Come West, Young Man


By Kathryn Gwun-Yeen Lennon

Come west, young man
and seek your fortunes.
Opportunity awaits.

Come west,
to a wild land of freedom, famed for its
vast plains, claim a piece for yourself.

Come west, to a land where
big trucks, big malls
big stuff, like giant
Ukrainiian easter eggs
and UFO landing pads
welcome you.

Come on out to a land named for a British Princess,
though these places already had names,
like Wetaskiwin: place of peace
Athabasca: place where there are reeds
Okotoks: crossing to the big rock.

Come west, young man, to a land
where petroleum
vampires suck the
spark from our
eyes, where crude awakenings
make dinosaurs roll in their graves
where the ghosts of resources extracted,
exploited, extirpated,
these ghosts linger.

Come west, young man,
believe an industry that invites you, entices you with money
like you would not believe.
Believe Suncor, Shell and Syncrude
who spin crude tales
out of the truths of tailings ponds
that leave toxic trails in our bodies, the water, the land.
Believe a government who spins crude tales to
make believe that cancer rates downstream are irrelevant.

Come west, young man,
to a city that I grew up in
but don’t recognize anymore, because
building cranes are straining for a sky that keeps getting higher
and higher,
because it’s ringed by refineries, like
teen beauty queen tiaras
that wink and glitter
spilling sprawl into the night.
This is the prize you seek.

Here young man, you will watch as
a mosquito siphons blood from the buttocks of the last
bison, as the last bison shits on the lost
shin of some un-discovered dinosaur, drowned in

Young man, you will roll down the window of your god-given
aim the barrel of your gun,and
pull the trigger.

Then we will say,

Overhead powerlines will become
the charged
sweetgrass sage peace pipe
lines of palms
lines of power.

Thunder will gallop in, chasing butterflies
over the prairie edge
between the backwards blink of
birch branches.

We will say, no
Dene, Cree, Métis treaty lands
leased to tar sands industry.
No train tracks laid
by Chinese.
No Black pioneers
forced off their farms.
No buffalo meat left to rot
by European settlers.

we say.

The pressure of 4.5 billion years of
crushing, faulting,
stratification is
released. Captured and re-
leased, reserves re-cover this land
with bison,
boreal forest, parkland, grassland, foothills, muskeg.
Rivers unwind.
Rocky Mountains unfold.
Canadian Shield melts to magma, and
cast-off carapaces expand
until the sea floor crawls with crustaceans again.

So, young man,
if you chase the sun west
to east of the mountains
above dreaming dinosaurs and buffalo bones
where the wind in the leaves of aspen trees is the sea,
the skies will open up and you will breathe again.

Come west and
dance hip hop
hip to hip
among the wild rosehips
down by the river.
Come west and line dance down
yellow highway lines.

Maybe you will find your fortunes if you
drive out past the city lights.
Maybe you will
turn off the highway
to stands of pines
and arrive at a lake
where the sunset splits the sky
under banks of colouds
and you will lay with your cheek to the ground
and your eyes on the orange slice of
as stars freckle the dark, high above
as ducks scatter up off the water
as the north star rises, and the moon comes up
and all you will know is that you are here
on this soil
under this sky
and you are small
and this is too big, and
you cannot own this.

Performed at the Breath in Poetry Slam Finals, April 2012, Edmonton, Alberta.


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