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A gift of Island poetry: Edward MacDonald

KNITTING HEADS

I remember my father knitting heads.
Broad back pressed flat
against the rails of his chair,
he leans back,
one knee-bent, woolen-footed leg
braced against the window ledge.
Tension flows down
the sweather-thickened arm,
along the ladder of cotton twine,
to a nail anchored in the window sill. 

January thaw is come and gone
and frost thickens on the window panes.
Outside the yard is rusty iron.
A sea of wind tears at the seaweed
banked about the house,
as if to drive it back to the shore again.
A mile away the bay’s throat
is thick with ice
as the life beneath it crawls toward spring.

The fire in the woodstove hisses and pops,
and my father whistles
as he binds his twine wall row by row.
He works the polished wooden gauge
in and out and in again,
loops the boat-shaped needle
around and through, pulls taut:
each cotton knot rough
against the calloused ridges
of finger and thumb.
Come closer—
can you hear the needle faintly rasp
across the quivering twine?
Not too near the sawing elbow
or the quick, rough voice.
The sea teaches patience
slowly—if at all.

Out in the barn four hundred traps
are stacked in tiers a man-heave high:
alder bows bent nearly double
into sills, torn heads unmended.
Chinks of daylight shine like stars
in the dirty board-and-batten walls.
And all around them, dusty coils
of hemp, still salty to the taste,
sag from wharf-spikes, waiting.

The head is done.
My father cuts it free,
and slides it off the starter loop.
He stretches it for size;
a moment
the diamond mesh defines the air,
then joins the heap upon the floor.
The wind rattles the windowpanes,
but the winter sun is gaining strength.
My father begins to whistle again,
and knits.

—Edward MacDonald. The New Poets of Prince Edward Island. Ragweed Press, 1991. 

P.E.I. poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: John Smith

SIGNS OF LIFE ARE

Signs of life are everywhere. The garden
won’t stop growing. When we turned our backs, moss,
heather, thyme, violets, forget-me-nots, and strawberries
took over. As gardeners, they’ve proved among the best.

The text goes on repeating itself: the walls
are made of it. The dead were the designated
auditors, but since we’ve ceased to believe in them,
it’s become a way of life for the living.

He’s the oldest monk. No one is left who remembers
when he first materialized at the gate. The finger-stops on his flute
are a sunny April evening after six days’ rain. He plays

his own hills and valleys now, woods ways, waters ways.
The sacred books are pasture rocks against which
his sheep card their fleece into strands the length of the wind.

—John Smith. Strands the Length of the Wind. Ragweed Press, 1993. 

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: Julie Dennison

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

STORMY WEATHER, GEORGIAN BAY
after F. H. Varley, c. 1920  

You chose this vantage. Run with it: the wind—
from frail and clinging to the rock, to whatsoever
face a rippled world insinuates. Yes, run. Swirl
the cloak of many needles; green it green and,
reeling, ever greener; swing your sweeper to the
far-off, white-capped cohort, curling sage and wily
olive strokes into a spatter, flat against the split-rocked
shore. An azure streak? A scumble? Yes, but never roots

beyond the blue horizon. Who cares if the very blast that
whips white mist into a frenzy of philology, wrapping limbs
about you in a coat that is impossible to tear, then scuds you— 
close as you have ever been to scudding—into the stippled grey
of matter? For the moment, you are sunning on the outcrop,
running on the spot. And it is good for clouds to know their place.

—Julie Dennison. The Medium. Saturday Morning Chapbooks, 2003. 

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

 

A gift of Island poetry: Beth Janzen

Curated by Deirdre Kessler 

GHOSTS

They stood looking out
from every line
and nothing spoke to them.

They whispered to each other
and let their eyes roll up.
They ate the alphabet.

The trees budded, leafed, and coloured
The seasons passed unsung

The snake chewed a little more
of its tail each day until it disappeared.

It was so dark.

I waited and watched the trees.

Tonight the blossoms fall
like fireflies on my skin
and I hear again those syllables
that others have forgotten.

Beth Janzen. Night Vanishes. Saturday Morning Chapbooks, 2004.

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

 

A gift of Island poetry: Richard Lemm

I SHOULD HAVE FISHED WITH HERONS

I should have fished with herons,
scurried after the waves with plovers.
Honeysuckle might have sweetened my lips,
wind-bent spruce trees given shelter.
I could have sailed away in moonlight
when the sea played silver chords.

The stars still linger in my breath
those autumn nights when the air stings.

Memories lie among driftlogs on the shore,
glass floats from broken nets.
Geese pass by in the wakeful night,
the tide shifts to the moon’s measure.
I should have hunted with owls,
crept with fog over moist pastures.

The dew still gathers on my tongue
those mornings when I tell the earth my dreams.

—Richard Lemm. Dancing in Asylum. Pottersfield Press, 1982. 

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

 

A gift of Island poetry: Diane Morrow

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

LOON

The single lovely bird
in this sudden pond
beside the bike trail
startles.

Yes, it has the checkerboard back,
wide neck, definitely
not a cormorant.
I’ve never been this close to a loon before.

Its red eye
fixes me
before it flies.

I pedal away
blessed to be
its only human witness.

—Dianne Morrow. What Really Happened Is This. Acorn Press, 2011. 

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: Hugh MacDonald

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

THE SHAPE OF YOU

At first you were scraps
and fractals of form.
I would sleep and dream
fragments of laughter,
part of a smile, a glimpse
of your parting heels,
the fabric of a skirt.
Through time there whirled
a kaleidoscope of fractured forms,
a myriad of colours, gradually
slowing and settling into
momentarily stable shapes,
lines, curves, angles, slopes,
all in warm motion, attached
to a voice that in the same breath
calmed and excited, a presence
which filled and emptied,
satisfied and set me to craving,
never still but always constant,
as round and warm as the sun,
as cool and soothing as the moon,
a bed that never lost its comfort,
a roller coaster that never failed to thrill.

—Hugh MacDonald. This Is a Love Song. Black Moss Press, 2011. 

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: Renée Blanchette

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

MY HEART IS A WHEEL

My heart is a wheel,
or a whale fluke, a snail’s antenna,
a bat cave where a squirrel lives
and an unfurling tape measure.

You are the apostle,
and an angel,
a dewdrop,
a pen and a lighted porch
in the pre-dawn.
Definitely not an empty bucket
or curled leaves on the stair. 

Pain is a jungle panther
looking for prey,
leaving a phosphorous trail,
equatorial breadcrumbs
to undiscovered caves.

The youngest among us are prophets,
choir members in an airless chamber.

He is a vertical blind
and she is the unmade bed.
Dust motes
are
the eyes of god.

—Renée Blanchette. On a Blue Colander. Saturday Morning Chapbooks, Fourth Series, No. 1, 2014. PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

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