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PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2009 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ghost in the Wheels
Selected Poems of Earle Birney

More of the book.

STILL MORE of the book.

Man on a Tractor

What does he think
that man on a tractor
unrolling the earth's flesh
in multiple ribands behind him?
Sometimes perhaps he reckons
while rhythmic spirals of dust whirl to his throat
the hours and their fractions
till by the well he can hose his puckering skin
By God it's going to be different now
with a wife at the end of day
and turning my own soil

His thoughts jog back through the burglared years
as he wheels at a corner and faces
across the coulee the barn of his old boss
remembers the long oilcloth at supper
busy with flies and chewing
the draggletailed farmwife doling old ham and custard
This is better for sure
though the brute sun
burns him still on the naked land
and the light will dim before the chores of the day are done

Yet the throb of the iron seat
blurs in his mind with the days when he bruised his bones
driving in lines more devious
clamouring over Italian cobbles or scrub or bodies
rocking as he coughed in the fumes and waited
a shell's conclusion
Peering through olives he sometimes had fancied a flash
of chequered Albertan stubble or dreamt from a ruin
the gasoline hatbox marking the lay of this town
where the giant nostril of war inhaled and exhaled him
Now with the prairie breeze around me
why do I daydream of tanks
and gulping compo with buddies
scattered forever or dead?

He loved that clanking demon no more than the shark
is loved by its pilot-fish
What does he want?
Does he need for ever to hunt and be hunted?
I have come through with my hands and feet
and won the right to plow black earth of my own

yet sprouting thicker than wheat, he thinks,
are the towers of its traders

And now the shake of the tractor blurs to the flatcar
he and his brother rode through the stammering prairie
into the fountaining woods and the mountains
They had watched the olive lakes unreel
and the flying rivers milked
with the grist of the glaciers
inching down from the dazzling peaks
Could it be only eight years ago
that we munched a stale handout
planned against yardbulls ahead
and shivering envied even the trees
that could shed their ragged clothes in the autumn
and sleep indifferent to jobs or an empty belly?

Envying more the tourists moving among the spruce
the peacock Americans riding through resinous woods
the glistening girls in canoes on cool lakes
For their faces were dustless and blank with ignorance
of tractors or kicks in the rump or three-day hungers
Something the kid said as we jolted along
"It's because of them that we're here"
We squabbled then while the train puffed up the pass
I called him a red "You can't blame tourists
They're just lucky that's all; our time will come"

While the heat of the pedal soaks through his boot
this plowman eats old words in the dust
They'll be there again, he thinks, the shining faces
the chosen few who sleep in the summer mountains
eyes innocent now of tanks as then of tractors
and ears unpierced by the whistle of cop or bomb
But the kid's luck held no farther than Caen

It's not the tourists, he knows, who've robbed him
first of a job and food and then of his brother --
but their lives are consent to all that has been
They live by the throb of this iron in his chest
by the alternation of tractor, boxcar and tank
that others ride and sweat and hunger and die in
while the sleek and their children paddle the glittering rivers
and fish by the friendly fir through a summer's glory
then wing as easy as birds to the soft south
when poplars blazon the long winter's assault

"You just want what they have" I cracked at the kid
And so by Christ why not?
I'd like to see chalets for farmhands
and the boys who are left at the tank troop
There's room enough in the mountains
for them and for tourists
Yet he knows as he turns at the south fence and sees
an oil truck flouring up dust on the section road
it's not mountains I want nor buddies
but to to feel it won't happen all over again

If the crops from these smoking furrows
the ache in his back, the smile of his wife
were lines in the map of a reasoned future
without booby traps and hidden mortars of class
and the doom forever poised in the world's heaven
then could he sit resolute on this tractor as once in a tank
and the bones of his brother have meaning

And perhaps his moods as he peels the expectant earth
are not so odd to some of his troop
who bore again with argued drills in the damp of mines
or leap to couple treacherous freightcars
or twist the bolts on other tractors for other farmers

but strange no doubt these thoughts of a man on a tractor
to some of the cool tourists
moving on hired ponies under the poised avalanche

Train from Medicine Hat 1945

(-- pgs. 37-39)

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Inventing the Hawk
By Saskatchewan songbird Lorna Crozier

Hedge your bets against inflation.

More of the PokerPulse Gambler's Guide to Poetry.


Moving away from winter, he retires
to the coast, westering, mile zero,

land's end. And what of a garden
I ask? Is there room for that?

Yes, but of a different kind
from the ones he remembers,

the sweet peas his mother planted,
her hands pale spiders in the earth,

the cabbage and potatoes, the anemone
of dill, the rows of beans and beans.

On the coast the soil is thin, a linen
napkin over stones. There, he says,

he'll grow different things, some basil, a little thyme. He plants the seeds already

in his mind, no fear of frost,
the summer's long, herbs grow

on stony constellations, air
moves in from the sea with its smells

of eternity
. Back where he was born
his mother now would be soaking seeds

in a shallow bowl, snow outside the window.
He'd give anything to be there.

crossing time as if it were
a landscape he had dreamed, a garden

large enough to hold desire. She
spreads the packages of seeds

like a deck of cards on the kitchen table,
a royal flush, a winning hand.

She lets him rearrange the rows,
placing peas by broccoli,

carrots by tomatoes, marigolds
along the border. On the coast

he says the names out loud:
Early Bird. Sweet William. Everlasting.

He can see the sun breaking up
the clouds, pools of light

along the window sill, the oilcloth
his mother wipes and wipes,

setting supper plates for people
he'll never see again,

he and she in another time, waiting
for the earth to tilt.

(-- pgs. 117-118)

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