Afterwords


A Muse’s Calendar

                                        Poems are like dreams: in them you put
                                        what you don’t know you know.

                                                                              —Adrienne Rich  
[Page 431]
 

 

January
Susanna Moodie
1803-1885

 

 
you painted yourself
                                    vividly
in words and wild flowers
becoming more and more Canadian
                    more and more pioneer
5
tanned by the brute sun
conceding even
            the value of dandelions

in winter
you mourned china
10
shattered in the snow

composed a sleigh bell song
leaning on the shanty door
waiting for your husband

a small tame tinkling
15
shored against the howling
of wolves and storm and cracking ice

one poem laments
the hand on the mane
of the Otonabee

20

the footnote most true

            the banks of the river have
            since been denuded of trees
            the rocks that formed
            the falls and rapids
25
            have been blasted out
            it is tame enough now

I grieve for wildness gone [Page 433]

 

February
Rosanna Leprohon
1829-1879

 

your poems are avés
emerging from the black folds
of nuns who raised you

pleading the cause of Canadian winters

What! dare to rail at our snow-storms, why

5
not view them with poet’s or artist’s eye?

I try to see
snowshoes as winged sandals of Mercury
icy maples as gem-laden trees
of Arabian Nights

10

but slush seeps into my boots
and ice is a dirty collar
on the cold neck of the river

even you turned
from the storm on the bay

15
to candles and kin within

the first of thirteen
given as winter falls
taken as summer blooms
frost-like lace

20
of his tiny garments
banished to the attic

you, the doctor’s wife
like that other doctor/poet
gazing from the window

25
as a child’s life
hangs between worlds [Page 434]

so much depends
upon

a red wool
30
mitten

glazed by small
breath

against the white
snow [Page 435]

35

 

March
Agnes Maule Machar
1837-1927

 

your prim, high-collared
blouse unbuttons

to reveal a rebel heart
beating for Laura Secord
Glooscap, and Riel

5
beating for islands
that bewitch

you cherished this nation
and what you said of it
became a part of what it is

10

you were not swayed by friends
who wrote from warm places
framed in vine and olive boughs

I too receive postcards from the volcano
my sister writing from Greece, Mexico

15
the sunny south of France
sparkling white villas spilling down
to seas of unbearable blue

here in Canada winter lingers
and I am hungry with longing

20

next summer I will store up
sweet lessons for the wintry days

out of pine and sumach and granite
build a landscape to sustain
in seasons of sorrow and sodden leaves [Page 436]

25

 

April
Isabella Valancy Crawford
1850-1887

 

our Emily
who also dreaded that first robin

you call spring
the Ariel of the year
a tricksy spirit

5
who helps you sing

but in poem after poem
you are the cloven pine
fearing the silver fangs
of axe and agony

10

the fancy so far
from the facts
of your life

          drunken father
          dying family
15
          defective heart

a darkness shot through
with thin golden nerves of sly light

so perfectly you render
the night as a stag

20
hunted by the dawn

I read of a majestic and
dusty brocade sculpture
you created for a child
in need of sea change [Page 437]

25

elephants and Rajahs
barely showing the punctures
where the needle went in
and out again

I should go and see

30
your embroidered kingdom
just off the 401
but the black ribbon insists

I am always on my way
elsewhere

35
like the spring [Page 438]

 

May
Ethelwyn Wetherald
1857-1940

 

everywhere harbingers
of spring
your poems an aviary

robin, chickadee, humming bird, sparrow
but also ugly inarticulate cousins

5
bat and screech owl
a feathered handful of gray grief

you sing
a vehement kinship
with loneliness and loss

10
in all the languages rivers teach

they dismiss you
as a mere warbler
chirping from a treehouse nest
though you were famous once

15

even Earl Grey wrote to you
and bought The Last Robin
for all his friends

now when I drink a cup of tea
I think of you and

20
patterns in the leaves
I do not know how to read [Page 439]

 

June
Susan Frances Harrison
1859-1935

 

early summer lichen
is writing
in God’s orange own alphabet

but purple is your favoured shade
            thistles, throats of pigeons
5
            veins in a delicate eyelid
            summer shadows of distant pines

an amethyst we found
my father had made
into a ring for my mother
10
his February girl

for years it was lost
under the bookshelf
because no one thought
to look for treasure

15
under the weight of words

you began there
Toronto-born yet loving England
Tintern Abbey and all those
mossy places gracious in decay

20

but when you sang
you sang of our flowers
not theirs

            blood root, trillium
            Indian pipe, moccasin flower
25

            wild rice and winter green


long before Kroetsch you said
plant them see what grows [Page 440]

 

July
Pauline Johnson
1861-1913

 

mariners all are we, says Susan

even stuffy old Agnes
apparently had the knack

but for you it is
icon, touchstone

5
a place to listen for
the loud crisp whiteness
of the nearing rain

the open shirt of a Canadian July
reveals a splendid sunburnt throat

10
a muscled brown arm
across the gunwale’s curve

wildcat the name of your canoe
portage and drifting your metaphors
water’s surface a border

15
between reflection and real

you yourself a border place
beginning in deer skin and feathers
ending in Victorian bustle and lace

            Tekhionwake/Pauline
20
    Double Wampum/Sister of Napoleon
                           poet/performer
                  performer/poet

distinctions are
marred or made
25
by the paddle blade [Page 441]

 

August
Annie Charlotte Dalton
1865-1938

 

you came last to this land
bearing deafness
and burnt umber

Canadian poetry you said
will become like a painting

5
by Lawren Harris
Algonquin in August
Rockies in June
a wonderful suggestion
of light
10

you sang the silent zone
where ships founder
just beyond the reach
of sounds that save

I remember a deaf girl

15
on my school bus
her words gurgling strangely
over the tiny bones
of my hard young ears

hammer, anvil, stirrup

20
water over stone

bitter the absence
of sound to you
who enjoyed seven years of music

you called yourself an unlit candle

25
ashes and monotony instead
of flame and adventure
and yet you dared to carol this country [Page 442]

knees deep in pine and cedar grove
she strides her streams and calls for love
30

you learned to read her lips
erode an answer [Page 443]

 

September
Sophia Hensley
1866-1946

 

everyone wrote
an Indian summer poem but you
who escaped to other seasons
New York, London, Channel Islands

still your truest poems

5
are haunted by home
            soft-tongued tide
            touching a familiar shore
            a mackerel weir standing
            like a fire-swept forest
10
withered by war
            was there someone you loved
            over there in the maze
            of trenches that end to end
            stretched round the world?
15

this Indian summer
we swim in Lake Erie
water so warm for September
huge horse flies
buzz over us like bombers
20
dead fish float belly up
silvered by sun

and I envy
the world you knew
with its lakes still exquisitely clear

25
its citizens rugged and real

            apple orchards dropping yellow fruit
            goldenrod darkened by the first frost

then I remember the trenches [Page 444]

 

October
Katherine Hale
1878-1956

 

now another one has come
who is herself at war

discontent
with shelling peas on porches
behind the white picket fence

5

driven northward
to listen to an old old song
while an autumn forest
explodes in flame
            death does not come creeping
10
            as it comes to men
            it comes shouting, waving banners
            burning out its way with torches
your words reach me
like a language I know
15
because you were the last
to die as obscene odes
were published on the windows
of the skull
and Russians dreamed
20
a dog into space

you whispered the past
            a Cree girl called
            one who looks on stars
            a pioneer woman
25
            as much a hunter as a wife
            a birthing where wolves
            kept savage company
while all around you
the present was perishing
30
in a loud flurry of crimson [Page 445]

 

November
Louise Morey Bowman
1882-1944

 

I find photographs of them all
wearing silly hats or serious eyes
but your image is the last
to surface

also black and white

5
though you sought colour where it could be found
craving even at your funeral, that last hour
at least one dancer and one crimson flower

in November you visit
a village store, sober and austere

10
            white salt, black cloth
            gray wool, brown books

but somehow in the Puritan dusk
piled in a miraculous pyramid
oranges burn through the smouldering gloom

15

next time I sail out for groceries
through bitter wind and snow
I chide myself for ingratitude

when I find the jungle brought near
                    the tropics bestowed
20

            mangoes, kiwi, pomegranate
            lemons, bananas, passion fruit

so much
I take for granted

our world so prismatic

25
it makes me blind [Page 446]

 

December
Marjorie Pickthall
1883-1922

 

at Christmas you think of Mary
not serene as men have painted her

but tired in the straw
turned inside out by
travail of the light

5

you said
keep the world forever at the dawn
but we have stumbled into day
when light corrodes like acid
and even steel is scarred and scored
10

your poems hallow
what does not endure
violets in the asylum garden
april snow and sea foam
moonlight’s drowning sluice of silver
15

you buried manuscripts
with your mother’s body
and felt your own decay

many threw eloquence
after you

20
like fistfuls of earth

attempting poetry
in this age of greed and glitter
I look to you and your sisters

teach me [Page 447]

25
how to write
honouring ephemera

how to live
worthy of elegies [Page 448]