Robert Currie is a Saskatchewan poet with six collections out and a novel, Living With the Hawk, his first, about to be published this spring. He lives in Moose Jaw, which is substantial city, but his concerns are mostly rural (Saskatchewan is mostly prairie farmland and bush in the north). And if you have read your Farley Mowat (e.g. The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be) you would know that growing up Saskatchewan in a certain era was all about the outdoors, the weather, the seasons, fishing, bird migration, shooting — this was near the Age of Innocence before hunting and fishing became signs of ecological imperialism. It was also a time when your parents would let you bounce around in the back of a pickup truck (without fear of arrest for child endangerment) and teachers used the strap — all of which are things I remember. “Under the Blanket” is a charming, sweet depiction of youthful sexual exploration (while bouncing around in the bed of a pickup truck) and “The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills” is a gorgeous poetic welding of winter and wild horses (beautiful galloping lines). “He Visits His Ex-Wife” is a looney, ever so touchingly comic poem about the poet visiting his demented ex in a home (you don’t know it’s a home till the end) where she tells him an unsettling and inscrutable tale about an elderly couple eaten by bears. These are poems from another world in both time and geography and it’s a great pleasure to introduce them here.
UNDER THE BLANKET
Our fathers were singing in the front seat,
driving back to town for a block of ice,
our mothers in the shack at the lake,
frying chicken on the wood stove,
patting the sweat from their faces,
cotton aprons raised from the waist.
The two of us rode in the back seat,
an Indian blanket over our heads,
you a year older than I, both of us
giggling, waiting for the next bump
to bounce us together. You leaned
toward me, breath stroking my right ear,
and whispered, “Now’s your chance.
Do you want to see?” I did
and I didn’t. Unable to speak,
I nodded my head and waited
in the snug world of the blanket,
my mind anxious, wheeling with wonder.
I saw your lips twist into kind of a smile
before we lowered our heads and looked down:
your brown thighs tanned from days at the beach,
your hands tugged at your shorts, your panties,
sliding them down, a mound untouched by sunlight,
and in the smooth white flesh directly below
an improbable groove that stopped my breath
and altered forever the gait of my heart.
We must have reached the ice-house then.
When I came up from under the blanket
the first thing I saw was my father
handing me a chip of ice in a cracked cup.
I remember the slippery feel of it,
cold and hard on my tongue,
and how quickly it melted away.
THE DAYS RUN AWAY LIKE WILD HORSES OVER THE HILLS
(from a title by Charles Bukowski)
The weeks gallop from summer into September,
gallop away from the lake, a sheen of ice by the shore.
Hoofbeats hammer the gulch where deer hide from the hunter,
echo across a dry slough; a last goose cries in the empty sky.
The weeks snort at a sliver of moon, shiver in the night
of the coyote, its chill call stretching across the land.
Snow obscures the moon, now frost-bitten, withered,
and piles into gullies and hollows deep in the hills.
The nights grow long; the weeks grow shaggy and lean.
They lunge and plough through drifts that plug the valley.
Where the wind whips the hillside almost bare,
they paw at the snow, their jaws tearing the grass.
Winter lodges among them, the frozen carcass of winter,
and spring, next spring, will it ever come?
Bunched together in the lee of a thicket,
the wild horses neigh and neigh and neigh.
HE VISITS HIS EX-WIFE
When I entered the room, she smiled and said,
“Their cabin was nearly as dark as that,”
and she pointed to the wall by her bed,
an echo of sunshine from the open window.
“Uncle Henry liked to fly-fish in the mornings
and Aunt Lil always baked bread in the kitchen.
I suppose it was the smell that brought them around.
The bears, I mean. I love the smell of bread myself.
When it’s golden brown and fresh from the oven
you can’t wait to tear off a piece of the crust.
People said they were both eaten by bears,
but I never believed a word of it.
Uncle Henry was big as a bear himself
and Aunt Lil never cared to go fishing.”
She nodded at the TV set, which was off.
“You can see how dark the room is.
Looks kind of spooky, doesn’t it?” She laughed.
“Maybe the bears got in after all.
You know, you can just make them out, there
in the breakfast nook, across from each other,
Uncle Henry and Aunt Lil sharing a meal.
As much in love as the day they were married.”
She reached out then and took my hand.
“I think I’ll write the papers, tell them the truth.”
She gave my fingers a squeeze. “Thanks for coming.
It was really nice to meet you” And later,
driving away from the home, I thought,
somehow she’s still as pleasant as ever,
and I was glad again that I’d come.
Chick showed me once exactly
how to set a snare on a rabbit trail.
I took five feet of copper wire
from my father’s basement workbench,
folded it into my loose-leaf binder,
took it to school. No branches here
to pin to the ground, I wrapped the wire
around the steel leg of my desk,
looped it into a noose, twisted a slip-knot,
set the noose upright in the aisle.
Mrs. Dornan checking arithmetic books,
moved ever closer down the row,
paused at Kenny’s desk in front of me,
side-stepped slowly backward, the noose
slipping over her shoe, tightening,
the twist of wire tearing her stocking.
When, hands shaking, I finally got her free,
she pointed to the cloak-room door,
drew from the centre drawer of her desk
the strap, thick black leather. “For you,”
she said and followed me out of sight.
Oh man, that strap, I must’ve been crazy.
At last I lifted my hand. Strove to hold it still.
“You like to play games so much, try this.”
She raised the strap, slammed it hard
four times against the far wall. Frowned.
“You behave yourself,” she said, “or else
the class will learn what happened here.”
BEYOND THE OPEN WINDOW
It’s true, just the other afternoon,
when I’m at rest in my easy chair,
a glass of whiskey handy as my elbow,
a good novel propped upon my knee,
my right arm disengages from my shoulder, the hand
flips me the finger and goes with it, sailing out the window,
its flight erratic as a wing stripped from an erring angel.
Unable to attain heights remotely close to heaven,
the arm wavers near the ground, rising for a few seconds,
then brought down by gravity, dipping so low it terrifies
a cocker spaniel peeing on a pole, sends the dog
howling home before it strikes a garbage bin,
bounces to the curb, ricochets away, off-kilter,
tumbling end over end down the street
where people work, men with blistered hands
wheeling cement across a concrete pad
to other men with shovels, trowels and floats.
Beyond them a guy who drives a backhoe
rubs away the sweat that runs toward his eyes.
Shuffling along the sidewalk a street person
wonders if anyone is hiring labourers today
and asks to see the foreman. He doesn’t notice
the arm clip a girder where a wall will go,
doesn’t see it skid across a gravel pile, pausing
to shake off dust that covers scratches at the elbow.
The arm shudders and hoists itself upright, the hand
raising a thumb as if it might want
to hitchhike home to me.
Robert Currie is a poet and ﬁction writer who lives in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He is the author of six books of poetry, including YARROW (Oberon, 1980) and WITNESS (Hagios, 2009). He served two terms as Saskatchewan Poet Laureate (2007 – 2010). In 2012 he delivered the Anne Szumigalski Memorial Lecture at the conference of the League of Canadian Poets. His tenth book, a novel, LIVING WITH THE HAWK, will be published by Thistledown Press in the spring of 2013. In 2009 he received the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.