by Petra Chambers
Here’s the story I was told. Explorers explored, valiantly. They did not know the way and the terrain was unfamiliar, but they had in-born European smarts – they figured it out. With alacrity and level-headed rationality, they discovered. Everything worth knowing was documented, thus. They had no knowledge of the local flora – which plants were edible, seasonally, and which could be resorted to, if need be – and in fact they’d never really fed themselves (back in Europe, their food arrived on China plates, which were cleared and returned, refilled and piping-hot, at metronomic intervals – who or what caused this miraculous phenomenon, we will never know).
Nevertheless, all those New World nose-to-tail jumping running leaping hiding living creatures were killed carved cooked served preserved wrapped and carried somehow – but these details are irrelevant. After all, these intrepid men were nearly gods, sonorous with benevolent aims, and perhaps they had not the bodily requirements of ordinary persons. They hacked their way through barbarous terrain (the land was devoid of story before they came), full to the brim with scientific virtue.
This story lives. As long as we tell it. It swallows the past and places our feet upon a path. We drive the highways that once were roads that once were trails. The barbed wire fences on either side are ruler-straight (and true), demarking the lines upon which this colonial story is impressed. Yet, our map runs thin in places. It’s been folded many times, left in the glovebox, frayed at the corners, and – here and there – the established route dissolves. The familiar fence-lines waver, and deep in the grasslands, between the distant trees, we see the antidote. The flickering light of many other stories. Turn here! Turn here!
Petra Chambers (she/her) lives on a small island in the traditional territory of the Pentlatch people in Canada. She is a white settler with a matrilineal line from sub-Saharan Africa and ancestry from the Anglo-Celtic Isles. Petra has essays forthcoming in Queens Quarterly, Prairie Fire and Headland. Her poems have been published by trampset and Pithead Chapel.