The Hub gene rations

gene rations

By: Katherena Vermette

Our Writer in Residence is working on a new project which pairs photographs and her poetry.

gene rations is the working title of new poetry and old photographs. The idea for the project was simple – dive through old family photos, lose myself in their amazingness, pick out the ones that inspire and fascinate me the absolute most and write poems to them, or for them, or perhaps with them. The photo and its poem go together, but each can, of course, live on its own.

The photos have never needed my poems, up to this point, and the poems, if they have any merit, should be fully realized pieces all by themselves. But, like so many things, the goal was to make them better together, or if not better, than just more. When I was first given these photos, that’s what I wanted – more. I wanted to know the story of them, the context, time, place, but I mostly just wanted the people they held there, forever kept in an image though lost in so many other ways. I wanted more of them – to know them or to be with them again. So, here is my attempt at doing a little bit to that end, and to learn, build and find just a little more for each one.


twinkle-eyed and cock sure
this was a man
who had the world by the balls
who looked into the camera
like a cat that ate something
canary or cream

he did have it all
beautiful wife and kids
job at the trains
kind you could retire from
house big enough
to fit even that head

he knew his way
around a pool table
straight to a lady’s heart
with a wink
smirked moustache
he had them all by the balls
cock eyed and
almost certain

(This is my Uncle Ernie 1934 – 2001. To me, he was always a funny, smiling, friendly kind of guy. Family stories say he was a very charming, very confident kind of fellow – also very good at pool.)

bury me at Batoche.

bury me at Batoche
where their old shacks still stand
paint peels from the weathered wood
but inside they smell like sweetgrass
and sounds like whispers

bury me behind them
in the graveyard where
the stones hinge the clouds
and South Saskatchewan River
where wooden crosses
tilt to the sun
and the wind answers
in a language I only know
in my bones
but every name is family
I can still hear them
they crowd around the fiddle
they dance gentle in the grass

(I wrote this poem during a visit to Batoche a few years ago (excerpt here). The photo is from the 80s and was taken by my uncle)

if it were a river (excerpt)

the road moves in
and out of the bush
weaves bends
dissects jackpine
ever grey around stone
the road
mimics natural curves
as if it were carved by them
as if it were a river

but there’s nothing
about the road
trees were cut down
stumps pulled out
earth blasted
death cleared the bush
death and tired brown men
who worked for long hours
short pay
their lives impoverished
by everything but air
there was always too much

(The man in the photo is my grandfather, Ernest Vermette 1909-1964. As a younger man, he worked on the roads in the Interlake region of Manitoba for a few years. No one is sure of the date on this picture but likely sometime in the 30s)

mamere (excerpt)

dad called you mamere
we all called you grandma
so anglicized by then
you were grandma
with a goofy smile
after a few years of French school
I insisted on Grandmere
nothing like you
but still you smiled
at my uneven accent
always happy to talk French
nice and slow
I was your
12th grandchild
your baby’s baby
and you died in my 12th year
we never had much to hold us close
but our eyes
the way we walk
the way you did
and I still do
no matter how much I’ve tried to correct it
you never talked about your secrets
the bad things you held
superstitiously close
giving voice
would only
let them out
(My grandmother, Alma Rivard Vermette, 1912-1990. Picture was taken around the mid 70s.)

Katherena Vermette is a Métis writer from Treaty One territory, the heart of the Métis nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses Company) won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Her novel, The Break (House of Anansi) was bestseller in Canada and won multiple awards, including the 2017 First Novel Award. 

Her second book of poetry, river woman (House of Anansi) was released in the fall of 2018. She is also the author of the children’s picture book series, The Seven Teachings Stories (Highwater Press) and the young adult book series, A Girl Called Echo (Highwater Press). And, along with a whole team of talented filmmakers, she co-wrote and co-directed the short doc, this river (NFB) which won the 2017 Canadian Screen Award for Best Short and the coup de coeur at the Montreal’s First Peoples Festival.

Vermette lives with her family in a cranky old house within skipping distance of the temperamental Red River

  • April 21, 2019
Guest Blog from:
Katherena Vermette