Retreat, April 2, 2020

After Tim Lilburn’s poem, “Retreat.”


When I was in Desolation Sound, during the pandemic, holed up in that bay,

its mornings and green tides and ravens, reading Tim Lilburn, it was so cold

in the mornings I’d put on five layers, feed the woodstove

until the kettle started to tick.

I’d stack firewood in the afternoons, the alder bark with its islands

of sepia and grey overlaid on cream, like an antique map

but studded with woodpecker holes

like tiny machine gun bullet holes,

as though attempting to obliterate the memories

of the world we’d just left behind.

Then I’d go rowing out into the Sound

toward the Unwin Mountains, rows of blue peaks receding into mist.

Also, I was tucking into Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium,

literary values for future generations, his parliament on light

and the imagination. There was no hockey,

the NHL having cancelled the season, indeed, all seasons cancelled

except for nature’s, getting a reprieve with this new quiet,

fish now visible in Venice’s canals, the gondolas neatly stacked

across from the Basilica di San Marco.


Early morning rain fat with snow, unusual for April.

I didn’t know exactly what I was lonely for.

Inchoate, this rite of passage into the world’s ruin.


Paddling in the Sound

Not long after the election, when the left had failed

to reassure the broken hearted,

and the broken hearted had elected a lunatic

out of spite, I kayaked out to where the light

had never been torn,

to watch the darkness gathering

in the mountains’ seams.


Cool rain on flat seas, ducks ahead of me,

white trails of their wings beating water

as they fled. Fresh scent of snow in the wind.


A loon in the distance

began to call again and again,

a soliloquy from the sea’s grey throat,

each note going deeper into

where a certainty had once lived in my heart.


The longing in the loon’s call—a knife

cutting through rain, leaving nothing behind it

but more longing, more rain.