between the raw lakes between the
creeks the volcanic province builds
difference into silence buzzing the
ravines with the Great Wall of thought
so that even the currents of air sculpt
the shape the water makes holds all its
early information in stones and sound
of water over creekstone lava done the
way flow talks that little hidden
fender of itself to measure whatever’s
in the way not a mistake just a fissure
an isolated vent where the water will
find around the rocks intentional waves
an invert floor of floating worlds
another culvert for an old old story
the one that feels the river one way
and the other way downstream basalt
news the Pasco basin middle voice still
ebbs and speaks. And there are cracks.
Igneous is everything.
Twin basalt Tsimshian masks. One looks in and back and the other looks out and forwards.
I asked her about her “alarm buddy,” an alarm buzzer they’re given to wear around their necks for emergencies. She seems to have misplaced it. So we comb through her apartment. She goes to the dresser in her bedroom and opens a shallow drawer filled with little things, some jewelry, pins and strings and buttons and cases and little boxes and memorabilia from 93 years of a life. She stands looking into that drawer and shuffling through it continually for a long time, maybe 10-15 minutes before I go up to her and ask her what she’s looking for. She doesn’t know. Says “there’s sure a lot of junk in here” and keeps picking up items, fondling, continually sifting, looking but not looking.
How to look when you don’t know what you’re looking for?
Is she looking inward (and backwards) or outward (not forwards but for words)
Her dementia here is an act of some kind of trans-. She is, in fact, in a trance.
Questions and Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Yes. Although I had been writing some very derivative poetry while I was studying music at UBC in the early 1960s, I happened to take Warren Tallman’s English 406 poetry course and got turned on to New American poets like Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson, along with a bunch of other young poets at UBC. We started our own mimeographed poetry magazine (TISH) and soon were involved in a fairly large international poetry community. I think I was inspired to explore both a new and contemporary as well as engage with this larger community. It is the aspect of community, working and talking with others interested in the same kind of poetry, that has sustained me for over sixty years.
How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?
This is a “double” and it reflects very much the way I like to work in the poetry mind. The first part is a kind of floating text in that it was residue from a collaborative writing project involving the Columbia River (beholden: a poem as long as the river). One of those “stabs” in gathering the language left over in a notebook. But I always try to pay attention to how content resonates and in this case I was interested in folding it into a chunk of blog writing I’d done about my mother’s fall into dementia. The hinge is twin stone Tsimshian masks documented by Wilson Duff titled images stone b.c. and highlighted in Phyllis Webb’s wonderful book of poetry Wilson’s Bowl. The little bell that rings, in this case, is the “basalt.” A particular word. It’s lovely how a word can sometimes be a door between two rooms. The two stone masks (identical except one is sighted and the other unsighted) reflect, for me, a condition of the mind at work in dementia.