Louis Riel Trail
for Jan Zwicky
Despair can become an effective arsenal.
— Louis Riel
Trucks, their engine retarders as hell-bent as planes coming in,
queuing up and down the flanks of the Qu’Appelle—
don’t refer to the hills as a body, don’t be cliché—
the valley of industry, the empty-canvas plain, the tow rope between cities.
Across the way someone’s herding cattle in an ATV.
The bright blond stubble a colour not natural to this place mid-May.
Underneath, the knowing grasses waiting, finger-feeling.
The main branch of the militia hiked from Qu’Appelle
to Batoche in how many days.
You better like white noise you live so close to the highway,
the drone of progress wearing away a register of hearing,
a tidal thinning, the static of one’s quiet,
wanting weekends all these bikers up the hill,
and trucks, trucks carrying bulldozers and John Deeres,
tanker trucks and pickups pulling earth-movers on a Sunday,
and all around, the orbits of predators and scavengers,
mice and flies and ants in anything but a straight shot.
The jostling wind—watch your clichés again—
the deer and porcupine, trucks with rebar,
trucks with plywood, trucks with empty beds descending
the hot limbs of the valley—does that sound original?
How would he feel to have a highway named after him,
a highway sprouting north from the city where he’s hanged.
White trucks by the thousands, double-trailers full of imports in a new age of austerity,
which you’ll feel if you’re not playing all the ball that you’re supposed to,
if all that’s left is rocks as ammunition for your rifles, be it soldiers in zarebas
or snipers in the ditches blasting holes in all your churches:
if you want to get from here to the site of last resistance,
you must descend the ready slopes of the Qu’Appelle.
And a nineteen-year-old woman walks the highway at night
around the weigh-scales between Lumsden and Regina.
Four lanes all around her, traffic pitched too loud for reason,
and the news and the cops can’t fathom why she took this trail.
About the time I dropped to sleep last night
was when she found the answer.
Fifteen hours before, there was an owl on the roof.
It must have been dancing for the highway.
---Laurie D. Graham, from Settler Education
[Most Canadians know something about Louis Riel and the Northwest Rebellions. Most Americans don't. You could start here. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/north-west-rebellion/ ]