Soil Building

Sometimes you withdraw so far from the world
you mistrust even the surf of cherry bloom
crashing overhead—garish, gaudy,
unbelievable happiness. What is there to say

after the finch’s heart-piercing outburst?
A varied thrush gives a low, buzzing whistle.
A vee of Canada geese wavers north-west:
their thrilling cries pull each other up the coast.

Under the laurel, lily shoots barely visible
against sparrowy ground—the brown of an old photo’s
deepest shadows, a battered board
kitchen couch where your father lies asleep.

A log house. Filthy towel, razor strop,
dipper and pail. A mirror darkening
coppery mica colour, its cheap backing
fracturing, flaking. Old injuries are over.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Soil Building”?

“Soil Building” was inspired by the Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls, who taught his patients and students to develop their awareness of their immediate emotional and perceptual experience. Every poet needs this skill in her toolkit.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Soil Building”?

The poem enacts this process of personal examination and discovery. (The “you” can be the writer or the reader. This device makes the poem’s form of address more intimate, and draws the reader into the experience of the poem.) From an initial position of emotional withdrawal, of refusing to surrender to the enjoyment of beauty, the poem responds to the energy of the urgent, seductive calls of birds. As they enter the poem, new growth appears. The dark soil evokes memory, a family history of poverty, hard work, exhaustion and deprivation. An image of decay evinces time’s destructive power, along with the reassurance that the pain of the past is constantly receding.

This poem “Soil Building” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 165 (Summer 2000): 43-43.

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