That’s when I stop—
somewhere a tractor sputters.
Turn the key—thump and the engine
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.
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
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
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
the surviving posts
in the last
brief mound of rock.
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.
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.
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
what is cut away, diminished return.
The driver of the truck in shadow,
someone else with pitchfork
tosses loose hay
into exuberant excess.
a wingèd beastie in the pile
ready to pounce.
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
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
It will be gone
long before the boy’s a man.
He has a sulk upon him
and he won’t say why.
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
Who is the guide?
White water swirls, steams
forward around the bend in the river.
It’s a wing,
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.
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,
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
Five years later
the house lights go down,
a theatre darkens, and she,
among so many others, gazes up
at the newsreel, 1945—
no one can catch her.
The pictures swallowing
words and light.
She dons the dark habit—
float and whisper
of its folds—
enters the convent: