, letting their listening
carry me deep into this strange coming together.
The People will not leave, they will hold their line.
Quiet kindness binds me to this festival for three days,
but I know I must find my way before it is too late:
for now there is only one dirt road that can be passed,
so thickened are the trees, so fecund is the taiga.
It takes knowledge to sift this encroaching terrain,
and I am grateful for the vision of Shirley Sharp-Eyes.