Not Just Nourishment

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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.

 

Whitefish

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

(September 1997)

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Solstice Spuds

Old potatoes,
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.

(June 2004)

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Restaurant Raspberries

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.

(November, 1978)

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Transitioning

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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.

Night Guitar

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.

(November, 2018)

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Another Door Opens

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,

(January, 2007)

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Boats

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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 )

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Drifting

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.

(August 2012)

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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?
(January 2020)

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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.

Pulling Boat

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.

(July 2020)

 

 

 

 

Through the Windows of a Vehicle in Motion

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620 Bus to Tsawassen and Night Paving were 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,
Airbus Helicopters.
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.

(September 2015)

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Night Paving

“Night Paving”
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,
you stop.”

(September 2014)

 

Hands (Making)

 

 

paddle

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,
resisting wood.

( January 4 2019)

left draws right

Right Hand

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.
Remember?

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.

(November 2019)

Dogs

 

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Getting a little bit goofy here with some dog poems.  Many thanks to my daughter, Lyse, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia whose sharp observations are reflected in the two “chapters” of  My Daughter Sings of Nova Scotia.

My Daughter Sings of Nova Scotia

1.

Last night’s moon poured silver on the ocean;
At sunrise, sea glows golden where the fog hangs back.
Frosty air delicious in the mouth and throat.
Dog is heaving to eject
A surfeit of fresh spring grass.
Hork! Hork! Hork! Three tiny, glowing puffs of steam –
So beautiful!

 

2.

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Old Dog

My old dog,
belly full of breakfast,
walks in the tall grass,
looking for a place to poop.
Decides instead to roll and back-scratch.
She’s on a side-hill.
Tries to roll up-slope.
It won’t stick.
Two, three times she tries before she quits.
I swear she looked around
to make sure no one was watching.

I know the feeling.
Hot-damn! Some dang fool has tilted the world!
But the truth is,
distracted and full of shit,
we are easily confused.

(July, 2001)

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Earth Day

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This sketch was made from the roof of our house looking across Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay. From this vantage point, above the level where we spend most of our time, you might feel more an observer than a participant. That was the situation for the first poem, Beautiful Blue, written in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 that caused huge damage and loss of life in the Bay of Bengal  ( northern Indian Ocean). A high-ranking Catholic bishop spoke at an international memorial service and his words of acceptance and respect for our beautiful blue planet inspired the poem.

Beautiful Blue

Beautiful Blue,
spinning through a night of stars,
bathed in light, constantly becoming.
The past is locked into your bones
where we can read the warnings in the hills,
though the future is hidden from our view
and will be what it will be,
permutations trailing to cold nothing,
or perhaps rebirth.
Either way.

And we who are of you,
born of light and water,
we are changing, too.
We have strewn our triumphs and our terrors on your surface
and your deeps;
they are part of your becoming as your changes fall upon us.
So be it.

Do we dream that we can choose
‘tween fading as we wrangle in the trash for scraps
or joining voices,
singing our time into the pulsing stars?
Oh beautiful, how beautiful, most Beautiful Blue!

(January 2005)

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Anjou pears from our orchard ripening in our garage. They either make it to the table or the compost heap but either way their elements remain in circulation.  Earth Lover arrived about the time of  the death of Stan Rogers (1983) when it seemed that all of Hamilton, Ontario was in a state of agitated mourning over the heroic singer and his heroic demise. Stan’s death released my song-writing.

Earth Lover

When roots and tendrils
marry these bones to the cool dark
where the slow seep of autumn rains
tells the seasons’ turning,
put your ear to the ground as the first snow falls.
You may hear the fading of a tune,
wild and Celtic,
a bramble of pale fiddle notes on thorns.
The melting flakes are tears I did not shed while living;
The wind in fir-tops, songs I did not sing.
I returned to my earth lover,
surrendered to her ultimate embrace,
once more the wanderer among the dancing stars.

(November, 1983)

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Good Times

teach it to the crows

The above cartoon illustrates “The Official Community Polka”, a throw-away song I wrote some time ago about Official Community Plans.  The planning process is the important business of negotiating a public agreement as to how a municipality will evolve to meet changing needs while protecting its core values. Part of the process in “normal times” involves face-to-face gatherings of municipal officials, planners, consultants and citizens to express desires, share information etc. 

All three Saanich Peninsula municipalities (North Saanich, Central Saanich and the town of Sidney) are in the process of reviewing their Official Community Plans and will doubtless have to rejig their public consultations and the plans to deal with the baleful intrusion of  COVD-19. 

I wanted to offer a couple of light-hearted poems about community celebrations – the ones we are used to – before it fully dawned on me that it may be a while before we can strengthen community bonds by such face-to-face gatherings. These light-hearted poems have thus obtained some ironic “bite” due to the changed circumstances. The post-pandemic normal could  be different from the one we have taken for granted previously but we can work to make it equally rich in community living. I’m not gving up on the Official Community Polka.

The first poem, “Red Shirt and Purple Pants Dance the Blues” recounts a “Music in the Bay”  summer evening in Brentwood Bay, BC.

The second poem is inspired by a story from a friend who mentored a feisty black kid who ventured one day that his ambition was to become the “first black  President of China”.

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Red Shirt and Purple Pants Dance the Blues

Red Shirt and Purple Pants they dance the blues,
intent upon each other and the song.
Late sun through the trees
dapples the grass where the breeze
writes its random music for its pleasure.
A crawling baby arches, head upside-down,
peers backwards through his legs.
Mother smiles and we are pleased.
But Red Shirt and Purple Pants play dancing shoes
and keep their time to soulful blues .

Call and response:
Wind buffets; sun-splashes scatter and regroup.
Baby invents; and people laugh.
Singer lays down a twisted line;
guitar riffs a bent comment,
A graceful summer evening spent
while Red Shirt moves with attitude and stops…
creates the space…
Into which…
Purple Pants twirls in complement.
It’s perfect,
this dance,
these blues.

(November, 2013)

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The First Black President of China

The kid says to me
With complete conviction
What he plans to be when he grows up.
He plans to be selected as
The First Black President of China.
The kid don’t say a lot,
so when he makes a statement
I know he’s thinking hard
and it’s my turn to figure out
what that could mean.

We know there’s schemers everywhere,
ambitions big as countries,
eyes as cold as daggers..
But if folks knew what’s in that small boy’s mind
They’d go for him for sure.
‘cause he’d declare in proper Chinese Style
“Take day off – go to beach!”

And folks would frolic in the water,
share their ice cream,
sit together and watch the sun set rosy.
Lovers would find each other,
dreaming of birthdays.

Next morning, tasks resumed and light of heart,
our old rock keeps spinning off in space
while the First Black President of China
smiles benignly on its precious load
of life, sweet life.

(November 2014)

 

 

The Moon Pulls Us All

 

 

full moon at sunrise

A waning moon with in the clear western skies these last few days put me in mind of the above January 2008 photo I took of the full moon setting over Mill Bay. This is a good time to post some moon poems.  “Full Moon at Sunrise” was inspired by a bitterly cold ride to work on a February, 1980 morning in Hamilton, Ontario. The bay referred to in the poem is Hamilton Harbour located at the west end of Lake Ontario.

Full Moon At Sunrise

Full moon at sunrise,
frosty dawn with new ice on the bay.
north wind sifts down cold,
chill armloads of silver straw.

The moon slides westward,
caught out late,
her magic lying carelessly about.

In this bitter cold I could believe
this sequence might go either way;
the moon return, the sun retire,
as if one day, the moon and winter
could disavow their need for fire.

(February 1980)

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I Hold My Hands Out to You, Moon

I hold my hands out to you, moon,
pale butter on a plate of pearl,
my would-be lover turning home.
No thought to grasp and pull you in,
but morning rush of admiration!

(February 2019)

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The Moon Pulls Us All

September morning with fog banks on the inlet,
the tide low and glistening,
a thin moon rides its noon-time,
alabaster on a faded silk.
The eye divines the roundness of its self-absorption.
moon round earth, earth round sun,
the harmony known to Newton and his ciphers,
Magellan and his astrolabe.

Yet the moon pulls us all.
The spheres bulge and ripple; the waters surge and sink.
In them and of them, the Orcas plunge,
sporting their moonstruck bodies
where our boat is carried by the flood.

At sunset, a slim woman rises shining from the sea,
shakes her long hair in the golden light
and jewelled spheres of water fly away
like stars.

(September 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Sunday

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Easter Among the Birds

In the cool still air
that wraps us all in cleanliness
the birds call from all around
witnessing the rising sun.
I mimic their varied voices and with them say
“A new day! A new day!”

The man we know as “Saviour”
said as much before the others shut him down.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand each new day
to those who rise and leave their wrongs
in the wreckage of the past.

Step outside,
let the chill air wash you clean.
Engage your rusty voices – they need use.
And join the wise and simple birds,
“A new day! A new day!”

(April 21, 2019)

 

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Oh Let Our Prayers be Music

Plum tree searches sunward,
Each shoot a prayer for space and light.

Here, we celebrate all living,
Effulgent blooming from a distant centre,
Yet disciplined by horizon’s line,
Reminder of that which grounds us to the earth

Upon this holy matrix our dreams and cares
In seeming isolation we affix.
Yet they are bonded to the whole and in their numbers shape it.

As wind through trees, oh let our prayers be music,
Our dissonances brief,
Resolving to a rich amen.

(April 2006)