Everyone here is wondering, why aren’t the mountains answering, but who howls for a chirp?

How Like a Widow

Amal Alhosmi

               Chinook skins the asphalt from spring’s remnants. Cells and scales and catkins dust and mites and pollen pirouette in corners. It’s a blessing we cannot see the wind. Here, sunrise is fiction. Perception is a matter of scale, and mountains reign greater than sun and horizon. Morning falls like glass gashing hushed colonies of spruce and sedges. Boughs shake half a year of snow off them the way wet dogs do. Here, nothing alone is alone. Here, rubber trots louder than bone against boulder and bespoke suede flutters stouter than fur frayed by wind. Nascent piles of stone veneer and rivers of pastel basalt stretch irreverently under towers of limestone and glacier. It’s a strange sight, like a maggot wiggling in raw diamond. Here, borders between dichotomies have melted since the last rail of the CPR was nailed. Here is a contradiction. Here, despite beds of heathers and walls of pines the streets reek of sex, of agitated hormones, of latex and yeast and sulphur. Here, nature is promised virgin to be pandered for pink Yuans. But you come, nonetheless, and you stand, between dark, dewed street lamps, under tinted timber colonnades, by shades of tangled larches, as gray cascades of hunched coats fall down the avenue like an avalanche, and it crushes you. Here, nostalgia is impossible. A teepee was by the river, now by the museum, now by a plastic totem in a souvenir shop. A girl sings by a stuffed sasquatch, “Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing. Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago.” Here, there is life that life itself seems to question. Here is the most beautiful place to find ugliness. Here is a town trapped in a postcard. Here is Banff. Here is home.  

               In a milk truck from Thunder Bay I came following rumors. We were bound to Vancouver. We stopped for gas. I am yet to leave. Coming from the Trans-Canada highway and looking at Cascade Mountain for the first time, one thinks that they have discovered the mountain, that they alone know of its existence. If not, then why isn’t the whole world here? Then they turn around the corner to find that the whole world had, in fact, arrived a while ago. Banff welcomes anyone, Chinese tourists, Columbian frogs, European starlings, Arctic grayling, sex trafficers, Emarati businssmen, migrating hummingbirds, midges, warblers, butterwrot, western willow aster, northern twayblade, popcorn shops, kinnikinnik. ponderosa pine, black cottonwood, white camas, purple saxifrage, yellow puccoon, three churches, one night club, seventeen lakes, a christmas store, a preserved olive tree, and a castle, but when you ask who lives here, no one seems to know. And you wonder, how can a single word fit so much yet fail to contain the ones who merit it. Where have all the Stoney people gone? Long time passing. Where have all the bison gone? Long time ago.

               Everyone here is asking the same question, “What happened?” In the early 1900s, James Outram wrote, “Banff the Beautiful is an alliteration that is not misapplied.” Twenty years later, Morley Roberts commented, “Banff [is] a mere delusion.” What happened? What is it that turned Banff the Beautiful to Banff the Bluff. Everyone here is speculating, is it tourism, commerce, industrialization, pollution, exploitation, ski hills, gondolas, hotels, rafting tours, horse manure, vehicles, modernization, philipino workers, or mere accessibility? The mountains like mannequins are tonguless, dull, dumb, and everyone is wondering, how can a mountain die? These mountains were sacred places. These mountains had names. What’s in a name? Only a whiteman would ask such a question. How could we let it happen? The two-toed sloth has three toes, a Centipede, unlike the Latin name suggests, does not have a hundred feet, a Blue Wildebeest is brown, the Big Bang was quieter than a sneeze, the sago palm is not a palm, the red panda is not a panda, the famous Moraine Lake is not a moraine, and Indians are not Indians at all. The Indians named these mountains; Tatanga, Misko, Mistaya, Opabin, Wapiti. A mountain was a sleeping buffalo, a chief, a bear, a goat. For ten thousand years. Everyone here is asking what happened. This town is younger than its trees. We happened, maligned the mountains, named them after war vessels and missionaries and presidents and pets. Fifi and Zekes and Allen and Edith. The Natives named themselves after nature; Europeans, nature after themselves. Everyone here is wondering, why aren’t the mountains answering, but who howls for a chirp?

               Banff, I don’t know your name, I don’t know what the lover knows, but I know you’re not faithful, and I know that the din of your waking breath smells of a horse tour and cheap cinnamon. I want to head east, where strawberries are cheaper, where they have Jasmine tea. But there are nights when the allure of the fleeting no longer thrills, and your shoulder, bare a brittle bough, turns to me. Here, we are again, like the sun and the west; With all of me into you I fall, ephemeral, aflame. Tatanga is waking. Minnewanka is shaking. Iktunmi is racing around a montane. Here, I howl, and I hear you howl again.  

               I came for the rumors, I stayed for the truth.