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Interior August : original poems McNeil, Florence Anne 1965

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INTERIOR AUGUST — o r i g i n a l poems by FLORENCE McNEIL B.A., The University of B r i t i s h Columbia 1955 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH We accept t h i s thesis as conforming to the required standard: The University of B r i t i s h Columbia A p r i l 1965 In p r e s e n t i n g t h i s t h e s i s i n p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t of the requirements f o r an advanced degree at the U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree that the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y a v a i l a b l e f o r reference and study. I f u r t h e r agree that per-m i s s i o n f o r extensive copying of t h i s t h e s i s f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be granted by the Head of my Department or by h i s r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . I t i s understood t h a t , c o p y i n g or p u b l i -c a t i o n of t h i s t h e s i s f o r f i n a n c i a l gain s h a l l not be allowed without my w r i t t e n p e r mission. Department of The U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, Vancouver 8, Canada II A B S T R A C T The following pages contain a group of o r i g i n a l poems. They are mainly l y r i c poems and employ free verse techniques. The poems are connected i n t h e i r pre-occupation with imagery, e s p e c i a l l y sea imagery. They are aware of place, i . e . , the coast of B r i t i s h Columbia. They deal with childhood, o l d age, death, and the sense of loss experienced i n maturity. IV ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS TO Alaska Review for "Clamming" "Plight from the Coast" "August My Love" Canadian Forum f o r "News Items" "In the Fraser Canyon"1 Dalhousie Review for " A l l Soul's Day": Edge for "A Grandmother" "Downtown" Evidence for "Parking Lot" Fiddlehead for " I n t e r i o r August" "Saturday Winters" Northwest Review for "Fogs" Potlatch for "Mountains" "News.Items" "I n t e r i o r August" Prism for "Hospital V i s i t " Queen's Quarterly for "The Ferry" I l l CONTENTS News Items 1 A Grandmother 2 August My Love 3 Downtown 4 I n t e r i o r August 5 Hospital V i s i t 6 Re a l i t y 7 Saturday Winters 8 The Perry 9 Sunday i n the Cariboo 10 P r a i r i e Stop 11 At the A i r p o r t 12 Verses for Christmas 13 In the Fraser Canyon 17 Agamemnon Bay 18 Supermarkets 19 Uncharted Canada 20 Clamming 21 Fog 22 Cruise 23 Seascape 24 Gold i n the Fraser Canyon 25 Armistice Day 26 History Class 27 Sunday Evening 28 Fogs 29 Marking the F a l l 30 Song for a C i t y 31 Parking Lot 32 Mountains 33 F l i g h t from the Coast 34 A l l Soul's Day 35 A Dirge 36 Spring Sidewalk 38 Lent 39 At the Summer Cottage 40 Spring B u r i a l 41 NEWS ITEMS Sometimes I think how humorous i n our absurdly quaint hand-set c i v i l i z a t i o n fear could e x i s t snapping l i k e quick spring storms at the throats of c i t i e s c a l l i n g up ancient reactions l i k e toy bombs exploding i n some antedated war dropping from biplanes s t r u t t i n g i n the sky on balsa parts with comic p i l o t s staring out of lead eyes burning bodies on h i l a r i o u s j i g - f a s t s i l e n t films Prom the coy data a i r e d on antique type i n each day 1s news who could imagine an ultimate up-to-date f i n i s h to our neatly balanced l i v e s . 1 A GRANDMOTHER My grandmother fastened to her wooden chair dreaded night leaning into i t r e l u c t a n t l y her speckled hands b i t i n g the edges of her chair shutting inside: the cough that drenched her with wet humiliation her eyes apologetic for the suddenness of urination that l i t the room with i t s sharp outrageous smell I wondered as the l i g h t went how she could smile watching from her chair for the steep cough that climbed i n t e n s i f i e d toward her throat now I know her warm eyes saw through the agony of every night an eventual gasp and the easing i n of a prouder dark. 2 AUGUST MY LOVE B e a u t i f u l from the porch the white sea s n i f f i n g at the hollow dead crab ends and the d i r t y smokes you threw out a l l week August scribbled on the sands l i k e a name greased on a washroom wall while we stand hand i n hand squeezing out the l a s t t h i c k b i t of night and summer l i k e a t i r e d blackbird gargling on a pine grows progressively l e s s tuneful. 3 DOWNTOWN The old man's world i s a room dry as stale cornflakes the c e i l i n g l i k e a "burst paper bag dangling limp and outmoded over the bleak fourposter the stove and the p i l e s of magazines he hoards dust etched as evening moths i n summer the old man a i r s his world opening the window with gauzy hands to stare unc omprehendlng at the cra c k l i n g t r a f f i c the shoppers wrinkling i n the sun l i k e waxpaper and pigeons spread l i k e soot on a hot walk scenes as puzzling as the s w i r l i n g l e t t e r s i n archaic type unreasonable as s c r o l l s of daisies blooming i n a c i t y square. 4 INTERIOR AUGUST The day drips hot and blue into the lake sleek as suntan o i l the h i l l s naked as buttered clams sweat tumbleweed into the wind and the beach people greased with sand turn opulent bottoms to the sun raw sienna f l e s h warm as the h i l l s stranger than parchment figures glazed on a Chinese screen the sky hangs bl a t a n t l y l i k e a bar-room nude over the brawl of motor boats and the divers soaring drunkenly into the a i r In the frame of t h i s August I stretch on the wrinkled sand remembering the moisture of f i r s massed subtly on a coast t r a i l overhead i n the sweeping fresco of branches the silence of a green sky. 5 HOSPITAL VISIT Even John Keats dying young i n an extraordinary spring lay l i k e t h i s strange hands b r i t t l e as snowdrops clawing the f a m i l i a r i t y of cup the mouth lo s i n g f a i n t e l l i p t i c a l phrases s p i t t l e yellow white stinging the heave of sheet and saw i n the mirror of Severn's eyes a beginning day pigeons washing i n the sunshine the scoured stone of buildings t r a f f i c newly set out and the inevitable sight of people rushing l i k e fresh clouds i n the February morning. 6 REALITY The l o s t land I s t i l l remember was hopscotch squares s l i c e d on spring cement a tree house r i s i n g i n the f a i n t mould of yeasty August woods huckleberries swishing salmon pink i n p a i l s was chocolate clucking on the stoves the crack of leaves on frosty streets a fat wing of q u i l t spread over a night of snow a pond hard as cheese and blades nipping s t i l l porous ice was transient magic a land where bobbsey twins and outdoor g i r l s climbed with childhood f i d e l i t y summer's improbable adirondacks 7 SATURDAY WINTERS Where are the comic s t r i p winters the straight l i n e s of snow pinned down fo r the kids i n the land of boxes to crease i n colour on Saturday major hoople sledding down freckled h i l l s smooth as his summer sand ( i n summer ducks and mice and orphan kids f l o a t on blue i n f l a t e d seas) skeezix sparkling i n snowflakes b i g as mittens f a l l i n g without covering the chatty b i g balloon he wears l i k e a sun and skaters s l i p p i n g l i k e party soap over eternal porcelain oh nowhere i n the paper world do comic b l i z z a r d s s t i n g the f r i e n d l y cheeks but only cozy creatures bask i n snow as warm as grins through f i v e unmelting months. 8 THE FERRY I l i k e the ferry rubbing i t s sides against the islands several times a day on a sea d u l l as unpolished linoleum going through the comfortable machinations of a s l i g h t l y worn ship guzzling d i e s e l o i l and patted into place with no one mentioning the occasional engine belch expected from an old boat. 9 SUNDAY IN THE CARIBOO The young p r i e s t pale as weathered sage walks slowly-down the rumbling a l t a r steps to face his congregation his church t h i n and hollow as a starving c o l t holding i n splintered r i b s of s t a l l s a few Indians s l e e p i l y r a d i ating beer l i k e incense and a greased cowboy f l i c k i n g through a pocket magazine In the silence shuffled by someone's feet the young p r i e s t speaks his voice f u t i l e as the sad angel saddled over the a l t a r while through the stained dust windows over his head the Cariboo morning grazes shiny and unconcerned as pasture grass. 10 PRAIRIE STOP The greyhound loose as store dentures c l a t t e r s over the icy l i p of road stopping by a row of decaying false fronts spread l i k e a poultice over the white p a i n f u l face of the land where elevators l i k e discarded ice chests gape i n the refuse of railway yards and an old ford sobs i n the main street. By the stove i n the bus stop I wait to> melt with pools of other passengers n o t i c i n g an ancient man sh u f f l i n g h i s b i g boots l i k e a trapper on snowshoes happily home. 11 AT THE AIRPORT November leaving the earth bare and black and jets t a x i i n g on the ground with t h e i r f i n s i n the a i r l i k e sharks exposed at an aquarium the sky dark as the sea i n November waiting f o r the blunt thrust of the grey planes pointing east and west into the d u l l foam of i t s clouds I turn away my eyes salted by bleak runway winds reluctant to lose the warm curve of your hand to see you stepping into savage st e e l leaving me empty as the vacant ocean. 12 VERSES FOR CHRISTMAS I The shelves of d o l l s melt l i k e f r o s t i n g over the blend of toys And bundles of small g i r l s fastened with mittens and scarves burst with a wish the glass package of the toyshop window to carry home the smiling d o l l s t h e i r faces wondering l i k e flowers. 13 I I For nine of my Christmas years a d o l l picked by my grandmother from the catalogue garden bloomed i n i t s long-stemmed box under the tree making me gladder than her tea-kettle or the cat laughing under the stove balancing the i n s u l t of her d i l i g e n t sod-brown stockings knitted each year to muddy my winter legs. 14 I l l A l l the mornings with her were fe s t i v e the flock of d o l l s growing l i k e lambs on a spring h i l l I wrapped them i n s i l v e r paper make-believe s i l k from her tree fed them l i k e orphaned sheep , combed t h e i r clay h a i r suddenly softer than new born wool softer than the snow ha i r of my grandmother c u r l i n g l i k e t i n s e l c r i s p and white as the Christmas star. 15 IV The year she died there was s t i l l Christmas f a l l i n g s i l e n t l y on our family covering the "black empty spots softening the dark hollows of our loneliness On Christmas day we stood quiet as the grass by the new mound ornamenting the strange walled town with twinkling flowers bright as the colored l i g h t s on bushy f i r s I covered my d o l l s that night with special hands wrapping t h e i r soft pink arms against an untried year preserving i n mute clay and sawdust the f r a g i l e promise of Christmas. 16 IN THE FRASER CANYON The o l d Indian his face q u i l t e d l i k e a worn eiderdown squints at the t o u r i s t s s t i t c h i n g his road with threads of kleenex and empty cartons and prods a cigarette i n t o the jagged zipper of his mouth he s i t s i n a yard patched with the punctured innards of an old boat and watches for the pattern of cars to break for a t o u r i s t purring with d o l l a r b i l l s to ask the way down the furry banks to the home of the plump f i s h trapped i n the howling r i v e r . 17 AGAMEMNON BAY Hanging by a piece of love to t h i s Mediterranean h i l l reeled o f f a jut of Canadian coast sun wearing grasses t h i n with d a i l y shine you and I (wreathed with b i t s of plump sky) flamboyantly flattened on the rims of potato chip ruins (the seeds of grapes disgorged on the round fat bay— and the arbutus leaning over the r a i l of the sea) I love you better when the day has Bacchanalian traces. 18 SUPERMARKETS Mothers i n ice-cream p r i n t s steer cool "babies into shelves bright as popsicles toss red and yellow cartons into baskets bulging with instant tea and lemonade while happily caged the children s l i p flossy legs through bars and ride the shining carts but somewhere day j o l t s l i k e a broken carousel and mother soothing bloated babies wait at the white man's hut where medicine i s scooped into dry mouths and the sun l i k e a l o s t balloon d r i f t s higher i n an unmelting sky. 19 UNCHARTED CANADA Pl a t bottomed p r a i r i e towns rowing b y — toss out the road map compass t h i s i s wide open god forsaken nowhere sprays of wheat splashed on bizarre earth the r i p p l e of a b i r d throwing up a voiceless landsick wail the inevitable blue sky hoisted overhead no clouds (only the wisp of fence post blowing black wires across the land) no h i l l s (a once i n a while cow bumping the horizon) and always just over your shoulder the elevators mythical s i l v e r mouthed holding back the p r a i r i e ocean. 20 CLAMMING I l i k e to bellow a f t e r clams s l i d i n g t h e i r hard quick b e l l i e s p o i n t l e s s l y into the sand smack on the moist fuzz of the sea edge sl i p p i n g into t h e i r private darkness l i c k i n g out a place i n the shade fo r themselves and t h e i r clam descendants lucky f o r clams they don't know how quickly someone anyone could ambush them s l i d e down the feathered sand and t i c k l e gently t i l l t h e i r whole quivering battlement collapses. 21 FOG On foggy nights young gaudy boats decks wel l scrubbed sneak from the docks to howl under bridges r a i s i n g t h e i r low lu s t y voices i n noisy counterpoints of complaint But old squat boats making t h e i r way wheezily down the slippery sea tu t - t u t cautiously at the r o i s t e r i n g horns t e l l i n g each other i n cracked sodden whispers old boards bursting with pride that fog was thicker years ago when they were young. 22 CRUISE The sea lay a rumpled c l o t h and our boat rumbling l i k e an empty stomach eased her prow into apple green waves turning logs i n long s i z z l i n g r o t a t i o n On the greasy deck we stretched l i k e drunken romans inebriated by the poignant blue sun crushed i n the sky l i k e a grape by the shimmering s a i l s by the closeness of hands i n the w i l d candlelight of August. 23 SEASCAPE The morning squeezes crabs onto the sand taping the gluey shore assembling pieces of a jigsaw dawn a s i l e n t whole a completion of rock and g u l l and sea a fin i s h e d p r i n t of barges cutti n g waves square as stamps and the wet movement of small crusty things Bound by the defacement of increasing l i g h t I wait - knowing my next move w i l l scare the pieces o f f the sea shelf scattering the dawn l i k e a f a l l e n game. 24 GOLD IN THE FRASER CANYON Broken mountains blasted out i n black l i k e overturned hulks masted by an occasional d e r e l i c t tree perched sideways over the canyon's wreck the r e a l i t y of t h i s black r i v e r spinning the miners closer to the myth the repeated thread of someone's f i e r c e arable dreams out of the sand rushing for the blunt shovel nose of the p r a c t i c a l sternwheeler each man shapes h i s own romance t h i s bleakness hiding gems larger than the stolen treasures dug from the y i e l d i n g imagined caves of for t y thieves. 25 ARMISTICE DAY Military tailoring a century ago was colourful so history has caught the gentlemen who charged (lithographed figures) dying gracefully in blue cashmere our wars are less picturesque who wants to see khaki forked by barbed wire or bloody scarecrows over the top of some ravaged f i e l d or the gleaming bones after the blast war belongs i n the unreliable prints of memory (and so we remember the eleventh of November.) 26 HISTORY CLASS She read about the country's pioneers and they l i v e d independent of the words and the book f i g h t i n g the wilderness i n i the c l a r i t y of her invention In a coast autumn the cedars blazed with green the swelling trees hid wary eyes moved ominously and bushes walked with upraised arms Released from school she saw the world was dangerous and raced w i l d l y through the unfamiliar path menaced by the pine trees and the h u r t l i n g cones' and the f a l l e n leaves which scorched her running feet. 27 SUNDAY EVENING Outside r a i n i s dying on corners bleached by street l i g h t s and i n the pale night curled xirisps of faces pause to envy our walk So the s i l v e r night burns away l i k e incense leaves only the smell of spring gives us l i t t l e time to hold something shining and f u g i t i v e as mercury. 28 FOGS We hide i n fogs covering with a pale skin the crude bones of our desires the naked incongruity of appetites i n the frozen marrow of november bodies the fusion of what we look for the warmth of some remembered or anticipated spring with cold r e a l i t y the now of i n e f f e c t u a l winter creating screens our smiles our skins stretching over bones the movement t i n g l e of l i v i n g a l l fogs hiding the limp f a l l of the l a s t leaves the rot of summer's green the hope that we should be a l i v e before we die. 29 MARKING THE PALL Once together the perfection of a moment promised something I was never s u r e — 1 I remember the car the black r i p of trees the road chalked out the h a l l u c i n a t i o n of your touch I remember and I note i t i s l i k e thinking back to f a l l l i k e Imagining asters wandering u p h i l l a c i t y of puddles with the she l l s of a thousand leaves tramp ships brown and russet over rennet dyed seas l i k e f e e l i n g i n imagination the mud and pulpy grass and the f i r s t frost starching leaves I note and I remember yet I know the symmetry of early tracings fade and today i n October I walk i n the garden seeing a sky disfigured by f a i n t clouds dead trees and leaves l i k e black wings mangled i n the trap of r e a l i t y . 30 SONG FOR A CITY I remember your beaches oozing l i k e whipped cream out of the edges of apartments your architecture a cubist experiment your rainy people sprinkled everywhere and a l l those mountains l i k e coloured s l i d e s b e a u t i f u l and repetitious I remember your backyard on the sea the yachtsmen who never leave shore celebrating with n a u t i c a l zeal the ships dabbled i n between buildings and the smell of seaweed bouncing o f f the sidewalks I remember your wet streets shining l i k e o i l paints the shoppers with mushroom heads the collage of constant damp the sudden l i f t when a snow wind swells the mountains or when the fog churned out of sea b o i l e r s clears and we see you for what you are a charlatan f u l l of promises leaving your people somewhere else longing for you. 31 PARKING LOT I wait i n the car while the fog steers down and human mobiles night years away dangling from some s t i l l c e i l i n g s h i f t bend and cohere into clearer outlines as they walk Watching for you while horns dapple the I n v i s i b l e i n l e t with running sound I stare at the th i c k o i l s of night f e e l the panic of the cold hours the foreshortened buildings the globules of neons the s t r i a t e d lamp posts know the t e r r o r of a burning c i t y put out by november and alone i n the rasping smoke I know you w i l l not come yet I wait my loneliness deepened by t h i s grey coating t h i s congestion of f a l l making me l i k e the scene an abstraction my heightened u n r e a l i t y blending with the strangeness of t h i s f u t i l e l o s t night. 32 MOUNTAINS Walking through an arabesque of mountains I f e e l the v i t a l i t y of these w i l d things these bold dancers rock streaked trees pinned on r i p p i n g the sky a l l resounding, a l l movement small things pivoting on the steep sides w a t e r f a l l s crashing through the gripped hands of fern and frond winds c i r c u l a t i n g l i k e blood through the great bodies At the feet of these immortals I walk a dead thing my l i f e a s t i l l erosion my slow disappearance controlled and perpetual. 33 PLIGHT PROM THE COAST I came to t h i s town (the mountains removed) and sorted my desires to move from myself firmly netted by the sea from a l l my close loves a l l that the sea heaps greedily on i t s lap boats and seagulls clouds and r a i n from the enclosure of green trees I came to t h i s place t h i s immensity t h i s arena held down by three-quarters sky here where birds are open as clowns here where the beer parlours are staccato with construction men and the one main street i s p i t t e d by t i r e claws here where only the jubilant fat ice grows long and sleek and the northern l i g h t s are h o s t i l e s p i t t i n g yellow f i r e out of a black a l l e y Alone on Saturday night I hear sudden cacophonies of men and women swaddled i n hairs hurrying nowhere i n the snow and a l l the night (mountainless) staccato with cold passes me by. 34 ALL SOUL'S DAY I l i s t e n e d to the organ and the dies i r a e — t h e old brooding r i t e But I was young that November and I walked from the church Into an evening r a i n too v i t a l for an old year the drops racked the pavement and ran o f f l i k e cats to mix with the dark Past swaying coke and cigarette signs I ran triumphant while the r a i n dripped l i k e wax o f f my face the f l i c k e r i n g neons stained me and I became a shining mosaic Store windows highlighted me and I was wooed by paintings and china and blurred furs (But I saw a dresden figure gleaming i n an antique window I t s face uhmarred by two hundred years and I was suddenly moved to tears my hands withered and grew old and I heard with f u t i l e understanding the solemn music of A l l Soul•s Day.) 35 A DIRGE I The old Highlanders my people crossed the ocean forty years ago came through the a r i d i t y of p r a i r i e to the west coast to the r a i n the w i l d chanting of the trees and drone of waves moving i n remembered patterns on shores rockier than those l e f t behind. I I they were strong faces rubbered by the wind and sea women with hands veined blue r i v e r s on hardened f l e s h the men giants who defended the f a i t h i n waterfront j o i n t s with f i s t s powerful as the sea ripping the rocks whose young eyes followed the words of the Gaelic songs and saw t h e i r i s l a n d g l o r i f i e d I I I powerful proud men they worked by the sea and on the sea threw t h e i r nets into the b i g b e l l y of the P a c i f i c gutted f i s h s a i l e d as carpenters and mates and saw from the decks the h a l f - f i n i s h e d jigsaw of the coast b i t s of land hanging o f f the sea steely t i p s of mountains and d i s j o i n t e d curvature of trees 36 IV Here i n an a l i e n land they raised us t h e i r children gave us i n the groping complexities of time the s i m p l i c i t y of an old b e l i e f marvelled at our new learning and held us with the compliment of t h e i r t r u s t V now they are dying now we read to them wipe crumbs off t h e i r blue creased l i p s l i s t e n impatiently to the recurring pattern of embroidered ta l e s Now at our turn when the pipes shriek the splendour of our dead at the l a s t r e s t i n g place we of a new generation seeing the strong bodies l a i d simply i n the earth tremble for what we do not have. 37 SPRING SIDEWALK Spring leaped through the pavement taught small g i r l s and boys to f l y skipped them over diamond stones pitched wagons scooters runners down the h i l l i n the clean sun brought us out too wiser than Solomon old faces trenched i n the l i g h t stepping backwards over birds and plants and hours to sweep the grey cement. 38 LENT This year the sun came out sharply caught our breath l i k e a J i b snapped into the wind heaved up plants and backyards of torn cats p o l l i n a t i n g the sky grew branches of birds chased dogs r i p p l i n g into bony earth and gave ol d men another year sent them grinning into the wind and who can pray when mountains race the sky and who can ponder i n t h i s kitey weather excuse us l o r d t i l l some more sombre time when dark rains soak the sun and drown us bugs and flowers and men too hard too hard t h i s bursting spring to think as we should of the fact of death. 39 AT THE SUMMER COTTAGE Once as a c h i l d i n a simple perfect summer when seaweed clawed the rocks and sailboats with white mouths clung grudgingly to piers a wind rammed the sea and my cat reading hysteria into the sudden storm ran a f r o t h of madness on whiskers and r u f f In the long useless chase I lunged and f e l l sobbed at passive trees and grass pleaded with dead stones but the cat blazing at me with t e r r i f i e d eyes disappeared leaving me with a handful of uprooted moss and a suggestion of cruelty i n the simple perfect summer. 40 SPRING BURIAL I see the old people step carefully-over the rounded grass the old harsh people faces l a i d p i t i f u l i n a morning of rock c l a r i t y uncovered l i k e the grave stones squatting low on the ground Nearby i n the s t i l l untidy time before spring greens the mounds the new box waits i t s f u t i l e use and the pr i e s t prays for the dead ancient gray words set l i k e slabs i n the memory prays for the dead and for a l l of us a l l old people dying i n the grass buried i n the re l e n t l e s s coming and going of every spring. 41 


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