Excerpted from Whetstone by Lorna Crozier. Copyright © 2005 by Lorna Crozier. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
LORNA CROZIER is the award-winning author of fifteen previous books of poetry, most recently Small Mechanics, The Blue Hour of the Day: Selected Poems, and Whetstone. She is also the author of The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things and the memoir Small Beneath the Sky. She is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Victoria and an Officer of the Order of Canada, and she has received three honorary doctorates for her contributions to Canadian Literature. Born in Swift Current, she now lives in British Columbia.
More about Whetstone
When we’re younger, we tend to separate the shadow from the light, as if we can draw a line and keep them apart. I used to think I could separate sorrow and grief and mourning and longing, and wrap it up and tuck it away. Now I know those things are with me always and they cast some shade on who I am and what I think I’ll be doing, on how I love and how I write. I have a long past now, and so I think the source for a lot of my creative work is dipping back into a longer darkness, and hopefully a richer one than what was there before.
When I look at my youth, and even at my early poetry, it’s more infused with the colour yellow –there’s a kind of brightness about it. I think and hope that’s still there, but I think the yellow has become more umber, more like an amber that’s been turned into a jewel, with dark flecks in it that are part of its beauty. Its marred now perhaps, and a little worn, but I think worn things can sometimes be more beautiful than new bright things.
When you’re younger, you think you’re going to find the answer to things. What I think I’m doing now – and what I think good poetry has always done – is attempting to pose the questions, and hopefully in a new and fresh way. Maybe the answers are even embedded in the well-asked question, the question that depends on imagery, anecdote, character, family memory, landscape, but it’s our task to keep those questions in the air.
The poem was inspired by Carol Shields’s death. I was at a writers’ retreat when she died, and one of the monks came to the breakfast table and told the small group of writers who were there that he had heard on the radio that Carol had passed away. I got up from the table and went for a walk, and the first thought that came to me was, “Oh, now Carol will meet my dad.” Then I thought, what would that meeting be like? My dad was not a great conversationalist, and of course Carol was; you could not help but have a lively conversation with her. I started to imagine the two of them together in that place some people call Heaven, and I thought about Carol meeting my dad. And I wondered if he would introduce himself. Then I wondered if he was lost in Heaven, if he was as unknown in Heaven as he was when he was on earth. Thinking about him and Carol was what prompted this poem.
People have often asked what do you remember about someone who has been dead for fifteen years now. I remember the colour of my father’s eyes. I remember the beauty of his working man’s hands, the big knuckles and the long, elegant fingers, even though they were hands used to repair machines and not to play the piano. I remember the colour of his hair. I think I can almost get close to the smell of him. But I’ve lost his voice, that’s one of the things that has gone. I see him growing more shadowy around the edges, and maybe that’s why it’s so important to try to hang on to him in poems.
What Whetstone tries to capture are those luminous moments that we sense on the edge of our days, those moments when we become fully attentive and engaged with the world: the snow, the grass called little quaking, a sudden gesture from a father, long dead. I’m looking at my life now through the lens of middle age, a time when everything seems to have an autumn glow about it, light low to the ground, all things passing. The inspiration for the poems is simply my coaxing out of silence what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “inscapes,” moments of intense seeing, hearing, touching, when the things around me hold me, too, in their eyes, when I see myself before my birth, the Lord of Light striding across the prairie sky, the dead gathering under bridges, about to cross to the other side.