Harris said: Cast
your Indian stuff aside,
find totems of your own.
And I did,
for he spoke
what I had left
unspoken in my heart.
When the forest was dry enough
I edged my
way down between the boles,
found solace
in the water-soft quiet.

And here I am again,
a latecomer this spring
to Heaven’s gate,
the forest a tinderbox
locked against me.
A heavy mail of darkness
chains the cedars.
They cannot move.
Even their branches
won’t ease back,
let me pass.
I could stand before them
a thousand years,
never know I’m here.

Sit on your camp-stool,
old fool, and think.
Get out your journal,
think a way in
between the trees.
These cedars are older
than Adam.
God had no voice and spoke only
in forms.

‘Forest;’, ‘tree’,

cones overlapping and wrapped
in darkness, impenetrable
as one’s heart.
Now, drawn to the forest edge,
I am one of His thoughts—

It’s almost dawn.
The first light rolls
off the cedars.
They shimmer, wet
windows, turn black-

That little pine

in the foreground,
the first and last of this race,
could be the centre.
It shines from within:
bronze light cracks through
its crust of darkness,
a grey beacon.

It draws me

into its cave.
I shall
burn there, untouched, unborn,
outside memory.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Grey”?

“Grey” is in the voice of Victoria painter Emily Carr (1871–1945). It is part of a book-length sequence, West of Darkness: Emily Carr, a Self-Portrait, about her life, which was first published in 1987 by Penumbra Press and subsequently republished in 1998 by Beach Holme and in 2006 in a bilingual edition by BuschekBooks. “Grey” is a response to a work in oil of the same name that Carr painted in the early 1930s. My intention was to imagine what may have been going on in her head while she was working on the canvas. I envision her in the middle of a dark forest through the night (the dark night of the soul perhaps), writing out her impressions and concerns in her now-famous journal. In this poem (and in the book as a whole), I attempted to capture something of her personality as a woman of her time and place struggling to figure out what exactly it is about nature that inspires her both spiritually and emotionally. The painting “Grey,” which is privately held, is my favourite of her many forest landscapes.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Grey”?

In “Grey, “ I adopt a persona; therefore, I try to render a facsimile of what I believe Carr’s voice and way of thinking to have been like. This voice renders her inner thoughts as she thinks them and from those thoughts written down in her journal, both of them versions of the unspoken. The poem’s short lines are meant to convey how quickly her mind must have moved as it made links and associations to create the painting that she would come to call “Grey.”

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