August 28, 2018
Anthony Melting Tallow:
eight years of age,
Lillie and Gene were your new foster parents then. Lillie demanded that you call her, “Mom”. They paid you a dollar a week for the work that you were to do around their house and farm. Chores like making sure the cows were fed and watered, for the kitchen work, and for the chore of rubbing away the affliction of diabetic pain from each of Lillie’s swollen legs before your bedtime. Lillie explained that this was expected of you to repay her for, “The kindness of taking you in”.
One night, watching the news on TV you heard a familiar anger returning in Lillie’s voice. Becoming scared now, hearing her rage, scared, now cause you knew she’d been drinking all day
“This damn world!” she said, her voice becoming louder,
“IT’S ALL BAD!”,
it’s all going straight to Hell!
“ALL TO HELL!”
Reaching for her cigarettes, fumbling one out from the pack, she hurriedly lights up. Drawing heavily upon it, exhaling out with forceful exasperation, she slams her lighter down hard onto the side table next to her, sending it flying with such force across the room. She doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, her attention turns to you,
In your helplessness you seem to anger her even more
“HEY!, you hear me?” Staring down at your hands now you feel her leaning in closer “I said, this world’s going to HELL!”.
Grey smoke stings and whips in the air, trailing around you,
the bitter taste collecting now at the back of your throat. “Damn rights!”. “An you know what else indian boy?, you won’t be mine or anyone else’s problem anymore cause I’ll be praying you go to hell along with everything else!”
“Hear me?”, “HEY!”. Her nails dig into your shoulder, she grabs ahold of you now. “I’m speaking to you!”.
“GOD DAMN IT!, ANSWER ME!”
By now you know you’re good at taking the blows as her fists took aim again.
Jarring, erratic blinding thuds land across your cheek and skull as a shattering light. A familiar ache of sadness tears across your face. Terror setting in for whats happening to you
You hear a cry of pain from somewhere within,
bringing no mercy,
knowing you’d get none anyways.
Warmth that is a trickle of blood, soaked with snot and tears,
bleeds into what your wearing,
…curious how red the droplets are flung across her floor.
will this make me die? you wonder?
only fear, the one thing left and,
all there seemed to be
suddenly its ended…
The pain you struggle not to feel in the moment hurt most in time spent alone.
Alone outside those wood paneled walls. Away and out through the torn screen.
Indian boy in the fields running, blackened eyes and barbed wire scratches.
Indian boy, pretending to ride far away, sometimes, on that broken down old tractor that sat out there, forgotten in the tall grasses,
housing those tiny sparrow chicks nesting there
…Lillie had said to you once,
when you came to live there that,
she wanted you to love her,
She told you that she was
your new Mom now after all.
…Lillie also wanted you to feel what it was,
to have everything taken from you.
would she force you to,
take the life of that rabbit?
The day she noticed you
and the rabbit she said you’d,
“Taken too much of an interest in.”
standing over you,
screaming down at you,
crouched at her feet in their dusty yard
Screaming at you to,
“Be a goddamn man!”
Forcing that hammer into your trembling hands
Her demand bearing down upon you to,
Dominating any plea you made,
not to do this
what you found was,
What small prayer you gave.
tears in your fur,
…so very soft,
gentle to hold,
never fearing me enough to.
run away now…
This kid who loves you,
took you away too
“…You got what you deserved!”
Lillie said after.
Tossing you away by the collar
“Get out the hell out of my sight”
Out of sight was
way back behind the fence,
Into a space,
between stacked up bales of hay,
out of sight, a hideaway.
Room enough inside for you,
your die cast cars
your small glass jar of old buttons,
you pretended sometimes
were made of candy
To share there with a made-up kindness
an imagined friend
no one at all.
In this fortress of hay
into the silence
and the quiet,
are you here now,
keeping true wishes
from getting lost?
Wishes wouldn’t come true,
darkness had come now
and the trembling
You didn’t even let it.
…Hours into a freezing night,
hunger and darkness
drive you creeping back into the sleeping house.
Knowing, without thinking,
where to avoid stepping
where their old floors squeaked.
Locating where the loaf of bread
sits out on the kitchen counter
to take with you,
one unnoticed slice.
…Has someone heard you?…no…
down to the relative safety,
of the basements darkest corner
of the room,
For a time, to close your eyes,
and, you hear voices
yelling for you again.
and some days,
were for dreaming,
And, for watching clouds drift by far above
Indian boy lifted up along with them
over the blanketing snows
and promising rains.
free to drift away.
From edge, to dry prairie edge
to this side of the horizon.
flight of shifting shapes
would, anyone ever find you…?
would you ever find a way,
One day…, an answer!
escape beyond these skies
Gods only son,
help, in finding
a way home.
“Jesus loves and watches over all the little children!”,
Father MacDonald preached this once during Sunday mass in St Mary’s Parish
where your search began for a miracle,
that autumn of 1977.
Piously, you sat there in that spare chapel on the reservation near Cluny, Alberta.
Your little brown face staring up to Jesus on his cross.
On your lap sat your tiny black bible and string of rosary beads,
that you’d saved up for all that summer and purchased from the nuns.
How many nights did you lie awake down in Lillie and Gene’s cold, unfinished basement, waiting for God to hear your prayers for mom to come and find you?
…”God loves all his children”
Father MacDonald had said so himself.
you felt you counted,
among the Lords most devoted.
…In this dream that you would return to…,
Mom is holding you gently, quietly on her lap.
Her hands wipe away the tears from your face
Her soft hands caress and untie this fear in your heart.
to every memory of love.
Mom whispers to you from this dream
to bring you home with her
In those years, you began to understand you didn’t belong anywhere.
Foster families eventually didn’t want you. Moving from one to the other, year after year.
‘Cause, you’d been told once that your real mom couldn’t do everything a real mom did to look after her children. A social worker explained to you then that, mom had become very sick, and that all us kids had to be sent away so that she could get better.
You began to picture her somewhere in a sterile hospital room, suffering in a bed with a fever.
Trying with great difficulty to rise out of the bed,
but never having the strength to.
Had we made her so sick?
This one time,
You were offered “comfort” by Fay, another social worker about to leave you at the doorstep of your next foster family.
Fay was not about to tolerate this seven year old child’s tears
“quit that now, Anthony!” she snapped at you in exasperation
Pulling into the rutted dirt driveway she delivered her parting words along with a withering consolation that;
“A lot of indian kids are being looked after
by the Department of Social Services, “Just like you”
your mom and dad, dont know enough to take care of you, understand?”
Fay said, I’ve seen this all before”, her reasoning to you went;
“Before the white man came along, indian moms an dad’s had lots and lots of kids…
If one of them got sick,
it had to be left behind”
“But, that was okay with the moms ‘n dads, Fay said,
“Cause, they had lots of other kids left, so,
the loss one of them, was,
“No big deal”.
You had to take seriously the words of a Department of Social Services Case Worker,
thier powers were unquestionable.
They burst into the reality of our small apartment that long ago night.
forces grasping toward you, tearing you away.
Lifting you up and over junk piles of toys, dirty clothing.
Spilled over half gallon jugs of Baby Duck wine, and empty bottles of Lethbridge Pilsner beer.
It was beyond your realization then that,
mom and dad chose the booze over you kids.
weren’t they funnier when they drank?,
At least for a while.
“I luff you kit’shss!” they slurred.
Breathing sour drunk breath all over you, as you climbed from lap to lap.
Around the kitchen table and into the night they emptied jug after jug of wine.
Honky Tonk music blaring out from the stereo.
Usually you did, what you usually did when the shouting and screaming began.
Barricading yourselves in the bathroom, bedroom or closet.
Hugging the wall furthest from the door
and the violence thundering beyond.
-Butter knives stuck into a door jam are best for keeping a drunk from getting at you…
How could you wish for life to be any different?
There was nothing else from which to choose…
There was snow on the ground.
There was a “disturbance”
The R.C.M.P. were called again.
Five indian kids huddled together in the back of a Mounties patrol cruiser.
Siren lights flashing across our dirty tear streaked faces
as we wondered what we had done so wrong at home
that we were being arrested and taken off to jail.
As we were driven off into the night the two Constables assured us that we would not end up behind bars.
Instead, we were brought to the Calgary Children’s Shelter.
Which was, for all intents and purposes, a lock up for kids.
Mrs. McGinnis took charge of us that early winter morning.
“Come children!” she waved us toward her.
Her plump arms rolled over with fat at the wrists – like a baby’s – I remember thinking.
an assistant standing nearby ordered the girls to follow her, Suddenly, in the next instant they were gone.
Soon, us remaining boys were lined up in front of Mrs McGinnis. Watching as she leaned heavily on the edge of a large and deep porcelain tub, running a scalding bath.
As the tub reached full we were each made to undress.
As the steam rose into the chilly room
We fell splashing into the searing water, gasping.
Mrs. McGinnis poured sour smelling soap from large brown bottles over each of our heads meant to kill lice living in our hair and the scabies on our bodies.
“Scrub your skin!” her orders echoing loudly around us in the tiled room
“I want to see you all scrubbing!”.
“Get to it!”
“Each of you will leave this tub with your skin as clean and, as white as mine!!”
“Look at those knees!” she pointed at me,
“they’re the color of dirt, come on now each one of you, Scrub!”
We hurried to do as Mrs. McGinnis instructed.
We stood dripping and shivering.
Looking down, innocently realizing my skin remained brown, not stripped white by the harsh scrubbing as Mrs McGinnis had said.
“The color of dirt…,”
my mind repeated.
Mrs. McGinnis then reached for a stack of towels directing us to cover ourselves.
Our nakedness barely concealed, we were told to sit still on a hard bench
as each of our heads were shaved.
Our hair fell to the floor,
piling up in bristly black clumps.
Nearby an assistant gathered up our clothes and tossed these into the trash.
Next, we were led into a dimly lit locker room.
At one end there was a table upon which lay stacks of clothing.
put these pajamas on for me young man” Mrs. McGinnis said.
“Then I’ll show you where you’ll all be sleeping”..
In the low light, scrambling into them,
I saw the faint images of circus animals riding aboard trains
printed across the pair I was given.
Then, struggling to hold up waist of the oversized p’jama pants,
Mrs. McGinnis shuffled us off through the darkened building.
unlocking metal doors with a set of keys she carried on a string tied around her neck.
Going through each one, Mrs. McGinnis paused to make sure each door locked
securely behind us.
We arrived at the door of a large room with cots lined up in rows that disappeared away into the darkness.
Mrs. McGinnis leaned down and whispered a stern warning,
“I’m the person responsible for making sure no one leaves his bed at night”.
“Besides”, she added, “These lights will be on in a couple of hours,
so you better get to sleep!”.
She ordered us to take up cots some distance from one another
climbing onto the plastic covered mattress,
my buzz cut made a prickly sound against the stiff pillowcase.
Mrs. McGinnis approached in the dim light and,
reached down to pull the thin blanket up over me,
in a tone gentler than moments before.
she began to quietly sing me, a song
a song about someone named,
who comes around
to visit you at bedtime
as your ready to close your eyes
magic sand lands softly all around,
causing you to feel real tired.
helping you to have sweet dreams,
once you fell off to sleep…
…Mom was age five
when she was taken away from all she knew and loved
and sent by government order to attend the residential school.
Girls were taken first mom said
as, boys could be put to work in the surrounding farmlands.
From Gramma and Grampa,
mom, never knowing of home again,
Mom’s house down on Siksika.
there, with her at her bedside,
speaking to you of,
her young life.
as old country and western songs she loved,
drifted, from her CD player.
needing you to listen,
and learn about those years,
her years of separation
the harsh lessons
The shame and, self doubt
that came to live inside.
whispers of Blackfoot,
even too much.
Crying of the little ones
Aching in the dark for home.
Cries never heard by mothers
hurts never to be protected from by fathers.
Fear instilled inside little hearts
never to be sent away.
“Reaching out then,
with some of the other little kids
who needed so badly
to reach back to
hold onto hers.
Tears fell off mom’s downturned and beautiful face,
this last week you spent with her
before cancer took her away from you
reaching out to her then,
Helping to wipe away her tears.
…For the, Lost Birds, 60’s Scoop Children, Residential School Survivors and, all the little ones that never came home.