About the Author

Deirdre Dwyer

Deirdre Dwyer has published poetry in numerous literary magazines across Canada, including The New Quarterly, McGill Street Magazine, Arc, Canadian Literature, Fireweed, Room of One's Own, Dalhousie Review, TickleAce, Windsor Review and others. Born in Nova Scotia in 1958, Dwyer has been writing poetry since her teacher taught her haiku in grade six. She has a B.A. from Dalhousie University where she studied Philosophy, and a M.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. She's worked as a bookseller, an instructor of English in Windsor, Ontario, a Second Language teacher in Tokyo, Japan, and a Creative Writing instructor in Halifax. Now a tutor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, she spends her time in Halifax and in Musquodoboit Harbour, where she and her husband, Hans, are slowly finishing the interior of their house by the water.

Books by this Author
The Blomidon Logs

The Blomidon Logs

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
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Excerpt

PHOTOGRAPH WITH DUTCH DOOR OPEN

 

That’s when I stop—

somewhere a tractor sputters.

Turn the key—thump and the engine

drums again—

 

particular morning after

a fishing or hunting party

as early as 1920 or the war years:

which generation, father or grandfather,

left his wet boots to dry beside

the fireplace in black and white?

There’s no date on sunlight

 

like stage lighting

that bleaches chunky beach stones,

over-exposure melts the mortar,

tightens its grasp on a tall walking stick

leaning like a gun.

 

The sun wants to go hunting?

 

Or to take that stick

in its big white hands and stir

the coals and sparks to flame?

 

Still life, mantel: dark bottles of ale

I can’t read or date, shadowy margins;

two with candles frame a set

of antlers, five points that won’t stop—

flash of white tail—or run.

 

We lost the huntsmen—

no captions or names, no fish

in the shallow pan—we must make our clues

from those drying boots, one lace

reaching to an old hooked rug,

from the deep pot pulled away by cast iron

arm, the charred, notched,

and sunlit edge of the surviving log,

post-mortem—soft grey dune,

erosion of ash

 

which will claim dry wood,

the camera-shy table and chair,

the story I’ve been looking for:

cabin as pushed, hunted

and burnt unseen

that now I mourn.

GREAT-GRANDPARENTS SAUNDERS

 

There’s no logbook for the day

he left the pie social, White Water’s Hall

when the sudden aphasia

of the mind, soundless

clamour, chaos, acute

chest pain as if the Ice King

struck him with a dagger

of frost.

 

His widow’s silence deeper than black

and white photographs,

the sound of her quiet strokes

of paint, the diary where she hid

her grief, pentimento,

repentant, a painted landscape

that she paints over

until she went down

to the beach

one morning—

 

WHARF

 

The darkest part of the photograph

—swart, swagger, obscuring char

of tide, Fundy’s ink has drawn

its shadows on the stones: anchor

and bed for the logs

arranged on that thin peninsula:

 

hwearf. Can you hear the old-world

heave, the ox pull of trees felled

and milled, the clang of mallet

against spike and steel? Echo

 

of promontory—you start to say

promise and those sounds leak,

slope into water, those three tiers:

 

the first closest to the cliff and falls

—thread of white water, end

of the Borden Brook.

Nine stacked logs hold

the grassy point that plunged—

thunder of hooves, shotgun

of earth slap.

A few yards out,

five logs high, beginning of

diminuendo, waste-me-away, water

 

reclaiming

the surviving posts

in the last

 

brief mound of rock.

 

THINK EVENING

 

On the verandah steps she sits

facing west, looks away

from the photographer

as if grief is a seed that grows

a tall weed if she meets his gaze.

 

Here where delphinium

petals are crumpled notes, a letter

she wants to write: “mother . . .

passed away . . .” but the words

won’t do. They float and drift.

 

Strolling on the beach, does she

begrudge water’s rumoured pull?

Can she swim without questions?

 

She paints flowers,

paints light on black basket and trays.

Isn’t summer’s sadness the worst?

 

Have her eyes always been downcast?

The silence around her mother’s death—

it swells and ebbs, Fundy’s abundance

and low points.

 

Think evening, going all the way

out to the mud flats, coming home

with nothing, not even

one pocket of dulse.

 

THE YEARS MAPPED OUT

 

Circa 1890, the Bordens milled,

sluiced logs down the brook.

My father’s drawn it like railroad tracks

with arrows—go this way, spring

runoff: roar, scrape, and grind,

the forest’s teeth bite into that deluge

of dark juice, sludge, and mire before

the lumber floats, purrs

and gurgles, goes mute

and is shipped out.

 

He’s mapped the family too:

Sir Frederick and Lady B. outlived

their son killed in the Boer War

and daughter lost at sea.

 

After the fin de siècle, world weariness

consumed like caviar? Horses and tight chains

dragged logs to the edge, fifty foot drop—roil

and crack. The boom below: premonition

and echo of Europe’s Great War.

 

Timber, dominoes go down:

Christmas 1939, he’s ten

at the end of the road. Wet snow

melts where he walks.

 

Here we might mark an X

a seed falls, a path opens—that day

he studied the white breath

and muscled strain: eight teams

of horse and oxen hauling a black

metal animal—a boiler—

up the mountain road.

 

They’ll build a fire under its belly

so it will steam, work

the steady chug of its arm at the mill.

They’ll move it five times

before the big forests disappear.

 

Here I might cut another X in hardwood

if I could find some. Instead I’ll circle

—think of trees he will later cultivate

and tree rings, no beginning or end—

the day he decided his career.

 

HAYING, 1941

 

 

I

 

A hay field, cut short, the slope

like a dog leaning into a scritch.

Someone’s tractor tires

have flattened a path;

Bill has driven into the next scene, offstage.

It’s July or August, unusual

that wind has gone

AWOL:

what is cut away, diminished return.

 

II

 

The driver of the truck in shadow,

someone else with pitchfork

tosses loose hay

into exuberant excess.

An owl,

a wingèd beastie in the pile

ready to pounce.

 

III

 

Sunday, they pose beside the lilac—

farmers in jackets or their sons, arms

around each other, though the one in uniform—

if he signed up, did he

come back?

 

IV

 

Sickle, blade, scythe,

and haywire—who sleeps

under the haystack?

 

The boy here is beside

tall grass, lupins, goldenrod,

near a barn’s mortar and stone

foundation.

It will be gone

long before the boy’s a man.

 

He has a sulk upon him

and he won’t say why.

 

AT JORDAN RIVER, 1950

 

The names under the photograph:

Gil Winters, Jack Bell, and “Red”—

is he the one in the tweed cap

who climbs, his dip net ready,

over the rocks above the river,

rocks like the prow of a boat?

 

I could make up stories about these men

or ask who they really were.

If the answer is my grandfather’s

fishing friends, would I know anything?

 

Who can I ask? Everyone

in Shelburne County?

But would those on the other end

of the phone know the weather

that spring day at Jordan River

and how the wind sometimes

swooped low like a scavenging crow?

 

Who was the guide? Old photos

are hurricane lamps that cloud over

or stones blackened by the open fire.

Does Jordan River have any answers?

 

If Red scaled those rocks,

he stood there above the others

as if he had measured and tamed the wilderness.

Could be that all his life he never travelled

further south than Cape Sable,

never saw the city.

 

Maybe his father taught him

to cup his hands around his mouth,

shimmy his wrist—the resulting

sound a duck calling

food’s here, food

is good.

 

Who is the guide?

White water swirls, steams

forward around the bend in the river.

It’s a wing,

white feathers.

 

They caught eleven trout,

laid them out, jewels on the grass

with rod and woven creel.

 

I’m going to ask

no one, let the stories fly.

 

HALO

 

 

I

 

In the photograph they’re awash

in butterscotch: mother and child,

the cabin in the café au lait

trees. They’re sun-touched,

bronzed by balmy August.

 

It bathes the child, the dazzling

child perched on the verandah railing

in bloomers and sun bonnet,

her mother beside her

with an arm out—

to steady her,

to touch.

 

The child’s aglow, relishing

her new height, almost grazing

the rafters, the broad V

of their open arms. They point to her,

catch a blazing sunburst—

this is her halo, my aunt

at five.

 

II

 

Five years later

the house lights go down,

a theatre darkens, and she,

among so many others, gazes up

at the newsreel, 1945—

her falling

to where

no one can catch her.

 

The pictures swallowing

words and light.

 

III

 

She dons the dark habit—

 

hush,

float and whisper

of its folds—

 

enters the convent:

refuge.

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