This time last year I joined a two week expedition across the frozen lakes and forests of Northern Ontario. For days a small group of us pulled toboggans containing tents, stoves, food through miles of the Canadian wilderness. It was a disorienting experience, I am unbelievably glad I did it but still have no idea why!
We came out of the wilderness
Through eight days of snow and the grinding wind
Along the ways of the Cree and over the creaking lake
A land where the dragging earth and the heavens were separated
By no more than the distant smudge of
White Cedar, Spruce and Fir.
And the translucent hide of a weary sun
Faltered at the edge of the world
All life seemed suspended
Only the circling hawk
The marks of lynx, otter and snowshoe hare
And ourselves bore witness that things breathed upon this land.
We were bent like old people against the strain,
As frost biting fingers reached up through the slush and grasped
And clawed at the underside of our toboggans
Making us curse and sweat even as the ice froze around our legs and feet.
And each night we had built our camp,
Cutting the bushy branches from the spruce to lay over the snow and frozen waters
Swinging axes against standing dead wood to fire a battered stove,
Scraping a hollow to catch the depth of the cold
Pulling stiff, reluctant, ill-fitting canvas over frame
Sawing a hole though dark ice to draw up brown water
Then dropping into a half-sleep watching in the rigid darkness.
That we might feed the flickering flame
Until we woke before dawn
And began again.
Where people greet you with razor wire smiles,
Eyes narrowed against the neon wind
And the scent of cinnamon, clove and hot oil lingers outside from the whirling eye Of the Lebanese restaurant,
The sweet sour smoke from the snout of a Chinese dragon
Frets upon on the sidewalk
Above which the towers of the possessed rise like giant fists with outstretched fingers
And the sports bar zombies dance to silent flashing screens
We might hold onto the wilderness keeping
The songs of our days like lightening in a jar
As we walk towards the first embrace of loneliness.
In this wasteland of dreams
Steve Bonham 2017
New year 2017. Today I walked a while around my old town. I don't get here much. From the shuttered shops and empty spaces it seems, like many places, they are closing it down. So far they have taken everything up to the knees. As I sat drinking a coffee waiting for a phone to be mended I thought back to my childhood and the dirty, busy, mysterious town this once was.
OK it wasn’t so great,
When the winter damp rolled
The chimney smoke over and over
Till the days were a long twilight of sulphur mist,
In which strangers, shuffling and apologetic
Materialised at your side, hunched a little lower,
And in the same moment of trickery
An entire trolley bus, sparking and clattering, became visible
Carrying sombre mannequins in hats and scarves,
In a long retreat
Before vanishing to a muffled tolling bell.
When my mother taking our hands,
And telling us not to breathe
Would pull us home
Under the iron bridge smouldering in a fiery glow from
A steam train as it slowed and sighed above
Onto an empty platform
Adding its underbreath to the stinking mustard air.
Past the strange shop windows
Lonely and lost in a melancholy air;
Along the looming giants of furious Plane trees
Into the serious dark of the sidestreet
To the haunted nervous places
Past the ‘rec’, the bowling club and the brook,
Lingering only it seems in the young memory of summer.
Back to home to the worried dog and the cold, cleaner air
Watching the fire kindle in the grate
Pressing my cheek against the tears on the window
I would watch till my still dark father would return.
(c) Steve Bonham 2017