Apology and Plea to Winter in Retreat
Say it’s a whopping ice-age sized mistake,
greenhouse gas a convenient ruse.
The season’s fed up: metaphor makes
January joyless, February’s reduced
to bleakness, ragged hands and grief.
I was reading Shakespeare and I sighed
over winter as absence, a barren simile
still tempting poets today. I’ll confide:
our minds covet snowflake precision,
our hearts understand snowsquall’s might.
Would you please cool off your position,
ice up the peaks, lay down frost overnight?
Forget Sonnets 5, 12 and 98.
We’ll buy long johns; we’ll learn to skate.
The meteorologists are pleading with us to keep checking back
through the storm, ice pellets making a carpet two, three inches
thick, this pale beach we walk on, this wind that passed over
the bodies of the lakes and the lakes that froze it, the arctic
sunk deep, meeting our cheeks, gathering on us, this snake’s
rattle of weather, this sand storm of ice six inches deep and
climbing, these April showers.
The city spits in the river.
The sea pie-charts
I stand in another’s boot prints.
The sun hollows out mink tracks.
A goose walks on water.
A beaver gnaws bone.
All winter, Asian carp fry
circled the bathtub,
fattening on frisky treats
and creamed corn.
I fill my wellies with their
and walk out to my waist.
That is your dream:
giant swamp salamanders
stepping in mud, making
tracks we keep collecting.
A Tyee noses upstream, dodging
cigarette butts, coffee cup lids, Styrofoam
crumbs and shards of iPhone
packaging through waters
too warm and up, at intermittent
weirs, precisely, scientifically
This singleminded chief of all
salmon no way no how voyageured
from the Pacific to this concoction
of road salt and fertilizer, storm sewer
outflow and emptied toilet tanks
propelled by its own fins. No sir. It was
caught, flown over mountains and prairies,
poured into lake water, transformed
into sport for eager anglers.
Ladies and gentlemen of the post-glacial,
post-agrarian, post-Victorian, post-pastoral,
post-industrial, post-landfill, post-
ladies and gents of the new-and-improved,
Better-Homes-and-Gardens era of Don River
restoration, please allow me to further describe
the journey undertaken by this pink-scaled
fish of all fishes. This fish
was not game. This Tyee cruised
Lake Ontario’s murk, steering clear
of hooks and bait. It smelled
river. Through the port land’s rumbles
and slicks, eroded soil grit and driveway sealer
aroma, through beer cans and algae, rainwater
spiked with goose shit, this fish
heard the Don’s muted
cough and reeled
in its current. It swims hard and sure—
it belongs here now, it has thrown itself
on the mercy of these ragged, panting waters—
it aims for the source.
From “Don River: Crossings and Expeditions.” Originally published in NewPoetry (https://newpoetry.ca/2015/04/23/don-river-crossings-and-expeditions/); and recently in Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds, ed. Yvonne Blomer, Caitlin Press, 2020.
The way the sky arrives on it, flat blue’s far-off tongue, the height of the sun’s brightness before it, the Newfoundland novelist who doesn’t get not getting it, the way the funk sweeps through town like brewery wort, the times of day the crows and gulls move to and away, the urge to seek a vantage point, to sit above it, the climb down the rocks to be close to it on a full moon, illicit and allowed, the corked wine bottles washing up every so often, the trick-snake bull kelp and the slime an old relative, the way it makes ritual, swimming a cold that imprints the core, people building driftwood compounds beside it, the Surf Motel and its can openers, the tourists on it, the gleaning, the dogshit and the joggers, the tankers and the log traffic, the rise and the learning and the fear of it—still and looking and looking and fearful—the crying beside it, the loneliness of it, the separateness, the way it talks to you and the way you talk back, the way it changes your cadence, your language, to know it’s close, to see its seasons, to hear it as you walk to school, to see it higher than the ground from afar, the way the clouds come in on ukulele strings, slow and pink, to learn to know you don’t know it, to chart its rhythms, to eat from it, to sense the plates beneath it, to hear its songs and the human songs for it, the way it mists the air and the land, to learn relationship, boats that have rowed for tens of thousands of years, to pick through its pebbles and find glass rubbed thin and smooth, and hard plastic, and how warm the air can get above it, and how of the air you are.