Today's book of poetry: Two O'Clock Creek (Poems New and Selected). Bruce Hunter. Oolichan Books. Fernie, British Columbia. 2010.
I like sport metaphors. Bruce Hunter, may he forgive me, fits perfectly into my NHL of poets.
Billy No Longer The Kid
mean and mouthy
tough man on the cemetery crew
going for low
but the dead and those nearly
the old guys don't care
proud of the fact
he's hot shit on the backhoe
(you can tell by the way he wears his hat
CAT diesel, high off of his forehead)
neck red with more than sun
under the striped tank top
gut already roly
from too many lunchroom beers
at the U.A.W. hall
the other day
one tree in the entire place
he hits it in third gear
it takes two trucks
to pull the bucket from the trunk
broken glasses and nose bloodied
old Carlos tells him
what he already knows
what's the hurry
you're gonna get here soon enough
Bruce Hunter is the Bob Gainey of Canadian poetry. Hard, hard working, every time out you get his best, and his best is professional at the highest end of the spectrum.
Spring Opening - Lock Four
on the grass banks of the Welland.
Drinking Billy's whisky,
squinting at black-bottomed lakers
downbound out of Erie.
Glare of white funnels,
idle deck gantrys and radar's easy lope.
Six of them squat in the current
where the lazy willows fan.
Their sailors smoking at the rails
watching leggy women with cameras
on the lock walls.
When the siren goes, six horns sound
and a ship descends
like a toy boat in a drained bathtub.
Water spills from the sluice,
spring shipping opens
with the great iron gates.
The stack shudders,
pops a cloud of diesel
as the iron-loaded laker
pulls for Montreal.
Beside me, Billy tilts the empty bottle
stares through the long neck
as if we're all sailors
set on this plank of earth,
this side of the telescope,
drifting towards that one day
when we wish we were elsewhere.
One of the sailors sees us
and waves. Billy blows across the bottle's neck,
like a ship's horn,
his eye ringed with whisky and spit.
This isn't Wayne Gretzky breaking scoring records or Christian Bok breaking language - these poems are those of a disciplined journeyman who makes everything real. There is never a bad shift or a false move. Hunter is always protecting the net. Two O'Clock Creek is choice work, through and through.
Light Over Morning
The third floor of a flat
on Tyndell Avenue
after the final streetcar trundles in,
she rises like a blind sleepwalker
to sit naked at the piano.
Ovoids of white buttocks on the cool bench,
the slope of her shoulders,
soft works of light.
Her fingers roll deftly on the keys
while the neighbours below dream melodically.
Her man sleeps
somewhere across the city.
An old story, a woman:
he left at Christmas time.
But consider her and the half-light
over the face, the elegant curve of her hair.
The way the music rises like drowsy love.
On the piano a conch shell
curled like a pink ear.
And the light like a mist
waist-deep through the room.
And somewhere else, say Palestine
or a dozen other places,
in the same light
one man stalks another,
while her incendiary notes remain
pressed beneath fingertips.
But unlike those others
dying for scrubland, a village,
one God or another,
this man, the lover
if he has yet lived
has done nothing to earn his death.
And I tell you,
he or any of us
does not deserve such music.
Read Bruce Hunter's Two O'Clock Creek and you might want to call this "blue collar" poetry. Narrative poetry that unfolds with grace and a consistent voice, the kind you can trust. Hunter's poems are metronome constant, earth bound and earthy. Real flesh and blood people living messy lives and attempting to be honourable. That could be the story of any of us.
And back in the day the Russians thought Bob Gainey was the best hockey player on earth. I don't think Bruce Hunter is the best poet on earth, but he sure plays an admirable game.