These poems reflect my years in Labrador where I taught school and married into the Inuit culture. My husband and I had three children. We lived in Nain, Happy Valley and North West River.
on dark cliff
hard and high;
in sea salt
black and tight;
with long leaps
in the night.
in the warm.
Dance frost on berries
When I wrote this poem, I wanted to describe Labrador as purely and succinctly as I could, the images sharp and clear, punctuated in brief phrases down the page.
Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things – Children’s Poetry and Verse from Atlantic Canada, Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, N.S. 2017
The White Ships
No wife leans to the window glass;
no eager children wait the bow;
no dogs wake hungry on the rocks
to meet the ships that enter now.
They come, the white ships of the spring,
built north of the Labrador.
The sea, their captain, brings them in
to sun and quiet tide, their shore.
I wrote this in 1965 when I spent a year in the harbour town of St. Anthony on the northeastern tip of Newfoundland. In late spring and summer, we would climb Fishing Head, at the entrance of the harbour, to watch for icebergs. We could see them coming south in the Labrador Current on their journey from the Greenland icecap to melt in the Gulf Stream off the coast of southern Newfoundland.
But some icebergs, steered by underlying currents, moved into harbours on the coast of southern Labrador and Newfoundland. There they stayed, anchored by their enormous weight, in the shallow waters. “Sun and quiet tide, their shore.”
The first three lines of the poem speak of the early days of cod-fishing when the schooners returned to their harbour towns, their holds full of fish.
Long the fishing place abandoned,
Long the houses grey and still,
Long the gravestones dim and leaning,
But the rhubarb by the hill
Straight and high as if the pickers
Soon would pull the stalks aside –
Some for sauce and some for puddings,
Some for summer supper pies.
In the summer of 1984, I worked on a Labrador wildflower project made possible by an Explorations Grant from Canada Council. I visited many towns and villages up and down the Coast where I looked for different species of wildflowers and inquired of their local names and uses.
On one stop, I went exploring the coastal tundra just north of Williams Harbour outside Port Hope Simpson. Suddenly, I came upon a deserted fishing place – the abandoned houses “grey and still.” And there, to my surprise, were gravestones. One read, “Captain Owen Griffin, master of the Ocean Wave of Port Modor, Great Britain. Died August 1896. Age 47. Another, William Russell. Native of Wales. Died September 1900. Age 72. And on the side of the hill grew rhubarb “straight and high as if the pickers soon would put the stalks aside.” The sight of fresh, vibrant rhubarb growing in the context of a century past gave voice to the poem “Rhubarb.” When I returned to Williams Harbour, I learned that the fishing place was called Francis Harbour Bight.
Wind Dance Scholastic Canada, 1999
Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things – Children’s Poetry and Verse From Atlantic Canada. Nimbus Publishing, N.S. 2017
Metroverse, Metrobus, Newfoundland and Labrador, 2012
When will the ice break up in the north?
When will the boats whish up to the wharf?
When will the white of snow disappear?
When will the geese whistle green the year?
When will the whale whirl up the sea?
When will the wind whisper warm to me?
When I was teaching in Nain, Nunatsiavut, I wrote this poem to teach my students the ‘wh’ sound.
I was also thinking of what questions they might be asking when winter is long in their land.
Chickadee Magazine, Spring, 1990
Gently the sun
with steady eye
whittled at winter from the sky.
Deeper she cut
with sharpened ray
as pieces of winter
Warmly she held
it up when done,
“This is my carving called Spring,”
said the sun.
“Sky Carver” is a many-layered poem. One, it describes spring coming to Nain, Nunatsiavut where I wrote the poem. Two, it speaks of the Inuit culture where, as one carver expressed it, “Every Inuk is a carver.” Thirdly, it speaks of the writer’s craft. The writer is a carver chiseling away unnecessary words and phrases until she can hold it up to say, “This is my poem, this is my story.”
Wind Dance, Scholastic Canada, 1999
Whispers and Mermaids and Wonderful Things – Children’s Poetry and Verse from Atlantic Canada, Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, N.S., 2017
Northern Lights Photo Credit: CalgaryBirder
What Cold is Cold is Now the All of Night
What cold is cold is now the all of night,
Immense in soundlessness and loudly still;
No word of wind, no walk of woods, how slight
They might have moved with any lesser chill.
The all of cold rules quiet in the snow,
Makes mountains phantoms, rivers ghostly tracks,
Is colder than the cold we say we know,
Absent of warmth, it knows not what it lacks.
Intruders are the dancers of the sky
Who cross the darkened stage in shifting veils
Of color screaming, deafening the eye
And leaping on the cold in shameless trails.
But none so bold as that with meager wings
And tiny warmth awakes, breaks through and sings.
When Ye Goes
Winter will come when ye goes, Miss,
though spring has just gone away.
The current is cold from the floes, Miss,
and snow’s on the hills in the bay.
The sky will get gray as the rocks, Miss;
The dogs will be mocking the blow
of the wind and asking it loud, Miss,
when it’s bringing its bullwhips of snow.
When ye goes away to your place, Miss,
does ye think of the summer again?
When winter is long in our land, Miss,
we talks of the sound of the plane.
Setting: Cartwright, Labrador, 1965
Wind in my Pocket, Breakwater Books, 1990