Monday, July 6, 2015

Sangan River Meditations: Spring, by Susan Musgrave

What I most want is to spring out of this personality,
then to sit apart from that leaping.
I've lived too long where I can be reached.
Rumi  "Unseen Rain"

In another life, this place was my home.
I feel the rising of a forgotten  knowledge
like a spring from hidden aquifers under the earth.

To glimpse your own nature is to come home
like the rainfall that turns to mist before touching the earth
then rises once again to praise the sky.

a young eagle lights
on a gravel bar.  How effortlessly
the rain drips from the eaves.

A moment ago I heard
a raven speak: feed me,
stay away, come over here,
pay attention!  Imagine!  Up
until that moment the ravens
and I had not been on speaking terms.

I wash lettuce in the river
separating the leaves to make sure
no dirt clings to the unearthed root.

Later, a simple meal of alder-smoked
salmon, and hard bread I baked over
a week ago.  Later still I return to the river
with empty hands.

From the bridge I watch
the pure moving of the bird
over the bank where two children
pick the blue lupines I planted
that have since grown wild.  I see
the raptor swoop, then change
his mind and disappear, think
how boundless is the pure
wind circling our lives.

Paul's home from the hospital:
who would've guessed he could beat
lung cancer!  Already he's up
making deals, vying to buy
my old Toyota for parts when I've
driven her into the ground.

At low tide he would take me
to the places no one knew;  he knew
I loved those blue-violet mussel shells,
their hairlike bonds.  Driving home
along the beach I turned once
at White Creek to see a wisp
of white cloud spiraling into the sky
over the dome of Tow Hill,
just as if, I remember feeling,
a spirit were leaving a body.

Our cat is up the tree again;  I hear her cry
over the lonely tattering of prayer flags
worn to transparency by the wind.  I try
tempting her down with heart minced the way
she likes it, still warm from the gutted
body of the deer.  I build a bridge
from our roof to the end of her branch
so she can pad across and I can rescue her.

But no, it's as if she clings to the high
dying hemlock because she has
something she wants me to see.
Later, with the moon rising I climb back
onto our roof with my flashlight, her eyes
two shiny plum pits summoning me.  She
is happy now that I have come just to sit
patiently and watch from this height
the river empty into the sea.

Perhaps this is all
I have left to do

bow to the plum blossoms
in all those ancient love poems

loosely translated from the Chinese.

'Spring', an extract from Sangan River Meditations
by Susan Musgrave
from Origami Dove published by McClelland & Stewart

I met Susan Musgrave when I was in British Columbia recently on a research trip.  She's one of Canada's leading poets, with 14 previous collections, as well as prose books.  Origami Dove, published in 2011, was a finalist in the Governor General's awards and individual poems in it have also won awards.

Susan lives mainly on the islands of Haida Gwaii, off Canada's north west coast.  It's remote and wild. People there try to live off the land and the sea, foraging for food.  There are deer, salmon, crabs, halibut, clams, and a whole range of fruits and salads all there for the taking. Chickens scratch in the back yard and small veggie plots are wired against the wildlife.  Susan, who believes it's incredibly important that we know how to feed ourselves in an uncertain world, has recently gone vegetarian - unable not to imagine a pair of brown eyes looking at her out of the pot whenever she cooks a meat dish.  She makes all her own preserves, bread and yogurt.

Susan has had a very unusual life and her poetry reflects that. Married for over 20 years, she spent many of them alone while her husband served a sentence for bank robbery. He too is a writer. Susan owns one of the quirkiest bed and breakfasts in the whole of British Columbia - it's like staying in a museum. I slept in The Retreat, famous for Margaret Atwood's stay there.

Susan's poetry is as unconventional as the poet, and it's a very unusual collection, containing several long sequences.  There are surprising contrasts - swings from contemplative rhythms to 'in your face' passages, and - as one reviewer commented - 'enough tragedy to break your heart'.  I particularly love the Sangan River Meditations, and also Heroines, a hard-edged, unsentimental series of poems, which was commissioned for a documentary about the lives of six prostitutes, addicted to heroin, and which won several awards. A poem from Heroines is featured on my own blog today.

Origami Dove is published by McLelland & Stewart

Today's poem has been chosen by Kathleen Jones. She is a biographer, novelist and poet who lives mainly in England but sometimes in Italy.  She blogs at 'A Writer's Life', is often to be found wasting time on Facebook, and Tweets incognito as @kathyferber 

For Tuesday Poem poets and more Tuesday Poems, check out the links in the sidebar to the left.


Claire Beynon said...

Gosh. Worlds within worlds within worlds.

Thankful for this introduction to Susan Musgrave's writing, Kathleen.

Helen McKinlay said...

It's so connected and rooted to the earth as well as being a pathway to heaven. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing this Kathy and thanks to Susan too.

Kathleen Jones said...

Glad you both liked it. Susan is an excellent poet - very much her own person on the page and off it!

Rapunzel said...

Good one