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.



Author: Adelia MacWilliam

Adelia MacWilliam recently completed her MFA in poetry at the University of Victoria. She wrote about a piece of land that her family had “occupied” since 1905 and learned that if you cast the mythic imagination across a piece of land that has always been part of your life, everything will out. She is co-founder of Cascadia Poetics Lab,, which produces the monthly Red Tree reading series. She divides her time between Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound. An emerging poet, her most recently published poem can be found in the anthology Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds, ed. Yvonne Blomer, Caitlin Press, 2020.

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