October 1869: to smoke their pipes and sing their songs


From The Pemmican Eaters. Published by ECW in 2015.

Louis planted his beaded moccasin on the survey chain

cutting across André Nault’s river lot

pitched there by men

slung with transits, levels, and measuring sticks

men looking to the horizon

calculating the free land for homesteaders

“You go no further,” commanded Louis

blocking their line of sight

their ledger of lines

angles, meridians, and parallels

corrections for curvature

iron stakes at the corners

of perfect square miles

although over fifty million acres

was surveyed

made ready


for occupation

there were no quarter sections

for “the miserable halfbreeds,”

“the pemmican-eaters”

but any man over eighteen

with a vacant quarter in the NWT


did the survey record in its calculations

witness whose lives were fragmented by these precise


could their instruments

determine the number of years

Nault had lived and cleared brush

harvested firewood on the same land he was now barred from?

did the surveyor’s coordinates record the number of letters, the number of signed petitions

did it detect the colourless voices of the Settlers’ Rights Association joining in Louis’ protest

did their instruments detect their words plain as bread “we have not been consulted in any way as a people entering into the Dominion”

where did this penchant for measuring and marking derive?

this desire to count and delineate this land

account for it

rename and grip it

like shovels, axes, and saws

lug like trunks,

steer like plows

pile like lumber

    where did this taste for counting begin

    its long rooted self

    calculating angles and slopes

    long conjuring “empty” land into property

    the long root of capitalism

    boring mineral veins

    drilling wells

    forcing steam down bored holes

    extracting dark thick fluids

    stabbing the land-belly

    sucking every seam

    and filling the gaping holes with

    with the toxic unseen

I am told when I survey from the top of a hill

I take into account the entire land

upon which I stand;

I count this place

    what conjuring does the mind do

    measuring a hill,

    the angle of its slope,

    is it easier to climb?

is it in the imagined embrace of mother?

minds hover

oversee her

capture, hold

I take into account this entire land

land, upon which I stand

I count this place

I count this space my own

when two lines cross, the saleable land is multiplied by two

the survey lines that scored this land were

so it could be ripped along its edges, cliffs, and deeper memories  

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Marilyn Dumont’s poetry has won provincial and national awards. Her debut collection of poetry, A Really Good Brown Girl, was republished in 2015 by Brick Books.



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