Monday, January 08, 2007

Al Purdy (1918-2000)

I don't understand why it is more difficult to get Canadian books into the United States than it is to import Canadian hockey players. But it is, and we miss a great deal because of what barriers there are to the free exchange of books and ideas. To prove my point, here's a poem by the late, great Al Purdy, from Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems, 1962-1996 (Harbour Publishing, 1996).

I ordered the book in 2000 when I read that "Canada's greatest poet" had died--a man I'd never heard of. It took many weeks for this slim volume to arrive at my local bookstore; they finally had to go through a Toronto bookstore to the Canadian publisher. You'd think I was attempting to buy a book of poetry from Cuba.

Come to think of it, why shouldn't I be able to buy a book of poetry from Cuba?

But I digress.

ON THE FLOOD PLAIN

Midnight:
it's freezing on the lake
and wind whips ice eastward
but most of the water remains open
--and stars visit earth
tumbled about like floating candles
on the black tumulus
then wind extinguishes the silver fire
but more flash down
and even those reflections reflect
on the sides of waves
even the stars' reflections reflect stars

Ice:
far older than earth
primordial as the Big Bang
--cold unmeasured by Celsius and Fahrenheit
quarrelling about it on a Jurassic shingle
--before Pangaea and Gondwanaland
arrive her in the 20th century
born like a baby
under the flashlight beam
Bend down and examine the monster
and freeze for your pains
--tiny oblong crystals
seem to come from nowhere
little transparent piano keys
that go tinkle tinkle tinkle
while the wind screams
--and you feel like some shivering hey
presto god grumbling at his fucked-up weather
hurry indoors hurry indoors to heaven

People have told us we built too near the lake
"The flood plain is dangerous" they said
and no doubt they know more about it than we do
--but here wind presses down on new-formed ice
trembles it like some just-invented musical instrument
and that shieking obbligato to winter
sounds like the tension in a stretched worm
when the robin has hauled it halfway out of the lawn
I stand outside
between house and outhouse
feeling my body stiffen in fossilized rigor mortis
and listening
thinking
this is the reason we built on the flood plain
damn right
the seriousness of things beyond your understanding

Whatever I have not discovered and enjoyed
is still waiting for me
and there will be time
but now these floating stars on the freezing lake
and music fills the darkness
holds me there listening
--it's a matter of separating these instants from others
that have no significance
so that they keep reflecting each other
a way to live and contain eternity
in which the moment is altered and expanded
my consciousness hung like a great silver metronome
suspended between stars
on the dark lake
and time pours itself into my cupped hands shimmering

3 Comments:

Blogger hologram said...

What do you expect when we now have a government more interest in scxaring the nievely trusting public into voting them into office than in keeping our wonderful freedoms.

10:44 PM  
Blogger rams said...

(Wish he'd cut the last word.) But you bet I'll buy him at York Street Books next summer in Stratford

8:14 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

We are pleased that you appreciate the work of Al Purdy but it is my duty to inform you that it is a violation of the Canadian Copyright Act, the US Copyright Act and the Blogger Terms of Use to post an entire copyrighted work without permission. Please save us the trouble of reporting this to DRM complaints by removing it. Sorry.

Harbour Publishing.

9:29 PM  

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