My treatment for prostate cancer included forty blasts of radiation at the Cancer Clinic of the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. I cannot say enough good things about the Clinic and its staff. I felt supported and cared for. Nevertheless, at the end of each radiation episode, I needed to dispel the feeling of being caught up on a conveyor belt of treatments. Before joining the other conveyor belt of Highway 17 north to home, I spent an hour walking in some of Victoria’s beautiful open spaces. One of my favourite places was Mount Douglas Park, especially the southeast corner of the park where there is a grove of ancient Coast Maple trees and a trail down to the beach where a little creek enters the ocean. I return to this place often.
Trailhead and Cantilevered refer to Mount Douglas Park; Cascade derives from a photograph taken by Tim Rogers at the mouth of Tod Creek on Saanich Inlet, another place of sanctuary.
On the hillside bench where lunchtime cars park in forest shade, a trail sidehills past the buttress of a guardian fir down the valley of a hidden creek.
The trail is scuffed by many feet, yellowed with the crisp leavings of a dry summer.
Low-tide odours mingle with the musk of forest duff. Blues of sky and water flicker through a scrim of trees.
It is good to pause here on the bluff, breathing, letting the heartbeat slow, shedding the prison garb of grey preoccupation, before descending open-hearted to the glory of the shining sea.
Short of time, I hastened down the trail to where the creek surrenders to the ocean. I dared not linger. At the little falls I stopped and gazed. Cascading water hushed my thoughts. Struggling, I remembered why I was so hurried. The creek said “Ssh.” I thought about the uproar in the world we have inherited. The creek responded as it will With “Ssh!” Pliant, it guides its water Back to home.
Cantilevered from the crumbling bank, brought low but curving to the light, this fir persists. One heavy rain into the clay might refresh its roots but bring it down. What to do but fashion needles, ripen cones?
Through the forest in the slope behind me sunlight warms my shoulders. The bright patch moves seawards; I will not follow it. Like the fir, I take what I need from this place, learning not to ask “How long?”
Our childhood home in Vancouver BC was on the north flank of Point Grey, a morainal bluff that overlooked the North Arm of the Fraser river. From my bedroom window I could see the river, Sea Island with its dairy farms (now mostly occupied by Vancouver International Airport) and beyond, the Salish Sea and the mountains of Vancouver Island. Upstream to the east was the workaday industrial area of Marpole dominated by the Euburne sawmills; west, a large boatyard and beyond that the Gulf of Georgia, now known as the Salish Sea. Along the banks of the North Arm were moored booms of logs on their way upstream to the sawmill and huge barges heaped high with sawdust waiting to be towed downstream to the river mouth and across the Salish Sea to the pulp and paper mills on Vancouver Island. The air smelled of tree resin. As a boy, I enjoyed hanging out on the river bank, often hopping from log to log on the moored booms, even though that dangerous activity was forbidden by my parents.
In the 90’s I began to write short prose pieces, recollections of my life from childhood on with the vague idea of combining them at some future time into an extended work. Fraser River(1950) was the first one.
The original version of this story had an ending in which I compared my dreams in 1950 with the realities of 42 years later. Instead of recapitulating what you know already about the decline of fishing and lumbering in British Columbia, I have extended the autobiographical reach of the story to include my career choice and something of my working years.
Fraser River 1950 and Grindstone Creek 1980
A cool April wind blows out of the Gulf of Georgia and into the Fraser River. The tide is ebbing, current flows against wind and the North Arm is filled with the whitecaps my mother calls “sea-horses”. The big Douglas Fir at the front of the house sighs in the wind. The lawn is littered with its dark-green twigs snatched in the night when the wind broke out of the west as the rain ended. A tug is butting up the river to Marpole with a big tow of logs. It hoots for the swing bridge at Euburne where in the lulls between gusts of wind we can hear the big saws at work on logs rafted in from the coastal forests. When the wind drops the sea-smell of the Gulf and the river tide flats will be replaced by the pitchy aroma of fresh-sawn fir or cedar and the acrid smoke from the mill trash burner. Today is good for drying laundry because the cinders that can pepper white sheets are being blown upriver to New Westminster. Yellow trucks rattle down Marine Drive with loads of sawn slabwood and mill-waste to be consumed in the stoves and furnaces of the East End. You can pick up chunks of wood that have jounced off the tops of the trucks every few feet along the road. When the trucks pass there is a sweet smell of wood mixed with exhaust. I would like to drive a yellow truck like that with the muscular dual rear wheels and the big exposed differential cases.
Tonight, my Aunt Ethel has promised that we will go down to the river. I like these expeditions with Aunt Ethel because she lets me do forbidden things. Such as running on the log booms that lie along the shore waiting for the saws at Euburne Mills. An exciting but hazardous game, especially when the tide is ebbing, because if you fall then between two logs you can be dragged under the boom by the cold, grey water to be fished out hours later with a police pike-pole. My parents repeat variants of such stories, how, for example, my great grandmother’s gardener, a powerful swimmer, was caught by the ebb tide current and emerged exhausted from the river miles downstream. I feel exhilarated but safe on the logs. They are big and steady, utterly indifferent to the skipping of a small boy. And the rough and coruscated bark seems more sure than asphalt against my thick-soled runners. Tonight it is not the prospect of skipping out to mid-channel on the backs of logs that has me excited but eulachon fishing at high tide. Eulachons arrive in the river each spring to spawn. They are small fish, like smelts. They are also called candlefish because when dried, they can be burned like a torch or a candle, they are so rich in oil. I would like to try this but the fish I set aside smell very bad and become fuzzy before they get dry. Eulachon grease is a staple of the First Nations’ diet along the rivers where they spawn. Aunt Ethel and I will take a bucket down to the river and patrol the sandy shore. Some people use dip nets and catch eulachons faster but we like to pounce and clutch at the little dark humps in the silty water as they wiggle into shore. With twenty-five silver fish in a bucket I’ll feel a fisherman’s pride.
April has rolled over into September. School starts again tomorrow. Our family and Aunt Nora’s family have gathered for dinner at our grandparents. They live nearby in a big house with a sweeping view of the Fraser’s North Arm. At dinner, my grandfather, Uncle Hugh and my father have been talking about business, first telephone business, because that is what my Dad and my grandfather do, and then lumber and fishing business because this is British Columbia in 1950 and it is all around us. I like it when my grandfather talks about big logging trucks that carry tanks of water just to keep their brakes cool on the mountain roads or when Uncle Hugh gets going on dredges and draglines. When they talk about money it is not so interesting but already I understand that if you want to have lots of it you have to cut down trees and saw them up, catch and can fish, or yell orders to men driving bulldozers. If you were not in too big a hurry, you could sit at a desk like my Dad and tell people where to put telephones and telephone poles, but I like fish best.
After dinner, my sister and I and two cousins play on the swing on the high bank above the river flood plain. It is warm, the sun is low and golden, the breeze has fallen. Every few minutes we hear a put-put-put sound of an Easthope motor as a gill-netter heads downstream for a night’s fishing in the Gulf. The salmon are converging on the estuary as they begin their spawning run upstream and the fishermen, one man to a boat for the most part, will lay out their gill nets and drift all night. At the far end of the net there is a little float with a flag and a hurricane lantern and there is a masthead light on each boat. When the fishing is good there will be many boats out on the Gulf, a little city of lights. Tugs and freighters sometimes churn hooting through the fleet and the fishermen scramble to get their boats and gear out of the way. A gill netter can be yanked backwards and founder if the net gets caught by a big tug or a freighter. My Dad and I sometimes walk along the wharves near Marpole and look at the fishboats. Some of them don’t look very safe. If the wheelhouse door of a scruffy one is open you see an engine rusty and greasy in different places, wires and pipes held in place with bent nails, dirty sleeping bags jumbled on a rough bunk, and the glint of water in the bilges. But I like the idea of catching salmon in my own boat, much as I am attracted to the notion of driving a yellow slabwood truck. My father’s laconic un-hunh’s in response to such statements indicate that I should think again. I am catching on. The kids I meet from Marpole have Dads, uncles or brothers that make “big money” on gillnetters or extra shifts on the trucks but it’s money that comes and goes like the river freshets while my dad wets his line in the sluggish stream of a salaried job and compound interest. All the same, tonight at the end of summer, constricted by my Sunday clothes and the thought of a winter of school, I gaze through the amusement park telescope my grandfather has placed on the bank near the swings, tracking a late fishboat that cuts a downstream V in the reflected sunset, watching the fisherman leaning on the wheelhouse, steering from the outside position, and dreaming of nosing out into the Gulf myself to meet the fat and silver salmon.
I did not become an independent commercial fisherman; I took some of my father’s advice and studied engineering at the University of British Columbia. In my undergraduate years I spent several summers as an intern of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada in Nanaimo where I helped out on offshore cruises intended to map the deep ocean structures in their own right and to relate this information to the ocean years of Pacific Salmon. I loved the mix of sea-going and science. When I revealed this enthusiasm to one of my father’s business associates he snorted, “My God, boy! You might as well become a minister!”
With no pre-planned career path, I seized opportunities as they presented themselves. Thus I acquired a Masters degree from McGill University’s Ice Research Group and spent the next 4 years as a NATO research associate attached to the Laboratoire Nationale D’Hydraulique in Paris, France . In December 1967, married and with a child on the way, we returned to Canada where I had accepted a position the newly established Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario. For the next 30 years I would be a Great Lakes freshwater oceanographer.
My association with Pacific salmon continued in Ontario. Thanks to the extirpation of landlocked Atlantic Salmon in Lake Ontario due to overfishing, streambank clearing, the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the presence of the Welland Canal, small, herring-like ocean fishes called alewives made their way into the Great Lakes and prospered to excess. There were no predators to match the scale of the invasion. The “cure” was to introduce hatchery-raised Pacific Salmon to crop the alewives. The salmon grew large and fat and created a large sport fishing industry. Because they were large and fat and at the top of the aquatic food chain they had accumulated significant burdens of toxic organic substances washed into the lakes via rivers or rain from the surrounding industry. People were advised to limit or even avoid meals of lake-caught salmon. This warning applied particularly to pregnant women.
Some mature salmon ready to spawn found their way from the big lake into rivers and creeks. A few streams proved capable of supporting small runs of spawning salmon. However the sport-fishing industry ultimately relied on annual releases of hatchery fry. Grindstone Creek drained wetlands and farms north of Burlington, Ontario and flowed south over the Niagara Escarpment into Hamilton Harbour close to where we lived. It is a beautiful little creek snuggled into its narrow valley but very polluted. It was with mixed feelings that I encountered large spawning coho salmon in the creek on autumn afternoons. My work and the salmon’s lives were both bound up in the industrial matrix of Southern Ontario.
My son and I went fishing once in Lake Ontario in early spring when fish tended to congregate between the warm onshore water and the cold open lake. We caught a large lake trout, a fish at the top of the lake’s food chain, like the salmon. The public advisory said we could safely eat a few servings of lake trout per month as long as we were not pregnant. We never fished in Lake Ontario again although we did enjoy fishing in Georgian Bay and on canoe trips.
From time to time I went fly fishing with my father in British Columbia. He taught both me and my son the rudiments of the sport. On the evening of a splendid day’s fishing on Pennask Lake, in the highlands between Penticton and Merrit BC, my father got up from the dinner table, walked a few steps and died. He was a just and caring man of his time and I like to think that the Creator knew it.
Strange we should meet here, you and I, Pacific creatures. warmed by a late sun. You rest against the rocks and clay, down among the willows where golden leaves glide smolt-like through the pools to the brooding lake.
I watch your struggle, wish it were the consummation of a cycle; then I could rejoice at this meeting. But this is no ice-fed stream, purling over clean boulders to a salty gulf; it yields instead the foamy juice of a worn land. And the next rain, sluicing off the parking lots, engineered past bungalows in concrete ducts will undo your labours, capriciously misplaced, erase your silver memories.
In the summer of 1999 we moved from Burlington, Ontario to North Saanich on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We took the long way around, a three-month road trip with a camper trailer, dog, canoe and bicycles, heading east to Newfoundland then west to British Columbia, arriving in early September.I collected many sketches (see above) and photographs and kept a detailed journal. The poem Shape emerged from this experience later when a guest speaker at the First Unitarian Church of Victoriasuggested that all things pray, including “inanimate” objects. The theme of physical form continues with Shelf Fungi, a poem inspired by a stunning photograph taken by Tim Rogers, a photograph that reveals the delicate architecture of soft tissue engineered over a very long time.
Above the South Saskatchewan grassy hills rise north and south with willowed gullies running to the river.
The sun is rising above the valley’s rim while shadows retreat across the open ground to their daytime lairs of thickets.
A random dryland garden glows. The grasses rattle. Prickly pears claim space, and the stones, cradled in clay, take colour as they warm. They are marked with black and orange lichens, a deft and careless calligraphy of koans. Just so!
The stones are rounded. Torn from distant matrices, they’ve travelled far. The wastage of their journey, pebbles, grit and mud, lies about them, and they will shrink and split, shift and roll under the strobe of seasons, until they become matrix again, and many times yet.
Someone told me that in the calm of morning, after the stillness of deep night, all things pray, in silence find their centres, measuring from the current point of balance to the curved expression of surface around which the world must flow.
And now I guess the prayer of stone, a single word that marks the start of being.
My holy moments are when the moon shines bright in the kitchen window on a winter morning, or when I hold a bowl of water, remember its importance in a dry land, or when I am merged in music made together with my comrades, or solitary, with a brush and colours searching out the beauty that has lured me.
All this I would share with you
in hopes that you might validate my witnessing,
delight me with the story you would tell.
But such desires
seem grotesquely out of place
in this tumult of catastrophes.
Although catastrophes of old
have made a place for us.
And yet, when fear and loathing
would push aside all that we share,
men and women knelt in the streets,
and prayed forgiveness,
for having overlooked,
all these years,
the simple fact that we are one,
borne on this frail planet
Walker Hook is an appurtenance on the east flank of Saltspring Island. Drifting material. trees, logs, sand, plugged the gap between Salt Spring and a small rocky island a few hundred meters offshore. We anchored our sloop on the south side of the hook on a warm summer day and let the day flow through us. Enough, a richly layered word on its own, derived from our attendance at the outdoor summertime wedding of middle-aged friends.
On the dry knoll, in the shade of a tough old fir,
we recline embraced by the earth,
breathing the perfume of salt water, dry grass and resin.
Our sloop tugs lazily at her anchor.
Fronds of kelp wave gently from her rudder.
Wavelets approach the dinghy on the sand.
Its painter stretches up the beach belayed to nothing.
Lichened rocks are strewn in the yellow grass
with all the cunning of a master gardener.
The shadows and sea-stones dry chocolate black.
Where the sun strikes the sea lettuce, green flashes like a beacon.
And southwards, the shining sea, the island hills,
meet the blue of sky where galleons of clouds are drifting.
Fast and slow, change flows through us.
There is nothing to say.
There is nothing to do.
There is nothing to fear.
I read somewhere
that if you could tease apart
the coils of code embedded in a single cell,
that strand would stretch a zillion miles, CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA…
a veritable bible with its discursive stories of the ancients
and the meandering narrative that leads to a creature
equipped to glimpse the face of God
but wilful enough to cut loose from the anchoring questions.
These rocks on which we stand today
are themselves replete with stories from the start of time
for those who care to read.
We gaze into the wind and sea
where a myriad of elegant assemblages
pursue the slow and graceful dance of long elaboration
in which every participant is honoured in the fulness of its time
as once we were and pray might be again.
That word “enough” comes repeatedly to mind
like a frond of kelp revealed and hidden by the passing waves.
Sometimes a question, sometimes a reproach,
Sometimes an exaltation.
Two people, not yet old but no longer young
stand on the rocks in their wind-stirred wedding clothes.
They have passed this way before, known disappointment, loss.
Their resolve to love each other as they find themselves today, tomorrow,
breathing, scuffed, hopeful,
brings us close to tears.
We feel the presence of a music climbing to a sweet resolving chord:
Whitefish and Solstice Spuds speak for themselves. In my working career as a Great Lakes scientist I was often in Windsor, Ontario, at the International Joint Commission offices to meet with our U.S. colleagues from Ann Arbor, Michigan, or to conduct field work on Lake St. Clair. These junkets often involved camping out in inexpensive motels, the inspiration for Restaurant Raspberries.
The day is silver-grey,
The colour of the fish’s back I prepare for dinner.
The flesh is cool and pleasant to the touch,
Like the inside of a sleeping lover’s arm.
And maybe it’s just the gloomy day,
Or maybe the closeness of this change from life to meat,
But I am wistful,
Imagining this compliant body
Bright, taut and flashing in cold, clear northern water.
It is tenderness I feel,
Placing the onions and parsley along the spine,
Sprinkling the rosemary, chastely closing the body’s opening.
The herbs are from our garden;
I am consoled by these preparations
Pocked and pitted, thick and bitter skins,
These will see you through the longest winter.
Plain old spuds and turnips, steaming on a plate
While wind and rain lash the black window
And damp sheets in the next room wait
To ferry us across the long nights to sunrise and a new season.
Ah, but new potatoes,
Dug upon midsummer’s eve,
With skins that peel away under a child’s soft thumb!
These have no wisdom and they are willing
To lie in a white bowl, clad only in melted butter,
Abandoned to the rising glories of the flesh
And no thought for winter.
The waitress brings neat omelettes,
triangles of toast,
and jam, sealed in plastic doses.
I see your dark hair
waving among the raspberries,
your fingers red with juice,
dancing in a suppertime sun.
Moving out from you,
I have become a ghost
nourished by shadows.
Moving from boats to boundaries and beyond, it’s hard to choose a sequence that seems to flow. Night Guitar and Another Door Opens, written at different times, both refer to the edges of the underworld but without the drama that might be appropriate to a younger person. I’d like to develop this more pictorially but for now this little drawing will have to do.
Some nights I wake
and know that sleep no longer guards me
from the rabble of my undirected dreams.
I wander barefoot to this room,
its view of moonlit trees and sky.
An old guitar waits for me there.
Left hand upon its slender neck,
right upon its curving body,
my fingers feel the tensions of its strings.
Alive to the shadows’ mute suggestions,
I break the silence of this sleeping house
with a first, questioning chord.
And when a tune takes shape, I sometimes sing.
An audience of memories gathers near,
so many that they crowd the room
I play to you,
unnamed woman in the bed across the ward,
who struggled painfully to rise
but sank back again to listen.
I play for you, dear friend,
remembering the distant trees
when oaks still held their russet leaves
that grey November day.
I play until the first grey light appears
and one by one the listeners wander off,
having no place in this prosaic world.
So I will play on other sleepless nights
until I set this bridging instrument aside,
join those who long to be remembered.
The phantom door stood closed before us all for weeks,
though you kept eyeing it,
fearful at first, then later, as the weightlessness took hold,
you seemed to struggle towards it
We dared not hold you back.
And when at last you crossed the sill
there was no spill of light as the door swung to receive you.
Nothing revealed, the door and you were gone.
The clock by the bed jerked stupidly ahead.
Now as the days pull straight to other doors that wait,
there comes a scrap of music, a melody of chatter:
I think to hear you in some sidewalk’s busy clatter.
until I realize that somewhere, another door has opened,
releasing you like perfumed smoke
to drift in wisps and dreams throughout our days,
Boats have been a near-continuous presence in my life, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, motorboat and sailboats. I enjoy looking at the hulls of boats when they are out of the water for storage or repair, trying to imagine how they would respond to waves and currents.
Sailboat Seen through Trees
On the slope above the landing
we await the ferry’s hour,
a golden gap in time.
Sun on a white sail
sliding up the Inlet on these winter airs,
now seen behind a scrim of slender maples.
The sail’s divided by the branches –
three parts, now two, then three.
The progress slows; I urge it on
until the sail emerges in the clear
and is made whole.
I am that sail.
(January 2019 )
The wind fell away, leaving
the sails slack and useless.
Oh how I longed to hear
chuckle of the bow-wave,
feel zephyr’s pulse on helm.
But ripples gelled to glass.
Lulled by warm October days,
we let her drift and I
leaned back, allowed the sun
to soothe my disappointment.
Moon-tides pulled and twirled the boat,
sun and moon together
calling to the joy within
the unexpected still.
There, in a notch between
blue islands, Baker’s
icy fang showed clear,
promising winter and
renewal of catastrophe.
Ships on Juan da Fuca
Island trees bear witness to
the moods of Juan da Fuca’s path to riches.
Cloud edges torn by southwest winds;
something could be brewing.
Three ships – all outward bound
carry treasure torn from mountains.
Where are those sailors now?
This elegant drawing by E.J. Hughes is one of the first pieces of fine art we bought when we had a little money ahead. Scenes like this were part of my boyhood in Howe Sound. Beached astern of the Lone Eagle is a beautiful cedar lapstrake rowboat possibly built by the Turner Boat Works in Vancouver. Seaworthy, heavy enough and keel enough to track well, these were very common boats in my childhood and I rowed many of them. There are still a few “originals” around and more than a few plastic copies. Maybe I’ll get to row a wooden one again before I’m done.
I am dreaming of a pulling boat,
one to carry us upon the sea,
surging ahead with each long stroke
my arms and back in tune with her.
I would have her planked with cedar,
clinched with gleaming copper nails,
oars of ash all finely shaped,
flexing to the water’s pull and mine.
A slender entry at the waterline,
the slightest gurgle from her stern,
she will be dry in a dirty chop,
and lift to bullying wave’s assault.
Boat and I will brave the open ocean,
patient and pulling to the far shore.
In tranquility of dusk, arriving,
Our V of wake two lines of light upon the water.
620 Bus to Tsawassen and Night Pavingwere written a few years ago before we started looking through the Covid-19 lens. 620 Bus … (a ride familiar to me on my day-trips to Vancouover) talks about a landscape in transition from fertile delta farmland to suburban sprawl and the islands of anonymity represented by the passengers aboard the bus. The point of view of Night Paving is that of a passive poet being chauffeured by a “that’s how it is, Bub” spouse. Today, if you can even get on a bus, you ae unlikely to “zone out” or daydream while idly gazing out the windows, and your attention is divided between the existential dangers of climate change and those of widespread pandemics.
620 Bus to Tsawassen
Concrete cliffs of the casino
And a poster of two young women
holding the lucky cards and having a good, good time
somewhere in that plushy cavern.
We’re moving with the flood on a low-tide beach
Where the flow of paving trickles westward on the Delta
in tongues and pools, pushing the wrack before it.
Dry grass waves on a gentle slope
invites the pleasure of exertion
and the odours of high summer
in the few steps between the highway’s edge
and the curbside of the overpass.
Sedges on the near side of the ditch,
blackberries and scrub trees on the far.
Frogs live here.
Glint of sky in the water,
bulrushes nod and wave.
Chevrolet Certified Service,
Across a weedy field, a man in a white T-shirt
waves a blackberry frond.
The road dips, the traffic roars,
Headlights sweep by on the left side.
Above the tunnel, salmon struggle homewards.
The river, feeling the pulse of tides,
Yields its burden to the sea.
Beyond the tunnel, there are boats bobbing in the slough,
patient for their weekend sailors.
Old cottonwoods doze easy in the richness of the river clay
that excavators on the building lot nearby
scoop, load and haul away.
Macdonald’s parking lot in Ladner
Is edged by clipped and browning bushes,
An old man with cane and turban stares,
Another transplant whose roots may never take.
Aboard the bus, a dad with squirming kids.
An Amy Winehouse look-alike,
Cleopatra with a nose ring,
sitting blankly with her guy.
Others poke away at their devices;
My bench-mate lady sleeps.
A woman sobs into her cell phone.
She is leaving someone.
I try not to hear but wonder
if her anguish is so sharp and real
it anchors her and those to whom she speaks
to a day they will remember.
roadside sign flashes by.
“Juicy poem in there!” says I.
“Come on!” my woman at the wheel,
“It bothers fewer folks at night.”
And though sun twinkles on Elk Lake,
I see the midnight highway,
machines and rapid flashing light,
the burly men in glowing sashes,
white faces in the headlight slashes,
and breathe the scent of tar.
I speak of evening thickly pouring in
when some rough broom sweeps light
off the western edge to fall
forever but for a spindly thread so thin
it just suffices to recall
Sun back to melt the night.
“That’s not how it goes, you dreamy pout.”
says my woman, switching lanes,
“We keep on spinning in and out.”
But treads on the tires say “Light,light, dark!
ten thousand times before we park.
“No,” I say, “the poem’s not just there,
there’s story farther north somewhere.”
Wheels lurching over broken ground
bearing loads of ancient paving
gouged from its grave in mound on mound,.
machines that groan but never tire
served by men that cycle through
rechargeable until their fire
draws low and burned-out they withdraw
to pensions minimized by law.
Regardless of the spin and circling
that marks our time in measured seasons
somewhere wealthy men find reasons
they claim essential to our nation
to accelerate this exhumation,
enough to pave our valleys into sluices.
Thick black juices
threaten innocence of streams.
assured mishaps befoul the ocean floor.
These are not the fumes of dreams
and there’s much more.
We’ve arrived – I can’t remember where.
My woman parks the car.
“Hey Bud, you gotta know
this car don’t run on grass or snow.
I’m keeping up with traffic’s flow,
so please no raving, no hot air.
when tires grow bare,
change them lest they pop.
when the road ends,
and your money’s no good,
The drawing above was made in 1980 at the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver BC. The museum building was designed by noted architect Arthur Ericson. It is a splendid space built around possibly the best collection of West Coast Indigenous art and artifacts. Splendid space notwithstanding, the roof leaks. The paddle depicted here is plenty strong enough for rough service, unlike the one referred to in the poem Museum of Anthropology -December 2018
Museum of Anthropology – December 2018
Totems hewn from overbearing trees,
we stroll among their wreckage in a wash of idle chatter,
the winter rains withheld despite a leaking roof.
This history of making and remaking
Is spread before a people no longer used
to fashioning of tools and stories.
We note a paddle made with lightness and refinement,
anticipate the pleasure of its suppleness, but
take measure of its frailty.
Willfully, its maker carved beyond
robustness meant for daily service
to satisfy some longing to attain
the paddle’s essence.
Hand upon the knife,
( January 4 2019)
I’m paying attention to my right hand,
the one that’s writing this poem.
It holds the pen in a loose grip.
Small muscles shape the letters while
the forearm spreads them on the page.
Such skill gives pleasure to the eye.
The pauses are not the work of the hand;
blame them on the editing
the mind imposes.
Don’t ask me to take that apart just now
or maybe ever.
We are taking notice of the hand.
The hand, reposing with a ball-point pen
is graceful in its relaxation.
I will it to move
To spread its fingers, curl and straighten them,
but it finds its greatest beauty
bolding a tool loosely
poised and waiting.
The skin that once was taut
is thin and slack,
revealing the meanders and the forking of the veins.
The tendons branch out over the knuckles.
There are half-healed nicks in the skin,
wounds that speak of struggle to impose the mind
on a resisting world.
Sculptors may shape this form in marble.
But after that there is nothing to talk about
except perhaps the beauty of the sculpting hands.
Those hands and mine are warm.
I have to thank this hand
It is old but serviceable yet,
restless in anticipation of the joy
when the tool it holds
is put to use.