A Grandmother Loves the Great Lakes

A Grandmother Loves the Great Lakes

 Inspired by Josephine Mandamin, Anishinaabe elder, who circumnavigated the Great Lakes on foot, walking and praying for the healing of one of the largest freshwater ocean systems in the world: Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Superior and Erie. She did this with other women to honor the special connection between women and water, to recognize the pattern of cancers in women’s bodies and the devastating industrial pollution in these waterways. She did this believing that through conscious communication, the expression of abiding love and true connection with the spirit of the lakes, healing would become more possible. I wrote this poem in honor of heropening action.

Holy Water


Body of Water


(the liquid breath we live by)


chemical filth choking the waterway

cannot be wiped away

we get up tired

smell gut-rotted bellies of fish

as our hips roll forward

the tick in my knee catches

we women walk all day

skirting the lake edge

the edge in us

as each one takes a turn

carrying the copper pail

singing in the cadence of ancestor

turning memory into foot fall.

One blazing dawn

I follow the trail the sun makes

across open water

drink the quivering air

water circling my thighs

dress clinging to my legs

I lift my pail

May what has been done be undone

                        May we rejuvenate the dying water

                        May we replenish our people and ourselves . . .

 Wailing women walk the water edge

Praying, Holy Wholly Holy

lifting a bucket of lakewater

each morning

each evening

carrying it with gratitude. Thank you, Mother,

                        forgive us, we forgot we are one

                        the water in me is you, all you.

We pray to repair

each step we take each day we make

learning to speak what was buried

beneath our tongues

lost words unbroken

We walk

charred factory-cracked streets

Detroit, Cleveland, Gary

dead-end at shore

find old red bricks licked smooth

smashed bits of green bottle tumbled into lake glass

We taste

the lake’s unsalted generosity

watch the million noon teeth sparkle on wavelets

our underwater panther

splashes, the twilight tail

of Memegwesiwug

The lake takes

rusted hulks of bottomed ships

sailor’s bones, our sons, the lake takes us

We walk the lake edge

wind-whipped white caps

humidity thick as rubber

swinging the copper pail

carrying our caring

walk the crashing coastline

cross international boundaries

lapping the lake, letting it lap us

ankle deep in cool

in mist, fog, hail

harbor, sandbar


Chicago, Toronto, Ontario

Milwaukee, Sault Ste. Marie

Michigan, Huron, Erie, Gitchi Goomi

Red Cliff, Black River, Green Bay

cedar, fir, steeple, island

Kitch-iti-piki Springs

carrying the dream

believing in the resilience of blue-green

shifting indigo-turquoise

shimmering water bodies, the great lakes

believing they can heal       us

We make each step a prayer of restoration

for all our relations

our white fish

our minomin

our nahmah

our songs and stories

We walk to wake up the people who live

Here   Now

May these tributaries and tribes

catch our forgiving tears

as we sing, Love the fragrant water body!

Oh, we walk, yes, we walk

the Holy-Wholly path

one foot, the other

entreaty of all renewal

Anishinaabeg= the people of the three fires: Chippewa/ Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Odawa.

Gitchi Goomi=Lake Superior

Memegwesiwug=mer people

minomin=wild rice

nahmah=sturgeon, sacred fish, protector of the Great Lakes

2 thoughts on “A Grandmother Loves the Great Lakes

  1. Beautiful poem Ann. We have to get together soon. Let me know how your schedule looks for the week. Blessings Scott


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