Map of Wilderness

This map flows river after river,
creeks popping through them, like bent nails.
I read its mind on Evelyn again,
wind stealing it from your hand,
stuffing it down its pocket of rapids.

I’d go to those rivers once.
It didn’t matter,
you’d never stop finding me.
So, I believed that what the tongues
and grooves of water had to say
was true,
that you loved a wilderness
more than I could ever.

You’d just come to me,
you, your invisible map,
the one
only I could see,
so that nothing, I thought,
would steal it.

Pikangikum Territory in Late August

Here in Pikangikum territory in late August
your accent is the summer of pinaceae,
azimuth, canvasback, azure
and the lines of you scrawl on my back
and the hair of you spreads roots over blunt Obsidian,
and wrinkles smooth Anishinaabe lakes
northwest of Pikangikum territory in late August
as westerlies fill the cheeks of stratocumulus,
heavy-set, blueset as slate. But, this is not love, you state.
We must wait until our bones are stepping stones
set in waterskins, and scars and bruises
are rubbed in arrowheads of paint ending on a brush;
in other words, an eyelash that winces turpentine sting,
weeps on the shoulders of words
their bittersweet scent of juniper
giving up to us all we mean by that.

Chukuni River

This morning he sees the river
he has not seen,
because the river swirls
as to sew tatters of thoughts
into shimmering rags of
memory, memory
inside-out of memory,
the way the river combs
the landscape that palms it
so the landscape becomes the body
of its direction
and the limbs
of its intent, the way the land,
it seems to him, comes to love
the mind of the river.

The Night Says

I’ve been watching

the snow, pressed

between

the pages of a forest,

brush the light from

a dark bird

of prey.

My eyes turn silver,

that’s the degree

to which

my eyes wish

to be green.

We have a deal.

They tell me

where they’ve gone

when I am here,

I lie to them, understand? They

promised

so much.

“Night, love is

first sight.”

they say.

“Yes, love,” it says back,

“we’re blind.”


Becoming Winter

Yesterday I felt statues of deer tremble
from boughs of cherry trees, snow-feathered,
leg-trapped in sticky paths of goldenrod,
creek-oiled flowers of ice. And a white sun
swimming in shines of icy prey. 
Nothing is
what it is with me. Falling snow’s a gown,
the morning a luminescent fox.
I sway, gut-shot, in blizzard growls. I call to it, cull, cull,
a gizzard, ripe with heart of make-believed blood.
I cannot choose, I choose what comes to me. But choose.
Let each lie ask the beautiful questions of the hunter,
what man did I kill, what beast am I?

Portage

From the eleventh floor at my desk in Toronto,
I watch a band of Cormorants fill a landing place,
like a bracelet on the edge of a small lake.
It’s somewhere near Misabi, where the river,
like its twin, runs alongside the Nastawgan portage
that brings you to Obabika. I could hardly find it this summer
and on the video I’m watching, it’s nearly not there.
I’ve been thinking what somebody said recently,
Cormorants aren’t indigenous here,
so you can you blame them, they’re bloody,
and they’re so strangely beautiful.
I recall the trail again, from the window,
birds peeling away, as I do,
and below, the streets bare things the way fire bares
ruin and the skin of a heart, peeling away, too,
from every mark, like a blaze in a tree
whose writing is always about the path to water.

Perhaps

Perhaps if I start by telling you,
your face is another moon, a rock, bright,
defying all, gravity, most of all,
carving paths of a billion worlds
across the outskirts of this lake,
you would see how far darkness travels
to find light. Perhaps if I drew your hands on my back,
you would understand how birds,
touching down, make stillness out of tumult.
And, have you heard that words are stones,
chipped away from fault lines we cannot read,
but which whisper, write me? Can you understand
that when you lean into my arms
all that you are is a root, curled and naked,
climbing from the boulder split,
which cannot drink the rain it feels,
or see, in spite of sun that pours on it,
cannot understand, only witness, the scent of its silence,
the magnitude of its flower?

Old Growth

I always felt it was in the looking,
though waiting seems better now
that time has narrowed, like the trail
I’ve been following that goes through
the old growth pine of Shish-Kong Lake.
I’ve been here a thousand times,
but the path keeps changing.
The lake below spins faster than ever.
The trees seem to root into blue above,
as if the water could be desperate for sun.
And the birds climb their branches,
leaping southward, though more and more
I notice the ones that stay
as though, for some reason,
the best way to save their lives
is by not returning.

Where the River Takes You

I had hoped the scratches
on my back you left
would remain, like

a grassy floor
a deer leaves,
after a night. But

you showed me
a moth’s wings, instead,
the deer knowing, then,

to stay quiet, within,
to lay in the breeze.
See the wings greying

to mirror the burn
around us, you said. Yes,
though you do not

seem, yet, to sense
the creases of
the old river skin’s

hands, fingerless upon
the brown bear
swimming

towards this mothy shore of trees,
its claws that cannot root
into marks,

or tracks stretching
to the room a deer
wakes into.

left

And later when I photographed you at the water,
when on the rocks the wind came for your blouse,
I pictured the idea of a soul hewed
in the pliocene bodies of cormorants alight
on the water image of those distant rocks —
too many shadows to know for certain
whether they were returning, or instead
vanishing into the skin of our memory, like a
pictograph sinking into the face of a stone, or
the fading bruises on your breasts my mouth left.

– ph