Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rock Creek Blues - Thelma Poirier

Today's book of poetry:  Rock Creek Blues.  Thelma Poirier.  Coteau Books.  Regina, Saskatchewan.  2011.

There are several responses that occurred to me while reading Thelma Poirier's Rock Creek Blues.  One of them was that this woman was connected to the natural world as only a person who lives on the land can be.
 
bones.2

when I lugged
the bull's skull
seven miles up Rock Creek
it was not because
I thought the skull would speak
or even that I might listen
but because it was there
braced against the bank
shimmering beneath the water
staring at me
through a watery lens

and when I brought it home
            the skull, full of iron oxide
it was not because
it was more beautiful than any living thing
it was my legacy

by the time I was home I was inside
             staring out

...

These poems, of exceedingly charmed wisdom, are full of perception changing doors to the natural world.  Poirier never pushes the reader away with language but draws us towards her work with her intimate knowledge of the land and how she makes it all familiar.

wild flowers

moving to the prairie, there are things you should know
neighbors will forget to tell you

and you can not read them in the Farmer's Almanac
they are not printed on paper

the lure of wild flowers
small addictions in petal and stamen

where the larkspur grows,
how to recognize the plant before it blossoms

the purple poison; how a cow died
and three heifers aborted theirs calves

because no one was watching for larkspur, and
another year it was a filly

chomping on locoweed; and what of nightshade
it dealt a double death, a team of horses

wild flowers,
the colours of death

...

There are five sections to this collection of thematically connected poems but I would be reluctant to try to describe them with precision.  The reader moves through blues music, parent paradigms through New Orlens (New Orleans), impending war, a mother's fine lens for perception, time at the blues bleating piano.  It really doesn't matter, Thelma Poirier's writing is as crisp as a grocery list and as entertaining as your favourite Aunt in full flung memory recollection regailia.

Louise

a heifer heaves
turns her body inside out
calf and calfbed steaming in the yellow straw

a young woman knots the calf bed
tight around her fist
leans into the heifer's hip
pushes, shoves the knot inside
pulls her arm out of darkness

the calf bed follows
iridescent in the pale light

she begins again

hours later, wet and weak
she goes to the house for the gun

memory:  a blurred image
the heifer's eye

...

Poirier lives in Glentworth, Saskatchewan but spent most of her life on ranches near Fir Mountain.  Her main interests are ranching, the natural environment and history.  Her strong willed and strong minded poetry reflect those interests without ever sermonizing or proselytizing.

January, the fourth

for two weeks we try to move the cows home
they will not leave the creek bottom
are exposed to bitter weather
wind and temperature: the combined factors
minus forty, minus fifty
cows huddle in the brush
clods of snow stick to their hides
icicles on their lashes
their muzzles, beards of frost

we coax them from the brush
this day, they surrender
follow single file
the sound, knuckles cracking
the hollow crunch of snow

you walk behind the cows
your toes cold as metal typewriter keys
I drive the truck, am warm inside the cab
I listen to the radio
talk of war
a Middle East advisor outlines precautions
soldiers must follow in the Arabian desert
lessons in survival

...

Thelma Poirier's hard earned knowledge of the natural world enhances what Poirier has to say about how we humans conduct ourselves.  We could do much worse than to absorb some of these wise words.

January, the twenty-seventh

I envy you, your stance
you do not let the war keep you
from all that must be done
the cattle that must  be fed, the ice chopped
gates opened, closed again
dirty pigeons shitting on the rafters will be cursed
dogs praised
plastic twine burned,
tires repaired and filled with air again,
wheat augered from the bin into the truck
hauled to the elevator in town
you will have a coffee
gather the local news
and carry it home
I will know who had a new baby
who won last night's hockey game

you have already crawled out of your television set
I am still popping in and out of mine.

...


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