Collective Amnesia

By Rajinderpal S. Pal

Share Article

They say forget history and I've just started to remember...
The Discovery of Amnesia, Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta

at a filling station
in a small prairie town
tha attendant and i
practice a familiar routine

  i answer calgary
he says no i mean what nationality
  i say Canadian he says no where is your family from you look indian

i remember being mistaken
native for east

history of the americas began in 1492
columbus mistook
took this backyard
for my backyard
carried on regardless

john wayne crossing the red river with his cattle
never had to answer to a native american
where do you come from?

the massacre more subtle
than blood covered midnight trains
in this country with collective amnesia
we hollywood eyes
cowboys and indians
we don't talk of
tuberculosis smallpox or alcohol numb(ers)
we talk of two founding nations
and founding fathers
but nothing had been lost till they arrived

we talk of south africa
applaud the end of apartheid
and ignore the fact
the bantustans were modeled after our reservations

when children are taught a language different from their mothers
the old ways shed like baby teeth
scraped out like dirt under fingernails
that's the ultimate division
when one generation cannot communicate with the other
what unity then
what chance of resistance

the loss of language
the sentence of new words
the langauge at the back of the throat
throttled and silenced
the stories and wisdom of generations
not passed on    forgotten

doc martens are not indigenous to Canada
they don't spring from the soil here
aren't formed in some lake
some prime / ordeal soup

in a bank line
the bank of a Canadian province
that still has new in its name
a teller unable to understand a co-worker's accent
says speak english
     you're in Canada now

the language beneath the fingernails
in the corners of your eyes when you wake
wiped away by tip of little finger
how do i begin to explain
there is something i need to say
and i don't know how to say it
this new langauge has no words
for these ceremonies
for these spirits
for this land

speak cree you're in Canada now
speak siouan
speak salishan

let's make issues out of braids or turbans in the RCMP
Canada doesn't have a long history
we must hold on to what we have
let's reduce history to five-hundred years
reduce everything to bilingual

lisa's family has lived here since 1908
her neighbour says
    you should have seen all the pakis in town
lisa says but i'm a paki too
    no not you those other pakis
    fresh off the boat

driving west on richmond road
see snow peaked mountains
you want to keep driving
in the mountains
there you can really forget
half way up mount indefatiguable
friends gone ahead
you sit on a rock
look at the lakes
and trees
it's so much harder to remember
than to forget
once forgotten
consider it gone

a visiting doctor from kenya asks me
where must i go to see real Canadians?
i've been here a month
and haven't seen any
and who was louise and why does she
have a lake named after her?

i rename lakes and mountains
with a sweep of the hand

outside the ship and anchor
a young man in a suit stops me
   excuse me sir
   have you heard the word of christ?
i say i'm in a hurry
   you don't look like you're from around here sir

to manu(scripture) your life
a wad of papers
in the bottom drawer of a desk
signed by a shaking hand
in a language not understood
even if we both spoke the same
there are things about me you could never hope to know
or would ever try to understand

Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
Redux Handprint
Rajinderpal S. Pal
Rajinderpal S. Pal is a poet and editor.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Britannia Art Gallery
Britannia Art Gallery
Bookhug Press
Bookhug Press
Plantation Memories
Plantation Memories
Alternator Centre