About the Author Tim Bowling

Tim Bowling

Tim Bowling has published numerous poetry collections, including Low Water Slack; Dying Scarlet (winner of the 1998 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry); Darkness and Silence (winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry); The Witness Ghost; and The Memory Orchard (both nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award). He is also the author of three novels, Downriver Drift (Harbour), The Paperboy's Winter (Penguin) and The Bone Sharps (Gaspereau Press). His first book of non-fiction, The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture (Nightwood Editions), was shortlisted for three literary awards: The Writers' Trust Nereus Non-Fiction Award, the BC Book Prizes' Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the Alberta Literary Awards' Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction. The Lost Coast was also chosen as a 2008 Kiriyama Prize "Notable Book." Bowling is the recipient of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Award and the Orillia International Poetry Prize. Bowling was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008. A native of the West Coast, he now lives in Edmonton Alberta. His latest collection of poetry is Tenderman (Nightwood), due out in fall 2011.

Books by this Author
Dark Set, The

Dark Set, The

New Tenderman Poems
tagged : canadian, nature
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Darkness and Silence

Darkness and Silence

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Three Jack Spring

Three jack spring
briefly laid
on the wet grass
and forming
a loose silver triangle

And wasps
slow circling
as the careful dialling
of a rotary phone
their buzz the sound
of the numbers passing

And apple blossoms
from an overhanging bough
a few settling on the scales
as if to ice the fish
the others settling
on the cool patch of grass

Unseen is the heap
of the fisherman's son
all the fingers slick
with blood and slime
and curled into themselves
to make a tiny moon

Unseen is the heap
of cedar sawdust
red as the salmon flesh
rich too with the musk
of the life that's seeping
into the ground

Gone now are the fish
the patch of grass, the dust,
the blossoms and wasps.

But that hand is this hand
poised to pick up
on the first ring
of that call
which never comes
except as the wind
in the silver triangle
then static, than darkness,
then nothing at all.

Reading My Son to Sleep

Last night, for the first time, I went down the well
my father went with me.
It plunged deeper than the back of the little skull
whose edge lay page-thin on the white pillow
and darker than the earth's dusk seeping in
to blot the secret passwords that I spoke.

"Hello," I tested with each downladdering breath,
the letters pattering like rain in the murk
and echoing off the cavernous stone. A blink,
a butterfly's tentative settle, and the slight
way back had briefly closed.

Another blink, and I was left
with the aftersound of uttered entrance,
my eyes guttering, arms loose as rope.

With an inward cry I could not help
I watched darkness flood the praying-book.


A house under stars, still yet poised
as the white-tailed doe who stands,
head lifted, sniffing, a foot beyond
the supple chamois stretch of light
extending from a reading lamp.

Many-windowed, a house on a slope
through which the eyes of the wild peer
at a height equal to the stars, through
which the measured breath of being
pins the pages on a desk.

Earth-bound, a house of old wood
against which the hides of passing herds
still brush, and for which
the paper of an open, unread book
still longs.

A man under stars, hunched,
earth-bound, opaque of spirit,
what else shall he long for
to merit the doe's tentative address
and the stars' constancy
than the flesh that shelters him
and a small gap in the absence
of his wilderness?

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Downriver Drift

Downriver Drift

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Five days passed. Now the nights crackled under their trellised galaxies and the air tarnished the bright-silver bodies of the rushing salmon. Now the corncobs had fattened and threatened to burst their husks like boys' shoulders in outgrown suits. Now the river and its catacombing sloughs remembered the glacial touch and the paddles and the armstrokes and the cries of the coast's human dead. And now darkness fell over the bloodfat evening light like an executioner's hood. Everything became night and pregnant silence. The heart copied the sun and went down in the body, and the body became driftwood on the same charged current.

Fishermen unable to sleep floated through the streets and along the riverbanks, their necks harnessed to the current. Some carried vials of battery acid to pour on the nets of scabs, while others paced the wharf beside their own boats, resisting the urge to throw their reputations away just to have that cold silver weight their palms. And every night, sirens rent the stillness, as something else - a netshed, a pile of fishboxes beside a cannery, a boathouse - went up in flames. Always now, somewhere in the kerosene black of the first hours after midnight, a fire would build silently until it finally raged to life and screamed awake the mute bedrooms of the town.

The river had opened again two days after Raskin had first gone out. And this time he was not the only fisherman to break the strike. The word had spread not only about his scabbing, but also about how many fish he'd hauled in. As a result, when the canneries held firm to their last offer, some non-union fishermen decided the risk of being blackballed was worth taking. As each day passed without a settlement, and the Stuart run peaked, fishermen eyed each other suspiciously, with a half-concealed hope in their bloodshot eyes, as if waiting for someone to say "Ah, what the hell, might as well make a set before they're all gone."

But no one would say it. Most just muttered into their fidgeting hands and tried to convince themselves that the strike would be settled any minute and that they wouldn't be forced into making a decision that would cost them their self-respect.

Meanwhile, the scabs were harassed, on the river and in the town. The government, at the request of the canners, sent police patrols onto the river to protect the men who were fishing, but after a while the protection wasn't necessary. Few of the strikers could stomach being on the river while others were hauling in fish, and fewer still believed so firmly in the union's position that they were prepared to face arrest. Slowly, hour by hour, the solidarity of the strike was dissolving under the magnetic pull of the salmon and the growing sense that the gillnetters were being sacrificed for the sake of the seiners. Only the older fishermen and a few of their sons held out with any conviction.

The town no longer moved in rhythm with the events of the fishery. The local newspaper decried the violence of the strikers, accused them of setting the fires, and called for the police to start making arrests. Much of the citizenry either agreed or was indifferent, the world of the river already fading into the clamour and rush of the daily commute to Vancouver. And for those who wanted a fresh salmon, one could always be bought on the black market the natives conducted through their ceremonial food fishery.

On the sixth day, there was a change. The union circulated word of a meeting to be held in Chilukthan Harbour that evening at nine o'clock. The Mawsons and all the remaining strikers could hardly contain their hopes. Vic and Corbett went out into the yard after supper and sat by the fire. All through the meal, they had speculated on whether the companies had made another offer or whether the union was just trying to keep its membership behind the strike. Despite the scabbing and the big catches, the majority of fishermen had remained tied up, so the canneries, feeling the pinch, might very well be wanting to settle.

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Dying Scarlet

Dying Scarlet

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Open Season

In the first autumn frost of 1963, my brothers
coasted their punt to stillness in some marsh reeds
at the mouth of the Fraser River, and shot a pair
of rainbows from the sky. The mantle piece of my parents'
home would display those stuffed greens and blues for years;
I'd later steal the glassy eyes to replace my aggies
lost at school. But that cold morning, I wasn't around,
when those quick mallards fell, when my brothers woke
in the same sparse room and spoke together almost
gently of the coming kill. I wasn't born. No myth
but theirs will line this poem, and no deaths either:
they're so young they can't foresee the rift
that time will tear between them. Maybe I know
where they were the night the two most famous shots
of the year brought down an empire's arcing prince,
but they don't know. Last month? Last week? Maybe
they were shooting pool at Dutchie's parlour or drinking
beer in the parking lot outside the rink. Maybe they
had bagged a ring-necked beauty in the pumpkin fields
behind some barn, or hung a spring-net at the cannery.
Hell, maybe they pressed their mouths against our mother's
swollen belly and told me secrets no one else could tell.
They don't remember anything about those days, and if
you can't remember how you loved your brother in the breaking
dawn, why would you care about the famous dead, or the fact
they died at all? My brothers were close as those two birds that flew above the marsh; they're not close now. Myth-making isn't in their blood, or mine, and it's not my business to wonder where they stood the moment that their friendship died. Maybe they whispered something to me. Maybe they said, "Little brother, you'll only know us when we're changed. But we were once another way." Maybe they just laughed and said "he packs a punch."
I don't know. I might as well still be sleeping in the womb
with rainbow bruises on my temples, while my brothers pass
their frozen blue into my nephews' eyes.

Love Poem, My Back to the Fraser

Whale jaw, jack-spring spine, rock cod gill,
scallop under the skin of my hand; these
are the bones I'm burying now. Tomcat skull,
sparrow wing, spaniel paw, full moon behind
my bluest gaze; I'm planting them all.
No animal returns to gnaw its gnawed limb
left in a trap; I've thirty years to dig
the deep six for, and hard shoulderblades
to gunnysack. Darling, carry the spade
for me, chant my years without you down;
I want the sunlight on a new foundation,
my old bricks in the wormsweet ground.
Cattle hock, heron claw, muskrat rib,
mast I hang my breathing from; I'll part
the grass and roll the die; I'll build
new castanets: here's a fresh gentility:
as the hummingbird twines its tiny nest
of spiderweb and moss, so I build
my hope and sleep from the marrow
of your kiss.

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also available: Hardcover
tagged : canadian
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In the Suicide’s Library

In the Suicide’s Library

A Book Lover’s Journey
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Low Water Slack

Low Water Slack

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My first real kiss tasted of burnt chinook
and cherrywood. I won it in a smokehouse
on the banks of the Fraser River, cica 1975.
When I stepped out of that narrow darkness,
the scent of summer's spent desire on my skin,
October threw my shadow farther than I'd ever
thrown a stone; I could not see the far bank
of my own body, I could not hear my senses
splash on the other side. Along the fence,
the tall corn whispered secrets, and a cat's
eyes swallowed a robin whose heart thrummed
thunder from a distant rooftop. Was another
shadow running an arm to soreness in the grass?
I did not look. My eyes had dropped like stones
into the river, and the current pulled them deep.
Soemwhere up the valley, wind flayed the flesh
of salmon hung in the rocks, dried it to ribbons
pink enough for a schoolgirl's hair. Tongues
would tease it for flavour in another season,
and go silent in the tasting. But that day,
the clouds poured east in a rich smoke, faster
and faster, hunger of the earth for heaven,
hunger of the air for blood, hunger of the blood
for burning. Now, I stay my arm to listen.
These words step out of a high dark,
and there's fury in their swimming.

Steelhead, Spawning

What we dreamed of when young, but never found
comes in with the tide tonight. What we loved,
but lacked the will to pursue, moves swiftly
in the mouth. Beautiful ghost, blushing
in the gills, the saltmarsh sighs to see
your rare body beacon the night. What have
we done to yesterday? The river flexes its
last wild muscle, strong and sure. Casts
its bright hook in our sleep, and pulls.
While we rise to the unbreathable element
of loss again.

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Selected Poems

Selected Poems

tagged : canadian
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The Book Collector

The Book Collector

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The Duende of Tetherball

The Duende of Tetherball

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The Lost Coast

The Lost Coast

Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture
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The Tinsmith

The Tinsmith

also available: eBook
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The Witness Ghost

The Witness Ghost

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I woke in the dark to your voice
(Trickle of creek over rock,
clench of tide around pile).
We left in the dark, the old way,
down the lampless, houseless block,
past the row of wild cherries,
the crunch of our boots on gravel
like the drawn-out growl
of an old dog who doesn't really
mean it. And when the blossoms
touched my cheek, I understood
you had turned back to kiss me
without turning. I went into
those kisses like a bride.

There wasn't any light, though the stars
shone. It was as if someone
looked at us without seeing us;
we could have waved our arms
and never raised a blink. Half-
asleep, I lulled in your easy wake
along the wind-scoured parapet of dyke
down the gangway to the mossy wharf.
A mast-chain shivered as we left the planks.

After you had warmed up the boat,
I stood aside and watched you choose
to steer from the cabin not the deck
because a spider in the night
had attached a strand of web
to a spoke. I almost heard you sigh
for the ruin you'd have to make
later, when the dictates of your work
lorded over gentleness, as if
you had to spare a life for those
you planned to take. A reverse sacrifice.

The river trembled, sheened to silk.
Heavy in the damp, the musk
of mud and creosote. Distantly,
a coal train cried, leading
its black pod a little closer
to the kelp. I woke
further. At the towhead,
beside an island of rushes
slightly rising and falling
like the roped chest of Gulliver,
I saw the little throw of lights
up Grouse Mountain, in North Vancouver
where you'd been a boy, splashing
truant in creeks so silver that, whenever
you moved your body, even to kill,
something essential had been smithied,
struck from fire.

The net rolled off the drum.
You steered across the channel
from the stern. I stood
beside the doomed cathedral
on the deck, my heart
still as the unsuspecting spider.
For ten minutes, we strained
to hear a salmon hit the net.

Then we picked up. Closer,
I watched you hang above
the ripping silk. An urgent whisper
and I came beside you, on rubbery
tiptoe, staring into the drip of black.
Slowly, you bunched in your hands
the web as soft as muddied lace.
We bent like two sunflowers
seeking the earth's internal light.

Shhh. The unending caution
of the breeze. Your lips
had become the vessel of the race.
In your hands, the will to strike.
In your eyes, the wonder that you would.
I hunched into the sudden shadow
of your shoulders, gaping like a baby owl.

Something big was down there. You held
a single mesh between thumb and forefinger
and traced its tooth-snagged geometric
on the air, careful inch by inch. Then angled
the hook of the gaff, prepared to strike.
In the invisible, acrid clots of exhaust,
I held my bones and heartbeat in,
stifled a cough.

The downward arc dipped
in the black before it pierced
the skull in the fatal crush,
striking up from under
at the gill. You rarely missed
and knocked it loose, or stuck
the hook in the valued flesh.
A painter's skill - you must
have traced the pattern of death
ten thousand times
in the roiling dark
until even your sleep was etched
with crossing lines so thick
they came to mimick
the grains in a woodcut.

And I was the spider who watched.
I was the pupil in the crystal,
widening, my black into the black
of the earth, that has to turn and kill
whatever's formed from the guts
of the self - nothing gentle
in the fall of a blossom
onto a street black
as the lid of a coffin,
or in a bubble of black froth
at the torn jaw of a salmon,
nothing gentle in an art that
traces out lines only to turn
and stuff its own creation
in its mouth.

Yet I woke this morning,
and will always wake,
to your voice
and the hopeless task
of replication,
to string along the web
without breaking
the first, struck silver
of dew,
and listen for
the dying-as-it's-born
echoing afterclang of hush.


A man and a boy on a river
in a boat drifting rapidly to sea.
They labour together in the stern,
salmon fluent at their gumboot tops,
others flopping in across the rollers,
hanging, thrashing, in the meshes.
Over the island poplars
the tiny moon tenses
at every tug on the web,
creeps its white sack forward.

Late August. The corn has been cut
in the fields they drift past. The scent
of cut peas is on the wind, cut hay.
The salmon's mouths open and close,
open and close, like fast wounds.
The man and the boy drift faster.
At their legs, the sickles cut.
Decorously. As a caretaker cuts
the grass of the unvisited graves.
Almost without sound.

The boy fell first, too many
years ago to count.

And the man with the nimble fingers
who spoke always with a deer's look?

Three months ago this day,
the river struck his gold.

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Writing the Terrain

Writing the Terrain

Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets
contributions by Ian Adam; James M. Moir; Michael Henry; Erín Moure; Sid Marty; Ruth Roach Pierson; Bruce Hunter; Cyril Dabydeen; Miriam Waddington; Robert Stamp; Tim Lilburn; Stephen Scobie; Jon Whyte; Deborah Miller; John O. Barton; Colleen Thibadeau; Joan Crate; Ken Rivard; Greg Simison; Allan Serafino; Stacie Wolfer; Leonard Cohen; Miriam Mandel; Rosalee van Stelten; Yvonne Trainer; r. rickey; Barry McKinnon; Nancy Holmes; Gail Ghai; Vivian Hansen; Gerald Hill; Richard Hornsey; Sally Ito; Fiona Lam; Alice Major; Margaret Avison; Bonnie Bishop; Alexa DeWiel; Jim Green; James M. Thurgood; Anne Swannell; Aleksei Kazuk; Jason Dewinetz; Robert Boates; Joan Shillington; Anne Campbell; Sheri-D Wilson; Jan Boydol; Tom Wayman; Tim Bowling; Richard Woollatt; Carol Ann Sokoloff; Colin Morton; Anna Mioduchowska; Peter Stevens; Stephan Stephansson; Dennis Cooley; Rita Wong; Rajinderpal Pal; P. K. Page; Roberta Rees; Michael Cullen; John O. Thompson; Doug Beardsley; Christine Wiesenthal; D.C. Reid; Joseph Pivato; Tom Howe; Kim Maltman; Wilfred Watson; Lorne Daniel; Laurence Hutchman; Monty Reid; Ivan Sundal; Charles Noble; Walter Hildebrandt; Aritha Van Herk; Erin Michie; David McFadden; Vanna Tessier; James Wreford Watson; Ryan Fitzpatrick; Phyllis Webb; Murdoch Burnett; Christopher Wiseman; Weyman Chan; Karen Solie; George Bowering; Tammy Armstrong; Robert Kroetsch; Eva Tihanyi; Gary Geddes; Leslie Greentree; Gordon Burles; E.D. Blodgett; Douglas Barbour; Cecelia Frey; William Latta; Pauline Johnson; Aislinn Hunter; Robert Hilles; Tom Henihan; Deborah Godin & Jan Zwicky
also available: Paperback
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The 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology

The 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology

A Selection of the Shortlist
also available: Paperback
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Where the Words Come From

Where the Words Come From

Canadian Poets in Conversation
edited by Tim Bowling
tagged : canadian, poetry
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