Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cypress by Barbara Klar

Insomnia, Fear of Rain

In the high sleep, half sleep, unfinished business
booms in the west like the speed of blue horses
faster than running, forests knock me down.
I fear the gods, their rain drowning air,
the liquid flesh of thunder in the dirt road
out, impassible, impossible. When it rains
in the Cypress Hills there is no leaving,
dawn to its axles in mud, hills circling
like a posse of silence. I will fight them.
My fear of heights and death and dentists
and mistakes and love and water
will fight them, my fallen fears,
their black cones flowering the bone
across my chest with the fear
of never being found, the fear
of hills forever, the fear
in my throad:

Cypress (London ON: Brick Books, 2008) is a third poetry collection by Saskatoon-area author Barbara Klar, after The Night You Called Me a Shadow (1993) and The Blue Field (1999), both published by Regina's Coteau Books. If you ask anyone in Saskatchewan, I'm sure they'll tell you that the prairie isn’t as flat as all that, perhaps even telling you of the Cypress Hills, site of the infamous massacre, and how it the highest point between Labrador and the Rocky Mountains, but you might already know that. This collection is almost like a collage, poems working on different angles of the small point of earth known as the Cypress Hills, an expression of the range of movement through the author's own pilgrimages through the area, writing poems on the trees, on rocks and flowers and various local histories, and poems written as letters to a writer or two, whether to the late writer Wallace Stegner, who wrote the book Wolf Willow (his house is also currently a writers' retreat, where Klar once held residence), or this one, to the late poet John Newlove, who considered himself (despite his final seventeen years in Ottawa) a Saskatchewan poet:

A Letter for Newlove

You probably don’t remember me. We met
when I was twenty-two on an ugly couch
in a roomful of people in Regina in November,
people talking about your words and the end
of birds. I'd like to live a slower live too,
I think I said. You were an awkward comrade
referring to yourself in the third person, your demons
rustling in the scotch-guarded flowers,
in your snow-haired wing, your open ear.

Where your prairie climbs the Cypress Hills
the flickers hunt in little armies and the living
finally talk to the dead. I am talking, talking,
sorrow in the soft grey chests of the armies,
their brother's wing breaking by a ranchyard
somewhere, a flicker in the dust from the school bus
on the first day of school, the children wiser
than they'll ever be, the coral-red crescent
leaving the nape of the year. A girl gets off
the bus and wants to save him when he needs
a club to smash him into the afterlife
and the summer I was twelve I found
a knocked-out pigeon under the railroad bridge,
made him live in a cage until he loved me. I don’t
know how to be unless it gets me something.
The flicker knows the only perfect word,
a war cry, and it leaves a grave more beautiful
than any of your poems, not by much,
just a bit, dear John: I'm leaving
the world. Is there anything you need
up there? I'll bring it the last time I leave here,
the long trucks carrying the cattle to slaughter
and the school bus going home.

This isn’t necessarily the kind of poetry that I gravitate toward, but I find her poems around both the geography of the place and even the idea of the place rather interesting. Apart from the letters, which are somewhat intriguing, the poems I find most compelling aren’t the ones broken into couplets or stanzas, holding the break between lines and other spaces, but the ones that exist as a kind of accumulation, written in a kind of long continuous flow, such as "Insomnia, Fear of Rain" or this one:

Gravity, The First Tower Road

I am born into the sound for hills,
the weighted singing. The bird
was my mother, her feathers are stone
and bones are hollow rattles. The bird
was my father, soon he will be flying
up the steep road that leads to a tower.
I climb, mostly lung, breathing and breathing
our song of constant air. I am the bird who walks
on feathers, early animal, syllable, seed
of the strong race of deer. When I fly
it is a running, the wings of grass is a family
for my hooves. My song is not a sigh
but a remembering: left, my heavy wing
before the right one, the sun pressing blood
from the grasses. I walk and walk until
tomorrow and tomorrow. I curl
at the feet of pines.
I wait.

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