"We Could Fill A River" by Douglas Walbourne-Gough
The Wolastoq flows below me. Spring
ice is receding, this year’s first blue herons
bring sun. They call me outside to warm my
snow-weary bones. I’ve crossed this bridge
often, stopped to watch people fish, couldn’t
resist comparing this river to the rum-brown
water of the Humber I’ve never fished
but grew up convinced I’d drown in.
I’d watched The Country, broke down
with bucking shoulders, my body taking
the pain as I realized how deep the mistrust
went. Began to understand how a story could
make me feel unwelcome in my own hometown.
I needed to see Qalipu through both eyes.
One fixed on my own experience, the other
with openness to five decades of Flat Bay’s
pain. Of Stephenville’s and the Crossing’s,
of St. George’s and Shallop Cove’s pain.
The more I saw, the more room I made
for truths other than mine. A good first step,
but far from any real knowledge. I had to
call you, no matter how scared I was
of breaking protocol with my ignorance.
Two years after I watched The Country,
I crossed that bridge. Drew in a deep breath.
I’d had your number for a few days, afraid
to call, to admit that I had no idea who I was,
ashamed of my lack of blood quantum, being
adopted, that I couldn’t yet speak Mi’kmaq.
That we could fill a river with all I didn’t know.
I’d never spoken with an Elder before, but
it wasn’t long before our laughter dissolved
my anxiety and you reminded me — you’re one
of thousands on the island going through this.
Community I’d sought but couldn’t see. I walked
back across the bridge. The adage of never stepping
in the same river twice crossed my mind, but I knew
the Wolastoq hadn’t changed. Land never needs to.
The work was always mine to do.
— Douglas Walbourne-Gough
is a poet and mixed/adopted Mi’kmaq from Elmastukwek (Bay of Islands), Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland). His first collection, Crow Gulch, was published with Goose Lane in 2019. His second collection, Island, centres around the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq experience and the Qalipu enrolment process. Island is forthcoming, also from Goose Lane.