About the Author

Patrick Lane

Patrick Lane, considered by most writers and critics to be one of Canada's finest poets, was born in 1939 in Nelson, BC. He grew up in the in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of the BC Interior, primarily in Vernon. He came to Vancouver and co-founded a small press, Very Stone House with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then drifted extensively throughout North and South America. He has worked at a variety of jobs from labourer to industrial accountant, but much of his life has been spent as a poet, having produced twenty-four books of poetry to date. He is also the father of five children and grandfather of nine. He has won nearly every literary prize in Canada, from the Governor General's Award to the Canadian Authors Association Award to the Dorothy Livesay Prize. In 2014, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada, an honour that recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and have been translated into many languages. Lane now makes his home in Victoria, BC, with his companion, the poet Lorna Crozier.

Books by this Author
Go Leaving Strange

Go Leaving Strange

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Last Water Song

Last Water Song

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Red Dog, Red Dog

Red Dog, Red Dog

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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Excerpt

It was stone country where a bone cage could last a thousand years under the moon, its ribs a perch for Vesper sparrows, its skull a home for Harvest mice. The hills rose parched from the still lakes, the mountains beyond them faded to a mauve so pale they seemed stones under ice. Sage brush and bitterroot weathered the September night. In the desiccated grass of a vacant lot, a rattle snake followed in the tracks of a Kangaroo mouse, a Fiery Searcher beetle clambered over the dried body of a dead Wood rat in the dust, and a magpie slept inside its wings on a branch of dying chokecherry, the berries hard as dog knots. Stars shone like sparks thrown from shattered quartz, Orion reeling in the southern sky and Mars sullen and red in the west.

In the heart of it was a valley leading nowhere out but north or south. North was going toward narrower cuts of rock, deeper winters, darker forests, and even more desolate towns that turned into villages, villages into clusters of trailers and isolated shacks in the trees, nothing beyond but bush that ran clear to the tundra. South was going toward the desert states where there was no place a man could get work unless he was Indian or wetback, someone willing to take cash wages half what anyone else might ask. The only way you could stay alive down in Washington or Idaho was to break your back in the onion fields and orchards, set chokers on a gypo logging show, or steal. East were mountains piled upon mountains, the Monashee giving over to the Selkirks and Purcells, and finally the Rockies and the Great Plains. To the west was a rolling plateau where nothing lived but moose, bear, and screaming, black- headed jays. At the edge of the plateau, the rolling forest rose up the Coast Range until it dwindled against the scree, and on the other side of the peaks and glaciers was the sea, something most people in the valley had only heard of, never seen, the Pacific with its waves rolling over the dead bodies of seals and salmon, eagles and gulls shrieking.

The town squatted in a bowl beneath desert hills, its scattered lights odd fires stared at from up on the Commonage where a rattlesnake could be seen lifting its wedge head from the heat- trail of a white- footed mouse and staring down at the three lakes, Swan in the north, Kalamalka to the south, and Okanagan in the west, the Bluebush hills and mountains hanging above them in a pall. Against the sky were rocky outcrops with their swales of rotted snow where nothing grew but lichens, pale explosions that held fast to the rough knuckles of granite as the long winds came steady out of the north. In the valley confluence where the lakes met were the dusty streets and avenues of the town shrouded by tired elms and maples. What the snake saw only it could know.

It was the hour after moonset, dawn close by. The darkness held hard on the Monashee Mountains. Eddy walked thin down a back alley halfway up the east hillside, his eyes blinkered, their blue faded to a mottled white, the colour of the junk in his veins. Ankle- deep yellow clay lifted and swam around his boots. Silica whirlwinds, they shivered behind his heels as they settled back into soft pools. He moved slowly between broken fences and sagging, fretful sheds. The open windows of houses gazed blind into backyards, sleepers heavy in narrow beds, sheets damp and crumpled at their feet. In the alley, wheat grass and cheat grass draped their seed heads over the shallow ruts. A single stem of spear grass brushed against Eddy’s pant leg and left two seeds caught in the wisps of cotton on his worn cuff. He waded on through dust, the seeds waiting for their moment to fall in what might be some giving dirt, some spot where life might find a place to hide in winter. The alley held the illusion of water, thin waves of powdered clay shot through with the dead leaves of grass and chicory.

A slender ghost, lean as a willow wand, Eddy flowed in the languid glow of the heroin he’d shot up a half-hour before. Sergeant Stanley’s German shepherd slept uneasy on its paws in the run next to the ashes of a burned- out shed. Eddy had set the shed on fire the week before. He’d watched the flames from his car on the hill above and imagined Stanley in the dark staring at the wild fire, raging.

Sergeant Stanley was nowhere around. Eddy knew he was likely taking his usual time with some frightened girl he’d picked up and squired out to the west side of the lake on some false, misleading threat or charge. Eddy had seen Stanley’s women. The cop took his due with all of them, each one owing him her body in unfair exchange for the cell she didn’t want to see, the father, friend, or husband she’d never tell. When he was a boy, he’d crouched behind a chokecherry bush up on the Commonage and seen Stanley with his pants open, a scared girl on her knees beside the police car, working for her life as she bruised her knees on rock shards in the clay.

The shed had been the first thing.

The dog would be the second.

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Selected Poems: 1977-1997

Selected Poems: 1977-1997

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WINTER 31
What the child finds in snow is what a ship finds
in the sea, a wake left behind, a froth
that sinks back into itself everyone else
waiting for the return, the full hold,
the grain come again, the hosannas
which are prayers to plenty. The child knows
nothing of this. He has been sent out to play
and has discovered misery.
He is learning that the footsteps he finds in snow
are his and his alone. How sweet his lament,
this silence in the negative world of cold.
It is a kind of perfect mutiny, everyone waiting
and him knowing there will be no return.
If he were a priest he would say:
This is the end of the first lesson.
THE FIRST TIME
The first time
I saw a chicken
run headless
across the yard
I wanted
to do it too
I wanted
to kill something
so perfectly
it would live
DINNER
I would like to have dinner with the man
who didn't follow Christ, the one who,
when Jesus said Follow me and I
will make you fishers of men, decided
to go fishing instead, getting in his boat,
pushing out from shore, his nets clean
and repaired, thinking I will have to work
even harder now in order to feed
everyone left behind. I would like
to sit on the beach with him
in front of a careful fire,
his wife and children asleep,
sharing a glass of wine, both of us
telling stories about what we've done
with our lives, the ones we caught,
the ones that got away.

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The Bare Plum of Winter Rain

The Bare Plum of Winter Rain

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The instrument of your poverty
is an infinite departure, the hawk unseen
until you see him without prey
in the bare plum of winter rain.
He rests inside hunger
and he does not sing today.
How rare the gesture we make
with nothing. It is of the spirit and without
value. The bare plum, the winter rain
and the hawk seeing what you cannot say.
These steady accretions, yet allowing them
to stay as you stay with music after music
plays, and of course there is always,
always hunger, and, of course, poverty,
and the bare plum, empty, and the rain.

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The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane

The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane

edition:Hardcover
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There Is A Season
Excerpt

“If what we know is what resembles us, what we know is a garden.”
I stood alone among yellow glacier lilies and the windflowers of spring, the western anemone, their petals frail disks of trembling clotted cream. I was a boy and the mountain ridge I’d climbed was only a half-hour hike from the back door of my home. In the east the blue peaks of the Monashee Range rose up against the Selkirks and beyond them the far Rockies and the plains. I had wandered that morning among sheltered coulees and rocky hills and, finally resting, stared out at the paling distance.

The high hills and mountains were my solitary land and I hiked the trails year-round. The days were all one to me back then, and the scuffed pad of a cougar’s track in the wet clay of Six-Mile Creek in summer was no less wondrous than the spread toes of a coyote’s paw print in a fringe of January snow on the BX Ranch where he had braced to leap upon a vole or scurrying mouse who had come lucklessly into the thin winter sun.

There were black bears and the occasional cougar or bobcat in those hills, but when I saw one I felt awe, not fear. Even then I knew what a blessing an animal was. Any creature’s appearance was a gift the wilderness gave me. The animals of the backcountry were unused to humans in those days and they stepped around me as much as I did them. Sometimes a cougar would take a lamb or two in the spring from some flock and then the game warden would walk his dogs into the hills to track the big cat down. He hated killing cougars.

Often he would take me along on those trips; why, I don’t know. Perhaps he felt sorry for me or perhaps my father asked him to in the hope it would make me a man. Gazing at a cougar lolling on a high limb of a ponderosa pine above Lumby while the cougar dogs slung their howls from the foot of the tree at the flick of its black-tipped tail was to look at a god. I watched from the back of an old white horse as Mr. Frisbee pulled his Winchester from beside his saddle and brought the cougar down with a single shot. The cougar falling from the sky was my first huge death.

I remember touching the rough blond hair of a dead cat’s nape, the curve of its long yellow incisors, and the dead ball of its eye as it stared sightless through me to the fading sun. These deaths drew me toward a compassion I didn’t fully understand. All I knew was that such sentiments were not spoken of among men or boys. Feeling deeply about something was never shown.

But it is not the cougars or bobcats, the bears or rattlesnakes of that early wilderness I think of now. It is another early memory that stays in my mind. I was up in the Bluebush hills west of Kalamalka and Okanagan Lake. I had hiked back into the hills with a peanut butter and jam sandwich, two apples, and a water bottle in the army satchel my father had brought back from the Second World War. I took it with me whenever I hiked out for a day. I stood on a crest in a frothing meadow of glacier lilies and anemones, and their fragile beauty remains with me. It lives in the blood and muscle of me and I can still call it up and bring it into spirit.

Grasses, their stalks flattened and flung by the winter snow, lay like fallen hair upon the earth, and their new green spears caught the wind with frail hands. A mountain meadow and a boy in the long-ago of the last century. Did I know then it was a garden I looked out upon? Had I been asked I would not have understood the question. Garden? Wilderness? I gave the meadow no thought. Had someone asked me if what I saw was beautiful I would not have known what he meant. A boy is a boy and he is the place he inhabits. He is what surrounds him and the boy I was remains with me in the image of yellow lilies and creamy anemones among the grasses and scattered stones.

What was I, ten years old? A child, a stripling boy, but those mountains and deserts live in me still and when I go back into that country my heart surges with sudden blood. The past hurls itself at me at times. My bones remember the water and the stones. I grew my body from that mountain earth, and my cells remember the cactus and pines, the lilies and grasses. I am as much blessed as burdened by this.

It is such beauty that made me into a gardener. Perhaps by planting flowers and shrubs and trees I am trying to return to that earlier paradise. Yet finally, not. My garden today is another kind of paradise, and I am not the boy wandering in what another might call loneliness but to me was solitude.

What I do remember is squatting and building a small cairn of stones in the middle of the meadow. There was no death to cover over, no occasion to ritualize other than the day itself and the curious busyness of a boy. But, like all animals, I wanted to leave some mark that I had been there so others who followed would know of my passing. Perhaps the mound of stones is still there or perhaps it’s been kicked over by a deer or coyote or some other boy who pillaged the cairn to make his own curious mark. Perhaps the snow, ice, and wind have spilled it. Whether or not the cairn is gone, the stones remain like ghosts in my hands and that is enough.

Today, fifty-two years later, I am not in a mountain meadow in southern British Columbia. I am in my garden on Vancouver Island and it is early January in the first year of the new century. The sky is grey and the small drops of rainwater gathered on moss and fallen leaves glimmer like opals in the winter sun. In the declivities of grass, apples lie where they fell three months ago. Under the scrabbled branches of the apple tree a red-shafted flicker carves white flesh from a fallen fruit. He feeds on the slim bounty of the season and doesn’t fully trust the grass and moss I still call a lawn though each year I starve it, encouraging the mosses to flourish. The flicker’s claws are better suited to the bark of trees where he spends the day climbing patiently up the trunks in search of insects who have buried themselves in slits to sleep out the gloomy winter months.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Too Spare, Too Fierce

Too Spare, Too Fierce

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TOO SPARE, TOO FIERCE
When the dawn is large enough
you will go out into that stiff blue and find a cat's paw
in the bird bath, a gift from the crow to morning.
There was a moment last night when you started walking
the iron rail in your bare feet on the bridge above the river
and you believed you wouldn't fall. Now, this morning,
you shake so badly you can't hold the glass,
lowering your face to it, your tongue
a tick grey muscle trying to drown.
Outside, mosquito larvae dance
among the claws and the little red cords
where the birds come to bathe. Old crow,
I will come as soon as I can.
THE ARTIST
These are the shapes he wants, the map of
the wilderness he searches in, the driftwood
he finds shaped into beasts
that are his dreams, the broken
weathered to reemblance by some wind
inside his mind, the imagined mountain
in the stone he climbs,
the peace he feels before descent.

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Washita

Washita

New Poems
edition:Paperback
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Witness

Witness

Selected Poems 1962-2010
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Over Prairie Trails
Excerpt

Farms and Roads
 
 
At ten minutes past four, of an evening late in September, I sat in the buggy and swung out of the livery stable that boarded my horse. Peter, the horse, was a chunky bay, not too large, nor too small; and I had stumbled on to him through none of my sagacity. To tell the plain truth, I wanted to get home, I had to have a horse that could stand the trip, no other likely looking horse was offered, this one was – on a trial drive he looked as if he might do, and so I bought him – no, not quite – I arranged with the owner that I should make one complete trip with him and pay a fee of five dollars in case I did not keep him. As the sequence showed, I could not have found a better horse for the work in hand.
 
I turned on to the road leading north, crossed the bridge, and was between the fields. I looked at my watch and began to time myself. The moon was new and stood high in the western sky; the sun was sinking on the downward stretch. It was a pleasant, warm fall day, and it promised an evening such as I had wished for on my first drive out. Not a cloud showed anywhere. I did not urge the horse; he made the first mile in seven and a half minutes, and I counted that good enough.
 
Then came the turn to the west; this new road was a correction line, and I had to follow it for half a mile. There was no farmhouse on this short bend. Then north for five miles. The road was as level as a table top – a good, smooth, hard-beaten, age-mellowed prairie-grade. The land to east and west was also level; binders were going and whirring their harvest song. Nobody could have felt more contented than I did. There were two clusters of buildings – substantial buildings – set far back from the road, one east, the other one west, both clusters huddled homelike and sheltered in bluffs of planted cottonwoods, straight rows of them, three, four trees deep. My horse kept trotting leisurely along, the wheels kept turning, a meadow lark called in a desultory way from a nearby fence post. I was “on the go.” I had torn up my roots, as it were, I felt detached and free; and if both these prosperous looking farms had been my property – I believe, that moment a “Thank-you” would have bought them from me if parting from them had been the price of the liberty to proceed. But, of course, neither one of them ever could have been my property, for neither by temperament nor by profession had I ever been given to the accumulation of the wealth of this world.
 
A mile or so farther on there stood another group of farm buildings – this one close to the road. An unpainted barn, a long and low, rather ramshackle structure with sagging slidedoors that could no longer be closed, stood in the rear of the farm yard. The dwelling in front of it was a tall, boxlike two-story house, well painted in a rather loud green with white door and window frames. The door in front, one window beside it, two windows above, geometrically correct, and stiff and cold. The house was the only green thing around, however. Not a tree, not a shrub, not even a kitchen garden that I could see. I looked the place over critically, while I drove by. Somehow I was convinced that a bachelor owned it – a man who made this house – which was much too large for him – his “bunk.” There it stood, slick and cold, unhospitable as ever a house was. A house has its physiognomy as well as a man, for him who can read it; and this one, notwithstanding its new and shining paint, was sullen, morose, and nearly vicious and spiteful. I turned away. I should not have cared to work for its owner.
 
Peter was trotting along. I do not know why on this first trip he never showed the one of his two most prominent traits – his laziness. As I found out later on, so long as I drove him single (he changed entirely in this respect when he had a mate), he would have preferred to be hitched behind, with me between the shafts pulling buggy and him. That was his weakness, but in it there also lay his strength. As soon as I started to dream or to be absorbed in the things around, he was sure to fall into the slowest of walks. When then he heard the swish of the whip, he would start with the worst of consciences, gallop away at breakneck speed, and slow down only when he was sure the whip was safe in its socket. When we met a team and pulled out on the side of the road, he would take it for granted that I desired to make conversation. He stopped instantly, drew one hindleg up, stood on three legs, and drooped his head as if he had come from the ends of the world. Oh yes, he knew how to spare himself. But on the other hand, when it came to a tight place, where only an extraordinary effort would do, I had never driven a horse on which I could more confidently rely. What any horse could do, he did.
 
About two miles beyond I came again to a cluster of buildings, close to the corner of the crossroads, sheltered, homelike, inviting in a large natural bluff of tall, dark-green poplars. Those first two houses had had an aristocratic aloofness – I should not have liked to turn in there for shelter or for help. But this was prosperous, open handed, well-to-do middle class; not that conspicuous “moneyedness” that we so often find in our new west when people have made their success; but the solid, friendly, everyday liberality that for generations has not had to pinch itself and therefore has mellowed down to taking the necessities and a certain amount of give and take for granted. I was glad when on closer approach I noticed a school embedded in the shady green of the corner. I thought with pleasure of children being so close to people with whom I should freely have exchanged a friendly greeting and considered it a privilege. In my mental vision I saw beeches and elms and walnut trees around a squire’s place in the old country.
 
The road began to be lined with thickets of shrubs here: choke cherry bushes, with some ripe, dried-up black berries left on the branches, with iron-black bark, and with wiry stems, in the background; in front of them, closer to the driveway, hawthorn, rich with red fruit; rosebushes with scarlet leaves reaching down to nearly underfoot. It is one of the most pleasing characteristics of our native thickets that they never rise abruptly. Always they shade off through cushion-like copses of smaller growth into the level ground around.
 
The sun was sinking. I knew a mile or less further north I should have to turn west in order to avoid rough roads straight ahead. That meant doubling up, because some fifteen miles or so north I should have to turn east again, my goal being east of my starting place. These fifteen or sixteen miles of the northward road I did not know; so I was anxious to make them while I could see. I looked at the moon – I could count on some light from her for an hour or so after sundown. But although I knew the last ten or twelve miles of my drive fairly well, I was also aware of the fact that there were in it tricky spots – forkings of mere trails in muskeg bush – where leaving the beaten log-track might mean as much as being lost. So I looked at my watch again and shook the lines over Peter’s back. The first six miles had taken me nearly fifty minutes. I looked at the sun again, rather anxiously. I could count on him for another hour and a quarter – well and good then!
 
There was the turn. Just north of it, far back from both roads, another farmyard. Behind it – to the north, stretched out, a long windbreak of poplars, with a gap or a vista in its centre. Barn and outbuildings were unpainted, the house white; a not unpleasing group, but something slovenly about it. I saw with my mind’s eye numerous children, rather neglected, uncared for, an overworked, sickly woman, a man who was bossy and harsh.
 
The road angles here. Bell’s farm consists of three quarter-sections; the southwest quarter lends its diagonal for the trail. I had hardly made the turn, however, when a car came to meet me. It stopped. The school-inspector of the district looked out. I drew in and returned his greeting, half annoyed at being thus delayed. But his very next word made me sit up. He had that morning inspected my wife’s school and seen her and my little girl; they were both as well as they could be. I felt so glad that I got out of my buggy to hand him my pouch of tobacco, which he took readily enough. He praised my wife’s work, as no doubt he had reason to do, and I should have given him a friendly slap on the shoulder, had not just then my horse taken it into his head to walk away without me.
 
I believe I was whistling when I got back to the buggy seat. I know I slapped the horse’s rump with my lines and sang out, “Get up, Peter, we still have a matter of nearly thirty miles to make.”
 
The road becomes pretty much a mere trail here, a rut-track, smooth enough in the rut, where the wheels ran, but rough for the horse’s feet in between.
 
To the left I found the first untilled land. It stretched far away to the west, overgrown with shrub-willow, wolf-willow and symphoricarpus – a combination that is hard to break with the plow. I am fond of the silver grey, leathery foliage of the wolf-willow which is so characteristic of our native woods. Cinquefoil, too, the shrubby variety, I saw in great numbers – another one of our native dwarf shrubs which, though decried as a weed, should figure as a border plant in my millionaire’s park.
 
And as if to make my enjoyment of the evening’s drive supreme, I saw the first flocks of my favourite bird, the goldfinch. All over this vast expanse, which many would have called a waste, there were strings of them, chasing each other in their wavy flight, twittering on the downward stretch, darting in among the bushes, turning with incredible swiftness and sureness of wing the shortest of curves about a branch, and undulating away again to where they came from.
 
To the east I had, while pondering over the beautiful wilderness, passed a fine bluff of stately poplars that stood like green gold in the evening sun. They sheltered apparently, though at a considerable distance, another farmhouse; for a road led along their southern edge, lined with telephone posts. A large flock of sheep was grazing between the bluff and the trail, the most appropriate kind of stock for this particular landscape.
 
While looking back at them, I noticed a curious trifle. The fence along my road had good cedar posts, placed about fifteen feet apart. But at one point there were two posts where one would have done. The wire, in fact, was not fastened at all to the supernumerary one, and yet this useless post was strongly braced by two stout, slanting poles. A mere nothing, which I mention only because it was destined to be an important landmark for me on future drives.
 
We drove on. At the next mile-corner all signs of human habitation ceased. I had now on both sides that same virgin ground which I have described above. Only here it was interspersed with occasional thickets of young aspen boles. It was somewhere in this wilderness that I saw a wolf, a common prairie-wolf with whom I became quite familiar later on. I made it my custom during the following weeks, on my return trips, to start at a given point a few miles north of here eating the lunch which my wife used to put up for me: sandwiches with crisply fried bacon for a filling. And when I saw that wolf for the second time, I threw a little piece of bacon overboard. He seemed interested in the performance and stood and watched me in an averted kind of way from a distance. I have often noticed that you can never see a wolf from the front, unless it so happens that he does not see you. If he is aware of your presence, he will instantly swing around, even though he may stop and watch you. If he watches, he does so with his head turned back. That is one of the many precautions the wily fellow has learned, very likely through generations of bitter experience. After a while I threw out a second piece, and he started to trot alongside, still half turned away; he kept at a distance of about two hundred yards to the west, running in a furtive, half guilty-looking way, with his tail down and his eye on me. After that he became my regular companion, an expected feature of my return trips, running with me every time for a while and coming a little bit closer till about the middle of November he disappeared, never to be seen again. This time I saw him in the underbrush, about a hundred yards ahead and as many more to the west. I took him by surprise, as he took me. I was sorry I had not seen him a few seconds sooner. For, when I focused my eyes on him, he stood in a curious attitude: as if he was righting himself after having slipped on his hindfeet in running a sharp curve. At the same moment a rabbit shot across that part of my field of vision to the east which I saw in a blurred way only, from the very utmost corner of my right eye. I did not turn but kept my eyes glued to the wolf. Nor can I tell whether I had stirred the rabbit up, or whether the wolf had been chasing or stalking it. I should have liked to know, for I have never seen a wolf stalking a rabbit, though I have often seen him stalk fowl. Had he pulled up when he saw me? As I said, I cannot tell, for now he was standing in the characteristic wolf-way, half turned, head bent back, tail stretched out nearly horizontally. The tail sank, the whole beast seemed to shrink, and suddenly he slunk away with amazing agility. Poor fellow – he did not know that many a time I had fed some of his brothers in cruel winters. But he came to know me, as I knew him; for whenever he left me on later drives, very close to Bell’s corner, after I had finished my lunch, he would start right back on my trail, nose low, and I have no doubt that he picked up the bits of bacon which I had dropped as tidbits for him.
 
I drove and drove. The sun neared the horizon now. It was about six o’clock. The poplar thickets on both sides of the road began to be larger. In front the trail led towards a gate in a long, long line of towering cottonwoods. What was beyond?
 
It proved to be a gate indeed. Beyond the cottonwoods there ran an eastward grade lined on the north side by a ditch which I had to cross on a culvert. It will henceforth be known as the “twelve-mile bridge.” Beyond the culvert the road which I followed had likewise been worked up into a grade. I did not like it, for it was new and rough. But less did I like the habitation at the end of its short, one-mile career. It stood to the right, close to the road, and was a veritable hovel.* It was built of logs, but it looked more like a dugout, for stable as well as dwelling were covered by way of a roof with blower-thrown straw. In the door of the hovel there stood two brats – poor things!
 
The road was a trail again for a mile or two. It led once more through the underbrush-wilderness interspersed with poplar bluffs. Then it became by degrees a real “high-class” Southern Prairie grade. I wondered, but not for long. Tall cottonwood bluffs, unmistakably planted trees, betrayed more farms. There were three of them, and, strange to say, here on the very fringe of civilization I found that “moneyed” type – a house, so new and up-to-date, that it verily seemed to turn up its nose to the traveller. I am sure it had a bathroom without a bathtub and various similar modern inconveniences. The barn was of the Agricultural-College type – it may be good, scientific, and all that, but it seems to crush everything else around out of existence; and it surely is not picturesque – unless it has wings and silos to relieve its rigid contours. Here it had not.
 
The other two farms to which I presently came – buildings set back from the road, but not so far as to give them the air of aloofness – had again that friendly, old-country expression that I have already mentioned: here it was somewhat marred, though, by an over-rigidity of the lines. It is unfortunate that our farmers, when they plant at all, will nearly always plant in straight lines. The straight line is a flaw where we try to blend the work of our hands with Nature. They also as a rule neglect shrubs that would help to furnish a foreground for their trees; and, worst of all, they are given to importing, instead of utilising our native forest growth. Not often have I seen, for instance, our high-bush cranberry planted, although it certainly is one of the most beautiful shrubs to grow in copses.
 
These two farms proved to be pretty much the last sign of comfort that I was to meet on my drives to the north. Though later I learned the names of their owners and even made their acquaintance, for me they remained the “halfway farms,” for, after I had passed them, at the very next corner, I was seventeen miles from my starting point, seventeen miles from “home.”
 
Beyond, stretches of the real wilderness began, the pioneer country, where farms, except along occasional highroads, were still three, four miles apart, where the breaking on few homesteads had reached the thirty-acre mark, and where a real, “honest-to-goodness” cash dollar bill was often as scarce as a well-to-do teacher in the prairie country.
 
The sun went down, a ball of molten gold – two hours from “town,” as I called it. It was past six o’clock. There were no rosy-fingered clouds; just a paling of the blue into white; then a greying of the western sky; and lastly the blue again, only this time dark. A friendly crescent still showed trail and landmarks after even the dusk had died away. Four miles, or a little more, and I should be in familiar land again. Four miles, that I longed to make, before the last light failed. . . .
 
The road angled to the northeast. I was by no means very sure of it. I knew which general direction to hold, but trails that often became mere cattle-paths crossed and crisscrossed repeatedly. It was too dark by this time to see very far. I did not know the smaller landmarks. But I knew, if I drove my horse pretty briskly, I must within little more than half an hour strike a black wall of the densest primeval forest fringing a creek – and, skirting this creek, I must find an old, weather-beaten lumber bridge. When I had crossed that bridge, I should know the landmarks again.
 
Underbrush everywhere, mostly symphoricarpus, I thought. Large trunks loomed up, charred with forest fires; here and there a round, white or light-grey stone, ghostly in the waning light, knee-high, I should judge. Once I passed the skeleton of a stable – the remnant of the buildings put up by a pioneer settler who had to give in after having wasted effort and substance and worn his knuckles to the bones. The wilderness uses human material up. . . .
 
A breeze from the north sprang up, and it turned strangely chilly. I started to talk to Peter, the loneliness seemed so oppressive. I told him that he should have a walk, a real walk, as soon as we had crossed the creek. I told him we were on the homeward half – that I had a bag of oats in the box, and that my wife would have a pail of water ready. . . . And Peter trotted along.
 
Something loomed up in front. Dark and sinister it looked. Still there was enough light to recognize even that which I did not know. A large bluff of poplars rustled, the wind soughing through the stems with a wailing note. The brush grew higher to the right. I suddenly noticed that I was driving along a broken-down fence between the brush and myself. The brush became a grove of boles which next seemed to shoot up to the full height of the bluff. Then, unexpectedly, startlingly, a vista opened. Between the silent grove to the south and the large, whispering, wailing bluff to the north there stood in a little clearing a snow white log house, uncannily white in the paling moonlight. I could still distinctly see that its upper windows were nailed shut with boards – and yes, its lower ones, too. And yet, the moment I passed it, I saw through one unclosed window on the northside light. Unreasonably I shuddered.
 
This house, too, became a much-looked-for landmark to me on my future drives. I learned that it stood on the range line and called it the “White Range Line House.” There hangs a story by this house. Maybe I shall one day tell it. . . .
 
Beyond the great and awe-inspiring poplar-bluff the trail took a sharp turn eastward. From the southwest another rut-road joined it at the bend. I could only just make it out in the dark, for even moonlight was fading fast now. The sudden, reverberating tramp of the horse’s feet betrayed that I was crossing a culvert. I had been absorbed in getting my bearings, and so it came as a surprise. It had not been mentioned in the elaborate directions which I had received with regard to the road to follow. For a moment, therefore, I thought I must be on the wrong trail. But just then the dim view, which had been obstructed by copses and thickets, cleared ahead in the last glimmer of the moon, and I made out the back cliff of forest darkly looming in the north – that forest I knew. Behind a narrow ribbon of bush the ground sloped down to the bed of the creek – a creek that filled in spring and became a torrent, but now was sluggish and slow where it ran at all. In places it consisted of nothing but a line of muddy pools strung along the bottom of its bed. In summer these were a favourite haunting place for mosquito-and-fly-plagued cows. There the great beasts would lie down in the mud and placidly cool their punctured skins. A few miles southwest the creek petered out entirely in a bed of shaly gravel bordering on the Big Marsh which I had skirted in my drive and a corner of which I was crossing just now.
 
The road was better here and spoke of more traffic. It was used to haul cordwood in late winter and early spring to a town some ten or fifteen miles to the southwest. So I felt sure again I was not lost but would presently emerge on familiar territory. The horse seemed to know it, too, for he raised his head and went at a better gait.
 
A few minutes passed. There was hardly a sound from my vehicle. The buggy was rubber-tired, and the horse selected a smooth ribbon of grass to run on. But from the black forest wall there came the soughing of the wind and the nocturnal rustle of things unknown. And suddenly there came from close at hand a startling sound: a clarion call that tore the veil lying over my mental vision: the sharp, repeated whistle of the whip-poor-will. And with my mind’s eye I saw the dusky bird: shooting slantways upward in its low flight which ends in a nearly perpendicular slide down to within ten or twelve feet from the ground, the bird being closely followed by a second one pursuing. In reality I did not see the birds, but I heard the fast whir of their wings.
 
Another bird I saw but did not hear. It was a small owl. The owl’s flight is too silent, its wing is down-padded. You may hear its beautiful call, but you will not hear its flight, even though it circles right around your head in the dusk. This owl crossed my path not more than an inch or two in front. It nearly grazed my forehead, so that I blinked. Oh, how I felt reassured! I believe tears welled in my eyes. When I come to the home of frog and toad, of gartersnake and owl and whip-poor-will, a great tenderness takes possession of me, and I should like to shield and help them all and tell them not to be afraid of me; but I rather think they know it anyway.
 
The road swung north, and then east again; we skirted the woods; we came to the bridge; it turned straight north; the horse fell into a walk. I felt that henceforth I could rely on my sense of orientation to find the road. It was pitch dark in the bush – the thin slice of the moon had reached the horizon and followed the sun; no light struck into the hollow which I had to thread after turning to the southeast for a while. But as if to reassure me once more and still further of the absolute friendliness of all creation for myself – at this very moment I saw high overhead, on a dead branch of poplar, a snow white owl, a large one, eighteen inches tall, sitting there in state, lord as he is of the realm of night. . . .
 
Peter walked – though I did not see the road, the horse could not mistake it. It lay at the bottom of a chasm of trees and bushes. I drew my cloak somewhat closer around and settled back. This cordwood trail took us on for half a mile, and then we came to a grade leading east. The grade was rough; it was the first one of a network of grades which were being built by the province, not primarily for the roads they afforded, but for the sake of the ditches of a bold and much needed drainage-system. To this very day these yellow grades of the pioneer country along the lake lie like naked scars on Nature’s body: ugly, raw, as if the bowels were torn out of a beautiful bird and left to dry and rot on its plumage. Age will mellow them down into harmony.
 
Peter had walked for nearly half an hour. The ditch was north of the grade. I had passed, without seeing it, a newly cut-out road to the north which led to a lonesome schoolhouse in the bush. As always when I passed or thought of it, I had wondered where through this wilderness-tangle of bush and brush the children came from to fill it – walking through winter-snows, through summer-muds, for two, three, four miles or more to get their meagre share of the accumulated knowledge of the world. And the teacher! Was it the money? Could it be when there were plenty of schools in the thickly settled districts waiting for them? I knew of one who had come to this very school in a car and turned right back when she saw that she was expected to live as a boarder on a comfortless homestead and walk quite a distance and teach mostly foreign-born children. It had been the money with her! Unfortunately it is not the woman – nor the man either, for that matter – who drives around in a car, that will buckle down and do this nation’s work! I also knew there were others like myself who think this backwoods bushland God’s own earth and second only to Paradise – but few! And these young girls that quake at their loneliness and yet go for a pittance and fill a mission! But was not my wife of their very number?
 
I started up. Peter was walking along. But here, somewhere, there led a trail off the grade, down through the ditch, and to the northeast into the bush which swallows it up and closes behind it. This trail needs to be looked for even in daytime, and I was to find it at night! But by this time starlight began to aid. Vega stood nearly straight overhead, and Deneb and Altair, the great autumnal triangle in our skies. The Bear, too, stood out boldly, and Cassiopeia opposite.
 
I drew in and got out of the buggy; and walking up to the horse’s head, got ahold of the bridle and led him, meanwhile scrutinizing the ground over which I stepped. At that I came near missing the trail. It was just a darkening of the ground, a suggestion of black on the brown of the grade, at the point where poles and logs had been pulled across with the logging chain. I sprang down into the ditch and climbed up beyond and felt with my foot for the dent worn into the edge of the slope, to make sure that I was where I should be. It was right, so I led the horse across. At once he stood on three legs again, left hindleg drawn up, and rested.
 
“Well, Peter,” I said, “I suppose I have made it easy enough for you. We have another twelve miles to make. You’ll have to get up.” But Peter this time did not stir till I touched him a flick with my whip.
 
The trail winds around, for it is a logging trail, leading up to the best bluffs, which are ruthlessly cut down by the fuel-hunters. Only dead and half decayed trees are spared. But still young boles spring up in astonishing numbers. Aspen and balm predominate, though there is some ash and oak left here and there, with a conifer as the rarest treat for the lover of trees. It is a pitiful thing to see a Nation’s heritage go into the discard. In France or in England it would be tended as something infinitely precious. The face of our country as yet shows the youth of infancy, but we make it prematurely old. The settler who should regard the trees as his greatest pride, to be cut into as sparingly as is compatible with the exigencies of his struggle for life – he regards them as a nuisance to be burned down by setting wholesale fires to them. Already there is a scarcity of fuel-wood in these parts.
 
Where the fires as yet have not penetrated too badly, the cutting, which leaves only what is worthless, determines the impression the forest makes. At night this impression is distinctly uncanny. Like gigantic brooms, with their handles stuck into the ground, the dead wood stands up; the underbrush crowds against it, so dense that it lies like huge black cushions under the stars. The inner recesses form an almost impenetrable mass of young boles of shivering aspen and scented balm. This mass slopes down to thickets of alder, red dogwood, haw, highbush cranberry, and honeysuckle, with wide beds of goldenrod or purple asters shading off into the spangled meadows wherever the copses open up into grassy glades.
 
Through this bush, and skirting its meadows, I drove for an hour. There was another fork in the trail, and again I had to get out and walk on the side, to feel with my foot for the rut where it branched to the north. And then, after a while, the landscape opened up, the brush receded. At last I became conscious of a succession of posts to the right, and a few minutes later I emerged on the second east-west grade. Another mile to the east along this grade, and I should come to the last, homeward stretch.
 
Again I began to talk to the horse. “Only five miles now, Peter, and then the night’s rest. A good drink, a good feed of oats and wild hay, and the birds will waken you in the morning.”
 
The northern lights leaped into the sky just as I turned from this east-west grade, north again, across a high bridge, to the last road that led home. To the right I saw a friendly light, and a dog’s barking voice rang over from the still, distant farmstead. I knew the place. An American settler with a French sounding name had squatted down there a few years ago.
 
The road I followed was, properly speaking, not a road at all, though used for one. A deep master ditch had been cut from ten or twelve miles north of here; it angled, for engineering reasons, so that I was going northwest again. The ground removed from the ditch had been dumped along its east side, and though it formed only a narrow, high, and steep dam, rough with stones and overgrown with weeds, it was used by whoever had to go north or south here. The next eastwest grade which I was aiming to reach, four miles north, was the second correction line that I had to use, twenty-four miles distant from the first; and only a few hundred yards from its corner I should be at home!
 
At home! All my thoughts were bent on getting home now. Five or six hours of driving will make the strongest back tired, I am told. Mine is not of the strongest. This road lifted me above the things that I liked to watch. Invariably, on all these drives, I was to lose interest here unless the stars were particularly bright and brilliant. This night I watched the lights, it is true: how they streamed across the sky, like driving rain that is blown into wavy streaks by impetuous wind. And they leaped and receded, and leaped and receded again. But while I watched, I stretched my limbs and was bent on speed. There were a few particularly bad spots in the road, where I could not do anything but walk the horse. So, where the going was fair, I urged him to redoubled effort. I remember how I reflected that the horse as yet did not know we were so near home, this being his first trip out; and I also remember, that my wife afterwards told me that she had heard me a long while before I came – had heard me talking to the horse, urging him on and encouraging him.
 
Now I came to a slight bend in the road. Only half a mile! And sure enough: there was the signal put out for me. A lamp in one of the windows of the school – placed so that after I turned in on the yard, I could not see it – it might have blinded my eye, and the going is rough there with stumps and stones. I could not see the cottage, it stood behind the school. But the school I saw clearly outlined against the dark blue, star-spangled sky, for it stands on a high gravel ridge. And in the most friendly and welcoming way it looked with its single eye across at the nocturnal guest.
 
I could not see the cottage, but I knew that my little girl lay sleeping in her cosy bed, and that a young woman was sitting there in the dark, her face glued to the window-pane, to be ready with a lantern which burned in the kitchen whenever I might pull up between school and house. And there, no doubt, she had been sitting for a long while already; and there she was destined to sit during the winter that came, on Friday nights – full often for many and many an hour – full often till midnight – and sometimes longer . . .
 
 
* It might be well to state expressly here that, whatever has been said in these pages concerning farms and their inhabitants, has intentionally been so arranged as not to apply to the exact localities at which they are described. Anybody at all familiar with the district through which these drives were made will readily identify every natural landmark. But al though I have not consciously introduced any changes in the landscape as God made it, I have in fairness to the settlers entirely redrawn the superimposed man-made landscape.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Addicted

Addicted

Notes from the Belly of the Beast
edited by Lorna Crozier
foreword by Patrick Lane
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback
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Breathing Fire

Breathing Fire

Canada's New Poets
edited by Patrick Lane & Lorna Crozier
foreword by Al Purdy
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

CIGARETTES (I)
by Michael Crummey

The day my grandfather died he ate
a meal of salt beef and cabbage in his
sick bed, his appetite returning for
the first time in weeks, the skin
hanging from the bones of his face like an oversized suit.

My father had gone in to see him
earlier that morning, fifteen years old then
and thinking the old man was recovering;
they spoke for a few minutes about the cold
and about going out in the spring,
and then my grandfather asked his son for a cigarette.

Summers, after the caplin had rolled,
the cod moved into water too deep for traps
and the two of them would spend the days jigging,
standing at the gunnel with a line down
two fathoms, repeating the rhythmic full-arm jig
as if they were unsuccessfully trying to
start an engine;

mid-afternoon they'd stop to eat,
stoking the galley's firebox to stew cod's heads
and boil tea, then my grandfather would sit aft
with a pipe, pulling his yellow oilskin jacket
over his head until he was finished.
He'd known for years that my father was smoking
on the sly though he'd never acknowledged it,
hid beneath a coat to give his son
a chance to sneak a cigarette
before they got back to work.

The air in the sick room was so cold
their breath hung in clouds between them.
My grandfather was about to die of cancer or TB
and his son sat beside the bed,
his pockets for once empty of Bugle or Target tobacco,
telling his father he had no cigarette to give him
which happened to be the truth, and felt like
a lie to them both.

THE LAST SOCKEYE
by Tim Bowling

Always I think of the last sockeye,
the one in late October; blind,
blood-red, half-rotted, so far from the creeks of spawning,
it just lay beside our net
in the silt-grey water -- confused
or resting, we couldn't say --
then with one weak push
gilled itself
so we had to roll it in.

The last of its kind for the season;
most had died, or spawned and died,
at least a month before;
I could not gaff it.
We stood in the chill north wind, bemused,
as though we'd been given an early Christmas gift,
red-wrapped and taken
from below the mountains' undecorated evergreens;
we stared at the rotted eyes
and scales like bloodied coin,
a glove of chain-mail
after a Crusades slaughter
the living hand still inside.

Three separate instincts
and a whole long winter to forget
your drinking and failed marriage
my loneliness and too often
days of great despair
over things I cannot change

and always the gap between us
as wide as the gap
between the sockeye and its goal;
three separate instincts
with nothing to win
three separate species:
I don't remember what we said
or even if we spoke at all
but the salmon, at least,
knew what it wanted,
so I gave it back to the river,
blind, rotted, and doomed,
I gave it back

while we stood in the stern like the last men
and watched the bloody hand of the year wave goodbye

HALF-LIGHT
by Suzanne Buffam

In the green half-light of three a.m.
my brother wakes me, pulls my slumbering body
into the yard to see the rabbits being born.

They emerge all wet and pink as finger
tips nestled into sawdust beneath
their mother -- one, two, then three

naked bodies in the sudden beam
of my brother's flashlight. We hold
our breath as her small eyes take us

in, red in the light, full of fire,
and there is a moment, heavy as
the moon, when we know it is too late

to retreat, unsee, resume our innocent
beds. The mother's eyes angry
as she hunches up and turns away,

leaves us watching, the wind
cold through our nightclothes, as she swallows
up her children -- one, two, then three

wriggling bodies disappear into her tiny
sharp-toothed mouth, the flashlight
dropping to the grass at our feet.

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Breathing Fire 2

Breathing Fire 2

Canada's New Poets
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Quidi Vidi (Alison Pick)

Walk as far as you can,
then farther, past
the chain-link barring the road,
tire tracks deep as the rut of your mind,
the place you always get stuck.
Wanting more, or wanting
less, to be rid of the word
called wanting. Boulders,
tall grass, shrubs you can't name,
birds you can't name,
the ocean. Being a stranger sneaks you through
the latch of language - briefly. Bottles, you know.
Condoms, you know. And the weight
of being human where other humans have been.
Back of the sea like one line of thought,
slight variation of foam at the shore
where artifice gives itself up. Farther out,
a ledge in the rock
as though attention might help. Turning
for home, hands in your pockets, night mists in
like animal breath, the black-brown shapes
of gathering mammals
bending to drink at the silent pool
of mind submerged in the mind.
If a gap in awareness exists, it's there
you might have slipped through.

Falling (Matt Rader)

Clipped my skull on the lip of the bridge
as I plunged feet-first into the anxious river.
My teeth jawed together, all castanet
or clam-shell, crunched my tongue to pulp.
I couldn't talk, or scream, or lift a finger.
Couldn't remember why I was there or where
amongst all the falling my body had gone.
Rivulets of red ribboned my head like an insect-
painter's quick study of the wingless human--
The Faller--a gesture-drawing in blood and air.
Here's how I picture it: limbs all stutter and wheel
in the rioting wind, all seizure of sign-language
and panic-dance, eyes scrolled back, calculating
velocity by distance, the time left to swallow
or spit before impact. Never mind the fear
or embarrassment, I pissed my pants just for
the warmth in my crotch, that one last sloppy kiss.
Falling and falling is lonely business.

Plate No. 9 (Nathalie Stephens)

Together perhaps they are together in and out of the image one stopping at a distance from the other which would account for the absence of one the one woman who appeared later in the image before the artist who might not have noticed her presence but they both the women the two women both women are present from the beginning inside and outside of the frame the one that marks lines around the image the one this image in which two women standing and leaning one woman present the other not until later until the artist shuddered and the shudder marked by the fissured city imprinted on the image indicates the presence of two women together one woman and then another she the woman they the two women leaning and standing within reach of the artist and the need to readjust the line of vision the one that draws one woman to the other she both they the two women perhaps drawn one to the other and maybe outside of the frame they are lovers,

from Haynes Town Store (Shane Rhodes)

my grandmother said

--he comes from the south east coast of china as a boy
(or a man or as far as I can figure out
wing wong was a hundred all his life)
and after two months on ship or so it is said
in vancouver he buys a pound of chocolate
and after two months of rice and salt water
it tasted of tears wing speaks no english yet
he has selling in his blood like the last dime in his pocket
he buys more chocolate and breaks it to ten pieces
and sells each piece to the immigrants off the boats
for 5� each to people like wing or you or me hungry for land
or anything that looked like dirt and tasted like the dust storm
wing bought his store with
and a bag full of nickels--

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