Read an Excerpt
This is my last book. Sam Solecki is the editor, and now seems a good time to thank him, for that and many other reasons. And to thank Eurithe for many many reasons. I said to her a moment ago, "What does it feel like to live with someone who writes poems most of his life and yours?"
She said, "To me it feels normal. I can't compare it with anything else. It was a life."
Sure it was a life. But can't I wring even a modest superlative out of her like: "Al, it was wonderful! I loved every minute of it!" Couldn't she lie a little just to make me happy? I tell you, it's maddening to live with a woman who always has to tell the truth, as if it hurts her in the esophagus or eardrum or in her instep to exaggerate just a wee bit. I tell her shut up then, I got this very important document to write, outlining my Philosophy and World View of the Hereafter.
So I'm left alone to talk with a bunch of ghosts, at least people I can't see, potential readers, past readers, people who can't stand my stuff (no, they can't read anyway). But there are a few, I guess. And now I have a subject. I've reached age 80, and I started to write at 13. Now I hafta make an embarrassed confession: I feel the same way Eurithe does: I can't compare our lives with any others. (But I hate women who're always right like that.)
It was a life, she said. And I thought it was a pretty good one. We did what we wanted to do, went where we wanted to go. I wrote the way I liked, and kidded myself some of it was pretty good. We were broke - and I mean nearly penniless - a few times in earlier days. A few times, for god's sake? Nearly always. There were periods when I was so depressed I felt like suicide -: having failed at everything I tried to do. But we pulled out of it, with some difficulty. And those periods I called "The Bad Times" seem to me now something like Triumph. "Don't you think so, dear?"
"They were horrible. You should have committed suicide."
What are ya gonna do with a woman like that?
Anyway, yes, it was a life. I wouldn't have wanted any other.
Sidney, BC / Ameliasburg, Ontario 1999
Purdy's Last Poem: "Both Her Gates East and West"
Wanderings in Canada in the century before the Millennium . . .
This is where I came to when my body left its body and my spirit stayed in its spirit home
Beside the seething Fundy waters my friend sleeps and wrote this message for me
"I'll wait for you in the west
Till your sun comes down for its setting"
That grand summer in Newfoundland when we feasted on wild raspberries bakeapples Screech and salmon walked four miles in the rain
(you blamed me for) to L'Anse aux Meadows where Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine were digging up Leif the Lucky's ruins talked to them an hour while I watched the Viking ship and horned heads leaping ashore reflected in Ingstad's blue eyes
On Baffin Island north of summer and summer comes again with every flower a river where I slept a moment's hour to dream and plucked white blossoms and sent them searching for you from that island of lost memory are the flowers still searching?
Quebec was summer in Montreal
Cùte des Neiges and St. Joseph's with Brother Andre's heart pickled in alcohol where I climbed the steps in winter
"the lame and the halt and the blind"
climbed in summer in search of Brother Andre's miracle and threw away their crutches
On a green island in Ontario
I learned about being human built a house and found the woman and we shall be there forever building a house that is never finished
Camped by the South Saskatchewan all day we listened to voices we heard inside ourselves the river like a blue bracelet where the Metis fought their last battle
Dumont Letendre and old Ouellette their ghosts came to us in sleep as white mist moved over our bodies the river flowed into the sky
In the Alberta prairie badlands camped by the vanished Bearpaw Sea in Dinosaur Provincial Park after the campground closed in fall we wander NO TRESPASSING badlands
- the white light suddenly changes to brown sepia twilight we're 75 million years back in time beasts like bad dreams ramp around us with bodies we can see through transparent in the sepia sun and Canada becomes a very old country the Rocky Mountains fold themselves upward giants rising slowly and we are children again
Through the Crow's Nest mountains at age 17
the freight train a black caterpillar climbing climbing climbing vertebrae chattering up the mountains red coal cinders blackening my face riding the high catwalks riding the empties like bugs like dwarfs like boys pretending they're men halfway high as the mountains go below us valleys bathed in sunlight glowing enchanted valleys and I came to believe we were beloved there beloved in a land fortunate of itself beneath black cinders on our faces we glowed in turn from the soul's well-being while I tried to explain myself to myself the simple earth and sky-searching mountains were things I never could explain
Flying north and following the Mackenzie
River long after the Scots explorer endless forest then endless empty land we seemed to hang between earth and sky then a monster hand with a hundred fingers spreading itself over the river delta and a permafrost town still Canada the Beaufort Sea beyond where the world was blue forever
- comes the millennium into our brief lives
I suppose it's like a kid growing up to see the parts of your own country like a jigsaw that suddenly comes together and turns into a complete picture you've touched nearly all the parts you've become a certain kind of adult and the ordinary places become endearments that slip into your mind and grow there and you change into what you already are in a country you can wear like an old overcoat
Joseph's coat of many colours
The millennium really makes little difference except as a kind of unsubtle reminder of the puzzle that is yourself and always changing the country that you wandered like a stranger but stranger no longer yourself become undeniable to yourself wearing the lakes and rivers towns and cities a country that no man can comprehend
Joseph's coat turned inside out now indistinguishable from your own innards
- a country that no man may comprehend asking the same questions as in ages past time measurable by the tick-tock of millenniums and if by chance we are not alone some traveller on another planet may catch a glimpse of us sometimes looking outward into the night sky