Saying the Names Shanty by Harold Rhenisch
2017 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist
Harold Rhenisch made the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Saying the Names Shanty.
You can read Saying the Names Shanty by Harold Rhenisch below.
Saying the Names Shanty
for Al Purdy
It was Al who said it, to stick out the thumb's knuckle and nail, crook'd,
to say with a gesture where you want to get along to
and see who is going there too, with her hands on the wheel's leather
and the rubber taking the curves of the Crowsnest,
crossing the line from black tar's unwinding ribbon
into the riddle of headlights weaving between Similkameen deer and Arcturus.
That's where we're all going, isn't it, in the passenger seat's squeak and creak,
after being picked up in the rain at Snass Creek.
It's you and me in this old Chevy, crossing the Coast Mountains,
going where the heart beats, which is the one trick it knows well,
heading, as Al put it, to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Whachamacallit,
where I picked choke cherries in the Blackfoot wind,
and was emptied and filled in the same moment
the road is eddying across a thousand miles, thinking.
The Tulameen, Al said in his jack shirt,
knocking the road's cap off, the Spillimacheen, the Similkameen, tipping it back.
It was Al who gave the words for my tomato field in Keremeos,
beating it out with fingertaps on oilcloth in a green-painted kitchen:
his soul, that is, way out there, driving a Malibu over Anarchist to Greenwood,
through the black slag heaps to Grand Forks and east,
pushing a fire before him, as he put it, with his foot to the mat,
and Stan Rogers riding shotgun, and then, mercy,
coming on Franklin on the gravel shoulder outside of Moose Jaw with his thumb out.
That's what I'm talking about now, to you who're crossing the mountains with me,
who're maybe willing to take the wheel when I nod off on that long stretch between Creston
and Field where the pines say the name of the night over and over
and it sounds like the wind talking with two spirits. It is.
The road is its own map, not the other way round, and the names it knows us by
are the ways things keep right on going to right on going: q'awstikwt and sacred kllíkw,
with the thousand eyes, each a mouth for the sky, and the salt between them the star road.
Al is still walking with his thumb out there,
his soles crunching as he runs for our chrome handle. The radio
is still catching signals on the bends above So'yoos and losing them at Midway.
There's no figuring the human heart because it has no limbs and no limits.
The mountains are echoing Illecillewaet and Chopaka, the crackle
of gravel of the wheels bringing us home to the grass tanse.
There is no map to the pow wow that awaits us at sncuencutn. We follow the rain
and the light on the mountains, long after the beginning has ended,
and long before even its ends have unravelled to water
and the click click click clatter of trout's knock under the stars' milt and the flick
of the moon in high current and the cool brush of our hike into the txesqin,
to the ones who are waiting to ride us, not to Belleville this time, not to Al's Canada,
but to sqexe7 and tú?íken that are the sound of the land saying
the names that bring us home. Our bones, I mean. Our singing.
Read the other finalists:
- Tourists Stroll a Victoria Waterway by Cornelia Hoogland
- Carry by Sarah Kabamba
- Lunar Landing, 1966 by Laboni Islam
- Postcards for my Sister by Alessandra Naccarato
About Harold Rhenisch:
Harold Rhenisch is an editor, poet and fruit tree pruner from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. He is the father of two daughters, an apple collector, a gardener, an outdoor photographer, a cook and an explorer of the history of the Old West. In 2008 he travelled the Northern Camino through the former East Germany. In 2013, he was artist in residence at Klaustrid in East Iceland. He once played Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was typecasting.