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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Gabriela Halas

Upon Being Told These Were Former Lands

—|—Did you have a name for the fan of the cottonwoods reach?

—|—Did the fog smell sweet like dripping fruit?

—|—Did the call of the wolf quiet the children or did they echo its good company? And the prairie dogs, did they sing?

—|—Did the flat grey sky draw you back inside to the heat in the muscle of his shoulder?

—|—Did you wake in the morning with ritual?

—|—Did the smooth mounds of the hills, red tips in relief, remind you of her nipples, erect and alive in your mouth?

—|—Did the sun in the morning along the horizon recall the spray of intent in the burst of a flower?

—|—Did you remember the paint of stretch-marks along the belly of your mother? Did you have a name for this color?

—|—Did you have a name for the light that slipped behind the eye of the moon?

—|—Did the sagebrush grow as plentiful? Did you find its old fingers in the folds of your child’s skirt buried deep like a secret?

—|—Did the bear in the hills call itself one name, then retreat to the mountains by another?

—|—Did each creek have a name?

—|—Did you find the folds of the grasses something to admire, that caught your attention when the mind was uncluttered?

—|—Did you find your mind cluttered?

—|—Did you have a name for each gesture of sky?

—|—Did the names you were given honor you?

—|—Did the dreaming prepare you?

—|—Did you try to warn us?


— ||  —  || —


||—||Was the land as treeless, as wind-formed, as warm?

||—||Was there a name for the crows as they thundered past? Two lovers, the ravens: did you know we would poison the animals later?

||—||Was there constant drone of traffic: ground-ridden, sky-blasted? And what of the invisible cunning waves through the body?

||—||Was there cancer? Disease? Or did everyone grow old, even those left behind in the dark of the freeze?

||—||Were there ticks? Chronic wasting disease?

||—||Were there secrets?

||—||Was the sound of your bow faster than wind?

||—||Was the wild white flag in the flee of the deer as common, as erupted?

||—||Was your love-making freer under watch of the bear?

||—||Were you safe in the place of sandstone and tower, before a red road slashed the hidden into view?

||—||Was there a name for the object they placed in your hands, as cool and thin and white as spring ice suspended in a turn of the land?

||—||Was there a name for the branches strung with tight tension; for the land drawn and quartered?

||—||Was the arrival seen in your dreams?

||—||Was the land in which you were cornered familiar to you?

||—||Was there a guide in the metaphor if you lost sight of the way?

||—||Was the evening closed with ritual?

||—||Was the naming they gave you what you were meant to be called?

||—||Was murder worse or the word former?

||—||Were we warned?

Fata Morgana

Autumn’s last few weeks blinding
as two suns. Lights the dull chemistry
in cardboard signs men & women scribble with Sharpie.

Stand at the corner of Northern Lights & Denali. Slash
of sun-blaze through the city,
bold black letters in midnight sun exposure:

I avert my eyes. Look to signs— two streets named in honor, mark
place. The inlet renamed: Cook—
the weight of a name, repeated, takes

space. The skin of the sea is not a new horizon
but walls that rise like smoke
made solid. Drift & twist, reared

from light & heat. The women & men move away when the Lights
appear. Blue & green & red swirl
in distortion. Make their way to the city woods,

take refuge in a soft barrier of trees. & I, faithfully sigh,
as seasons turn. Wear my discomfort layered,
walled. Here the sea never rests. Not in waves of blighted foam

& violence, but a trickster substance unhinged. Arctic winds
unsettle. Exposes lashed tarp,
blackened rings of wet pits. Water, salvaged,

plain thirst. I avert my eyes against nudity of flesh,
however embraced by bark,
by cloth. Cottonwoods wrinkled cleavage. Rags of men open,

offer a view. Frosted winds through stains of ash,
campfires built for relief. The city dismantles each tent
& quiet shelter, offers nothing

in their place. Alders lose enthusiasm, bone on bone
wave. Offer restful holds,
no matter how leafless, how cold. The men & women stand

on shore, watch walls build on the horizon. & I, faithfully enclose,
my body against the chill.
Distance in distortion. Look to the Inlet slit

for an emergent break, a visible crack
bending light.


Gabriela Halas immigrated to Canada during the early 1980s, grew up in northern Alberta, lived in Alaska for seven years, and currently resides in B.C. She has published poetry in a variety of literary journals including Prairie Fire, december magazine, Rock & Sling, The Louisville Review, The Hopper, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, The Goose, and forthcoming in Tint Journal and Traverse; fiction in subTerrain and Broken Pencil, and forthcoming in The Hopper; nonfiction in untethered magazine, Grain, Pilgrimage, and High Country News. She has received two Best of the Net nominations in poetry (2020). She lives and writes on traditional Ktunaxa Nation land.

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