No 15 - September 2001
Postcards From Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, And Grand Man'aan
The silver fisherman’s shack tips backwards
away from the Bay of Fundy that’s rushing to fill up
like a tub. In the distance Cape Split,
a cracked plate, lies low and blue on the horizon,
while the setting sun oozes colors into the air
like a runny egg.
A tiny toy boat crosses the silver water.
Snow on the rooftops of Lunenberg
and ten schooners anchored in the harbor
resting after long voyages like black dogs
that lie on the hearth by the fire, dozing.
Clouds rush by. The ships need not stir
themselves. Bare trees wave like seaweed
above the frozen water of the harbor.
Seal Island Light
Red and white the piles of lobster buoys
and red-and-white-striped the lighthouse
like a tall buoy marking out the headland
for passing ships. And who might be crawling
up from the sea to drink tea with the lighthouse keeper?
The rocks are plaided with veins
of soft pink sandstone in lava crevices.
They are rampant on a field of foam like dinosaurs.
At the top of steep Lunenberg Hill
instead of a chocolate Bavarian castle
sits the Academy, an education for the New World’s child,
and hard work building great schooners,
dories like orange melon slices edged with green,
and fishing boats to let the ocean slip
through the carefully knotted fingers of nets,
to capture the gleaming silver fish coins.
The old houses cant sideways up the hill
that schoolboys could slide down on the ice.
The harbor would hold more interest than books
while waves rocked the cradle all lives long.
The barque John A. Harvie
with fourteen bloated sails held stiffly
on three masts and a bowsprit
crossed the Atlantic Ocean twenty-one times
before being wrecked in 1880.
In the Wettering painting she breasts a storm
buoyant as a toy ship launched in a bottle.
The high-browed child carved by George Crouse
faces forward without a twitch or a fidget.
Made of wood with a scraped forehead, a missing nose,
and an arm cut of f at the shoulder--
he is straight, with his high collar, like a soldier.
With his one hand (the left) he holds his ribs
as if stricken with appendicitis.
His eyes are small and intent on a future long past.
He is the sole survivor in Crouse’s oeuvre--
figureheads for ocean bottom-travelling ships.
Make no mistake. This is an Annunciation.
Fog makes the scene small and well-focussed
like a stage prepared for the kindergarten play.
In the foreground three dories are strung together
like grey fish, casting mackerel shadows under them.
A white gull hovers in midflight, stage front,
like the white dove in the painting
that brings a lily in its mouth
to a terrified peasant girl.
The foreground is crowded with lupines. Purple, pink,
and white, they point to where a well-
worn turquoise lobster boat lies
half in and half out of the water.
The houses cling like barnacles to the rock.
The fiercest storm will not tear them off.
Now a half mile back from the sea--
a beached whaling port--
Elizabeth Bishop’s birthplace
remembers her dimly. In the tea room,
the gift shop, the antique store,
people were unsure which house was hers
among the wooden rows marching up and down hill.
The school she went to is still there
in white clapboard--a child’s idea of a school.
The smithy, whose clear-toned hammering was like
the clapper of a bell, no longer drowns out
her mother’s lunatic screams
when her black mourning dress
was changed for purple.
Bras D’Or Lake
I took the cork out of the bottle and began to pour.
It was a Nova Scotia wine, golden and herbal,
from the Jost Vineyards or Grand Pré.
It was like beginning to remember poetry
that had been sealed up in a bottle of prose
and had slowly, very slowly, fermented there.
Houses are colored in powdery pastels.
Clouds, flung out in aerial perspective,
speed across the sky. The boats, part of a slower
water grid, also diminish in size
with distance. The “Jeannine” in front,
nudging the splintery wharf, dwarfs the other boats
with her triangular prow as large as the whole fleet.
Snow without fog, a cold clear night.
The grey rocks hold waterfalls of snow.
As the lighthouse beacon becomes brighter
the blue horizon becomes less distinct
until distant islands are slight pressures
in the blue ink line as it sketches Ocean and
returns to fill in a watercolor wash.
New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island
At the New Glasgow Lobster Supper, tables
hold rolls and butter, mussels, lobsters,
lemon meringue pies with tall sea foam,
and bowls of cucumber and cauliflower pickle.
The waitress who looks like a farm boy
urges us to overeat, proffering apple pie
and strawberry shortcake.
Every little girl must have her picture
taken at “Green Gables” among the dahlias.
Maud Montgomery’s crazy quilt is at Silver Bush
and the turbulent sea-borne salt air is there, too,
behind the old barn in the winding braid of wheat and rye.
Her birthplace is humble, next to a gas station.
When Maud Montgomery was two, this house
emptied out after her mother died.
Her father dropped her with his wife’s people
and left for Saskatchewan to remarry
and father blonde children. What Maud lost
at two forced her to see her island
as a cradle her mother had rocked her in.
This is Toad Town where potato fields
rib the island, making green stripes in red clay soil.
The plants grow on long mounds with deep ditches
between, like the graves in the Argyle cemetery
where every mound held a body ready to sprout.
Seal Harbour, Grand Mana’an
A plain grey room with maple doors bolt upright,
furniture from thrift shops. Colors are odd,
haphazard, as if the owner were blind.
A grey bedspread is next to an empty pink bookcase.
Bible pamphlets are conveniently placed in every drawer.
On the wall one image: a blonde potato girl
holding a doll and a smoking oil lamp.
The words say: “Jesus is the Light.”
Southwest Head Light
White feathers of foam float two hundred feet
below, around dark red and black cliffs.
Pungent yellow daphnes cling to the slopes,
creating toeholds for birds but not for people.
I imagine falling down into the green water.
Writers have been drawn to this island.
Elizabeth Bishop and Willa Cather were here.
John Berryman, staying with Robert Lowell,
longed to walk under the ocean water
from Damariscotta Mills to Grand Mana’an.
The man in shorts and short rubber boots
rows out to tend to the weir.
The weir is far out in Whale Cove,
a spiral of sticks, each stick a heron’s leg.
His white boat gets smaller and smaller,
and returning, larger and larger.
He winches it up onto the rocky beach
with a winching machine run on gasoline.
The fishermen drive their pickup trucks
down the dirt roads to stare out
at the horizon, pondering.
They carry on conversations from truck
to truck. One fisherman straddles his dory and
pushes her out into the cove nonchalantly
like a man stepping into a tub full of hot water.
The quality control officer tastes the sardines
after they’re cooked in the factory cookpots.
His job disappears when the fish disappear,
in November, December, February, and May.
He has eight children, all that “God has
given me, so far.” He saves money by driving
an old Rambler and running a bed and breakfast--
NO SMOKING, NO LIQUOR, NO COMMON LAW.
He’s a control freak, a television Baptist, and life’s
a spider web for the spider hanging over the pit of hell.
Liver-colored bruises mark his face as he controls his terror.
In the Grand Mana’an Museum we chat
about Willa Cather. She spent twenty summers
listening to the silence of Whale Cove.
Her house is now occupied and “very, very private.”
Southwest Head Light
We were too late for the sunset. So we drove fast
to watch the soundless ocean knit and purl,
ravelling and unravelling the fine white yarn
so carefully around each rock, as if making
a buttonhole. The laser and beacon kept up
their desolate flashing without a lighthouse keeper.
The sun never reaches into this harbor
where the fishermen harvest dulse,
packing it into special compartments
in their dories. They live in tiny shacks
almost at the lugubrious water’s edge.
Indian River, Prince Edward Island
The largest wooden church on Prince Edward Island,
Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church,
built in 1843, was burned down in a fire
ignited by lightning in 1896, then rebuilt
with its pointed round tower and
statues of twelve apostles in 1902.
Most other churches by then were built of stone.
The wooden churches are like wooden boats,
their naves built ribbed like ship’s hulls.
Thinking of them as upside down boats,
left out to rot in boat cemeteries,
weathering into triangles--black and grey,
brown and green, rusty gold and white--
I think the spire is a keel.
The second time we went to the cliffs at Red Point
on Grand Mana’an, we saw the geologists’ heaven
where headlands butted headlands and played
piggy back and leapfrog, hot lava squeezing into cracks
and fissures, cooling in tubes and bubbles, grinding
away at surfaces already formed millions of years before.
The crevice between black and red rock, covered
with sand and windfalls of trees, seemed simple and
undramatic, like a cracked tombstone.
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
In the Highlands, ravaged by fires, you’re in Scotland
really, the same light, the same geography, pulled
across the ocean on a tectonic plate. That explains
why a bagpiper was walking up and down the road,
skirling one melancholy tune after another, as if
someone had died. Clog dancing and Gaelic
were being taught in a school, whole families
spending their vacations near Baddeck, where Alexander
Graham Bell lived with his deaf wife and invented the telephone.
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- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
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- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The