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At Kitsilano Beach
By Rochelle Mass

I thought a totem pole was God when I was young—
I dared come close, rarely touched, but when I did
I remember rough parts and feeling scared.
I wanted to get to the message
discover secrets.

My father once asked me: why do you stare at them?
He didn't understand: even though he could draw
the best hawk I'd ever seen, he couldn't see the moon
above the eyes, the canoe on the shoulder, the thunderbird beak
in the center. He'd tell me how they were carved, tools used.

I wanted to know what the elders chanted
while they worked, I wanted to watch the chief
pull back the cedar bark, strip trunks smooth.
I wanted to see the rabbit's fur on his jacket and
abalone shells sewn to his headband.

My father told me how strong a carver had to be
how honorable the work, but I heard
tribal dances, imagined spinning capes.
I raised my face as they tossed feathers
to bless the place.

My father talked on about craft but
I wanted to spiral
into the belly of the moon
hold tight to the eagle's wing
reach where the gods really are.


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