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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 10: October 2021
Prose Poem: 279 words
By Michele Morris

Serenity Now

—After Swallows (1976) by Chee Chee
 

Are you my mother? She was here a minute ago. We were picking blackberries, she’d promised me a pie, and when I sat down to rest in the shade of a bush, she disappeared. I was lost, but an elder found me and gave me an old ledger book and a new name. He taught me how to squash berries and grind up leaves to make pigments. No one watched as I drew the world around me—swallows spiraling at dusk, a moose blocking a golden sun, a mother goose shadowing her gosling. From time to time I called for my mother, I pinned up my drawings in places she might have gone, but she never came back. Perhaps if I became famous, she’d recognize my art and find me. I showed my work to dealers who wanted more and more. More color, more lines, more depth. No, this is my simple world. A charcoal pencil, a tin of paint, a can of beer, a line of coke. My paintings sold, but still I was alone. I’d lost my mother, lost my name, lost my mind. They called me an Indian artist, but I told them no, I am Ojibwe. I have a mother, I know I do. If I can’t find her here in this world, perhaps I’ll find her in the next. I signed my paintings with ink that faded away, but the pain never went away. I lay in bed listening to bird song, Chee Chee, my surname. When the pain was too much, I put down my paintbrush. I left behind my work, but not my name.

 

 

*Publisher’s Notes:

Swallows (1976) is an acrylic-on-paper painting by Ojibwe artist Kenneth Thomas Chee Chee, better known as Benjamin Chee Chee (1944–1977), whose drawings and prints have been exhibited posthumously throughout Canada.

Dozens of his artworks, including Moose With Sun (1974), may be viewed at: Artnet Galleries: Benjamin Chee Chee

A full biography, including lists of exhibitions, collections, and resource links, is available at: Katilvik Inuit and Indigenous Art

See also this 2018 tribute by the director at Temiskaming Art Gallery (scroll down below Chee Chee’s Spring Flight and past the video about the Life and Legacy Exhibit): Kathy Hakola: Personal Perspective

Michele Morris
Issue 10, October 2021

Born and raised in Montana, Michele Morris is the product of two colorful families—an Irish mining family and an Alsatian ranching family, with enough stories and secrets to fuel a lifetime of writing. Michele graduated from the University of Arizona and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She spent 15 years as a magazine editor in New York before freelance writing and editing in Beijing, Tucson, Denver, and London. She’s the author of two non-fiction books and just finished her first novel, Paper Girls, set in World War II Montana. When she’s not reading or writing, Michele hikes, bikes, and skis, and has the war stories and injuries to prove it.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Remembering the Home Front on Pearl Harbor Day, article by Michele Morris in Ms. magazine (7 December 2012), in which she describes some of her research for her novel, Paper Girls

 
 
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