Today's book of poetry: Why does it feel so late? Simon Thompson. New Star Books. Vancouver, British Columbia. 2009.
Simon Thompson, who has a Bachelor Degree in Journalism, is a teacher in Terrace, B.C., and I'm sure he is a fine one. I would have been curious to see what he would have got up to as a journalist. Luckily for us, he's a poet.
The periodic table of elements holds us together
Two-stroke oil slick and saltwater,
creaking dock boats
scuff with the tide and bump hollow:
waterline, red, fibreglass hull, white.
Against the wind and tide
resistance is only an imperfect vacuum.
Wood splits with the clime;
there's no stopping a bolt of cedar splitting
along the grain.
It's a part of a larger scheme:
the periodic table holds us together.
These poems snuck up on me as I was reading this collection, the more I liked one poem, the more I liked the next, and so on.
How can you stand looking at the Skeena?
How can you stand looking into the glacial haze of the Skeena?
How can you stand to cross the bolted timbers of the old bridge?
Many suspect I grieve a secret
long since washed downstream.
A raven's wings in flight form a certain angle
and some read this as a sign of impending doom,
but the grey tissue of smoke hanging about the smouldering
the cottonwood pollen falling aimlessly into the water
is not a map or even a hint.
Some of these poems made me think of Alden Nowlan, but with a darker edge, a gentler voice.
Might as well wave a pencil
at the Skeena as it mysteriously
Might as well write my name
in the air with a blade of grass.
These poems and the experiences they describe sound and feel true which is always a good thing — but not nearly as important as whether they work, whether they tell a good story. Thompson doesn't hesitate to use refreshing brevity and humour along with his numerous other tools.
Why does it feel so late? has a sense of the impending, the animated dread that foreshadows what might befall us. It's tempered with his assurance that it doesn't matter, these things are already decided, or not, but they are out of our hands.
The famous Cedar Apartments
The rain has stopped
Pale kids emerge
from the Cedar Apartments
to play on the lumpy infield at the junior high;
their evening late fall shadows are stretched tall
to reach me.
I watch my daughter
as she makes laps of the track,
her newly made bicycle circles encapsulate me;
I walk behind
in circles of my own.
Old patterns and lines intersect
every time I take a walk,
the slump-shouldered crane-necked figure that is me.
I appear in old and damaged clothes
to be old and damaged.
Someone spent a lot of money on the school,
an architectural wonder of sheet metal
reflecting the shapes of a far-off range.
The word "fuck"
is painted in red letters on the library window,
the shadow of the word
falls on spinners full of paperbacks.
The apartment kids have no ball/no bikes:
they mill around,
mindlessly kicking the turf
with the toes of their basketball shoes.
One looks back to home;
television light emerges from sliding doors
over unused verandas piled high with junk.
The police go there every day,
pull people apart
to stop the yelling.
Our sun is swiftly eaten by a pregnant cloud,
flashes again and drops behind a western peak
on its way deep into the mountains.
Thompson surprised me again and again with his sense of direction, changing tone and volume on the slip of a phrase, upsetting expectations — but rewarding the reader at every turn.
This morning I ate pancakes
outside a grocery store.
The cook passed me a paper plate,
and said, "Thanks for helping the sick kids."
A local celebrity smiled at me,
and on her ankle
I saw a blue tattoo of a dolphin
jumping over a crescent moon
into the Milky Way.
I thought to myself
she must be in kind of hell
I don't yet recognize.