The Language of Jasper

Lake linked to lake
lick the crotches of stunning rock:
great monosyllabic gigantica

looped by aqua pools: lapis lazuli, turquoise
and baby-powdered blue suck on
denuded stone.

Icy tongues lap the mountain bones,

tongues of ancient glaciers, silver-grey wolves,
lap the remains of some gods’
calamitous feud;

fractured kames and moraines and
deranged slate utter menace that we have
no code to translate.

Come test your tenuous moment of bliss

in tectonic jumbles of eroded teeth
spat out in a punch-up of geologic insanity
and try to decipher its speech.

Go clamber kidlike over the granite flanks;
scramble over random ranks of bleak and jagged
peaks; trip over extinguished language

in ignorance and ego.

Wander at your leisure—but heed the
tilted slabs of its expression.
Let innocent glee not misread

the tumbled curses once torn
from the throat of an incoherent earth a
nd hurled back at an absent heaven:

Jasper speaks.


Questions and Answers

As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

The best advice I ever got was: what is your poem trying to say? Too often, young poets are mired in omphaloskepsis. We as readers really don’t care, in the end, what random angst the emotion-of-the-day produces in the poet, unless they aim it directly for us, and it knocks our socks off.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

Nature is very inspirational and real to me- mountains and inanimate objects alike. I think there is communication in everything, if only we had the facility to understand the language. Decades ago, people would never have dreamed that machines could communicate, for example, or that roots could “speak” to each other. So perhaps stones and rocks and mountains simply communicate on a level we have yet to decode. I think that that level, given the ancient nature of the Jasper landscape, would be visceral and primal, almost threatening. Yet it’s surrounded by carefree tourists, who have little inkling of what’s going on around them and under their feet. I hope this poem reflects some of that.

How did your writing process unfold around this poem?

A poem always starts the same way for me, and that’s with a single phrase or idea. In this case, it was the idea of ancient communication. I always throw down the ideas randomly, and let them percolate for a few days. Then I come back and rewrite, rewrite and rewrite some more. Sometimes when a poem gets too bogged down in itself, I “blow it up.” I just throw it all open and start to weave it together in a different way. I find if I do that, the poem itself will evolve its own “shape.”


This poem “The Language of Jasper” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 84.

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