if it was any less calgary
it might have been brisebois –
named for inspector e.a.
instead of by james farquarson macleod
but the lieutenant-colonel prevails
or the sound of water prevails
over cree and blackfoot names
describing elbow houses
old and older worlds
names and the stories they contain
meet at the place where the bow and elbow rivers meet
the sound of clear running water prevails
or the glacial taste that quenches
who knows what god-forsaken thirst
such a man endured
before touching his lips to water so pure
rolling hills that anywhere else are mountains
recall to james macleod
the moorlands on the isle of mull in scotland
and some fond memory of family or true love,
warm hearth and respite
from long days on frost-mouthed horses
pursuing whiskey peddlers and other scum –
a cool drink of solace
swallowed with unrequited gulps
nothing is more intimate than a drink of water
no utterance is more honest
than the gasp that follows –
the smallest of spaces where a man can yearn
and not be seen to yearn
one moment for desire to outrank duty
for a man who outranks every other man
in the northwest territories
assistant commissioner of the rcmp
famous in his own time
for whiskey drinking and honest dealing
in copious amounts, to no ill effect.
once, american army officers travel from fort assiniboine –
450 km on a horse
to outdrink the famous mountie
who carries them one by one to bed

but his greatest feat
is keeping the peace by keeping his word
the chiefs respect a man so true
his heart rumbles over the grassy sea
for the thundering herds of buffalo
wild cousins of the bull on the macleod ancestral crest,
the buffalo head on the rcmp monogram was placed there at his request –
james macleod takes all his cues from the land
so standing as he was, the rocky mountains to the west
coming like a frozen wave
on the edge of infinite space –
grassland to the eternal horizon
forested by the last great buffalo herds –
how could he not be reduced to a vision
of quintessential beauty


dances a long lyrical way
to the tip of james macleod’s tongue
at the place
where the bow and elbow rivers meet

~ Kirk Ramdath

Kirk Ramdath is a Calgary poet and arts activist. His first collection of poems is Love in a Handful of Dust, published by Frontenac House. His publications and events have created space for hundreds of locals artists to share their work with the community. He is working on another book and he also publishes Wax Poetry and Art Magazine.

To watch Kirk read this poem on the Peace Bridge in Calgary click here

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