Oolichan Books, 1998. ISBN: 0-88982-173-9 5.5 x 8.5, 95 pages. $14.95
Mythic poetry with a twist. Elegies for Charles Lillard and Robin Skelton, including a poem first read at Skelton’s Memorial service in 1997, and a series of poems set in Pound’s city of Dioce, “whose terraces are the color of stars”.
In these fabulous poems, between passionate elegies for Charles Lillard and Robin Skelton, Coyote the transformer, Coyote the trickster, the shape-changer, is busy doing “the real work” after dark, behind the scenes — changing his mind, rearranging landscapes, dismantling cities of the imagination, making room for new worlds, new languages, and freeing us from the burden of history. In his various disguises as poet, as magician, as composer, rancher, philosopher, clown, Rhenisch transforms an abandoned earth, an inhospitable earth, an earth cheapened or lost, into one of fecundity. Ursula Vaira
Back in the ’50s Shakespeare used to run a skidder
out of Anaheim Lake,
but now he’s opened a lawnmower repair shop
amidst the old singlewides and rusty Chevrolets of Lac La Hache,
and charges by the hour. The walls of his shop
are plastered with sonnets, printed in the pale colours
of the ’40s, the paper yellowed with the years.
The floor is dirt packed hard as cement,
littered with old greasy gears,
piston heads, and shining carburetor needles.
Shakespeare is in the back by the grinder,
a blue welder’s cap covering his skinny bald head,
a spray of sparks shooting around him
while he grinds the slag off a half-molten piston
to the tune of the low-pitched roar
that sinks off the stone.
Down the highway from Shakespeare’s Lawnmower Repair
John Milton, whose eyesight has been restored
by swimming through the river of silence,
has settled his daughters in a fly-tying shop.
There is nothing fancy here, and nothing is arranged for tourists,
but John has been fishing in Lac La Hache and Rail Lake
and the glacial and horsefly country of the Chilcotin
for sixty years and has learned a thing or two
in that time.
Most any day you will find him in an old Coors Lite T-Shirt,
a pot-belly hanging over his jeans,
peering over the tops of his bifocals
at delicate watercolours of chironomids and mayflies
that look like fairies, that look able to grace us
with a love more intense than cut flowers,
and which he painstakingly copies with deerhide, coloured thread
and wood-duck feathers.
If you want to find his daughters
you will have to canoe onto the lake,
for they spend their days there,
clear-skinned, scooping the latest hatch off the water,
where wings gleam white
against the deep without light,
thoughts floating on the first age of the world;
and paint them on heavy rag paper
with handmade sow’s bristle brushes.
This is their share of the work now,
and after his passage through blindness
John is glad of it.
On Mondays John hangs the closed sign in the front window
and goes onto the lake with his neighbour.
In the middle of the lake, Shakespeare cuts the old Evinrude
and they drift with the slow current;
he drops a line with lead weights and a lurid
pink and green plug over the stern
and is content to lie back
watching the pattern of the clouds
drift across the gentian sky, but Milton is not.
He stands in the prow
and with deft flicks of his wrist
casts a fly far out onto the still black
ahead of them, into absolute emptiness,
into the pure definition of water,
and with trembling fingers and a pounding heart
waits for a fish to rise and strike hard.