Arts

Reading Lorna Crozier’s Wolves: An Exercise in Cascadian

Here’s a poem from the great Canadian poet, Lorna Crozier, who has spent most of her working career in Cascadia. That refined achievement is about as Cascadian as you can get if you weren’t formed by the rocks and water of Cascadia (as all children are formed, in part, by their environments.) It’s pretty fascinating. I know that many of my readers aren’t readers of poetry, but hopefully I can show you something about Cascadia and its relationship to Canada. Perhaps we can find a method that we can apply to, shall we say, less-refined objects. So, let’s plunge in. Here’s the opening.

 

Wolves

 

A great start! Note that there are plural wolves here. We expect a pack. It’s not a pack. As readers, like it or not, we are included. In fact, we read on, committing ourselves to Crozier’s power. She now exercises it, kind of like flexing the fingers before dealing a poker hand.

The wildness in you has gone out

to meet the wolves who are hunting

along the shore.

Isn’t that masterful? Note how there is no “you” and no “wolves” and no “shore.” In their place, there is a subjunctive case, a perhaps-this-will-be-true-in-your-mind-if-I-cast-it-there, and it is, sort of, and not just within language. That’s a kind of magic, and beautifully done. The poem is from her 2015 collection, The Wild in You, published by the Canadian publisher Greystone Books. I don’t have a picture of a wolf, but I have one of my dog Winston, who was 1/4 wolf. I lived with him for ten years. He was a person. Here he is 8 years ago, before he went to spirit.

On her foundation, Crozier continues, simultaneously taking the image she has conjured up within you apart and extending it.

You can’t see

this wayward part of you

the way you see your breath in winter,

but you feel the bite of canine teeth

as if you now live

in the throat of a stricken deer.

That’s dramatic, powerful, and vicious. If I may paraphrase, she is saying: “that part of you that goes out to meet the wolves along the shore is wayward, in part because you can’t see it.” She then uses her image of breath in winter to open a darker tone. From a cast image of a human mouth breathing, and images of childhood and wonder that come with it, arises the teeth of a dog, a tamed wolf (as she is suggesting you are as well) that takes down a deer. And, she points out accurately, because you are both the dog and the deer, and feel a bit stricken by the attack, it is

as if you now live

in the throat of a stricken deer.

There’s that what-if again. Here’s an image of a deer, not to dispel Crozier’s image, but to show that it is a choice, in which anyone who reads the poem is somewhat unwillingly complicit.

Notice that this is not that part of you that goes out to meet the wolves, unless words are the wolves. In terms of the natural world, though, deer avoid wolves, while wolves track deer. Crozier, however, is not confusing these two behaviours. She is, however, saying that the shock of this image — and its seeming randomness — has taken away that childhood breath, and now that your body is breathless, this is what Crozier proposes:

It appears as 

You’ve never understood before

what beauty means, how it

blasts the blood and leaves you

shaken, demanding more

than you can ever,

in this human body, be.

Again, she is speaking only of an illusion, an “it-appears-as-if”, which is as good as saying: “No, it’s not.” The real message is not that this breathless state is “beauty,” but that the breath, on its return, bursts into the blood as a wind and leaves you demanding to be more than a human body, to be, in effect, the kind of magical effects cast up by this poem. Where does the poem sit in this self-aware state? Only in its beginning:

 

The wildness in you has gone out

to meet the wolves who are hunting

along the shore.

 

All else is the poem, the reading of the poem, and the writing of it. All are being hunted by words, the true wolves of the poem, who hunt along the shores of the mind, or, between the eye and understanding.

Ktlil’x, a Syilx Ancestor

 

It is, as Crozier masterfully demonstrates, an easily-manipulable space. However, in Cascadian terms, the trick is more than that. In the history of this North Eastern Pacific shore, the English language is an invader. It has hunted the land and its people. It is the wildness within. Of any “wildness” without, Crozier speaks not a word. Perhaps because she is setting that space aside. This space, perhaps (or perhaps not):

Red Hill, a Nlaka’pamux Ancestor

I say “perhaps not” because it is, after all, as Crozier wisely demonstrates, outside of the reach of the language artefact that is a poem. And there is my point about Cascadia. If the living Earth is outside of the reach of the language in Cascadia, or outside of its most refined, multi-dimensional artefacts at the very pinnacle of cultural achievement, surely these artefacts, and this language, are not Cascadian. If we’re going to define Cascadian as “of the people who live in a place,” then, sure, it is. Such a definition, however popular, would leave the land outside of human concern, as Crozier demonstrates. This land:

Umatilla Ridge: one of my ancestors

It would also leave the land’s people outside of the conversation, to be manipulated by language at will, no matter how much self-consciousness is applied to their representation. People like this:

Western Blue Butterflies at Umtanum Creek: Yakama Ancestors

We could easily set these exquisitely-arranged people in a pattern of verbal and rhythmic effects in a poem on a page, and even make a magical artefact of it, but we’d miss the point that they are dancing. With their wings open, they are the sky on the earth. With them closed, they are the brown dust of the earth in the sky. Each wingbeat opens or closes the pathways of this relationship. What’s more, it’s best to consider them as one butterfly, not many, in the same way that the sun or the earth reflected in the sphere of a raindrop is the entire sun or the entire Earth, a million times or more in an instant of a summer rain shower. Crozier’s poems asks the impossible: to be a wolf and supersede the human. Cascadia asks something else: bring the world into your village. It is a form of civilization not made out of building things. It is one of going out to things themselves and to stay there. It is not about superseding the human. What the Canadian poet Lorna Crozier calls that transcendence is the point, here, where human begins. In the same way that Crozier challenges her readers to see that they are the animals, actions and attributes they encounter within language, Cascadia challenges her readers to be the moment of observation, not the observation itself, or not the observing eye.

It is a subtle difference, but it shows where Crozier’s readers can go. She has spent a lifetime carrying us to a place as far as she could go, where we can be born.  We are not travelling to this place.

Dry Falls and a Fence: Two of My Ancestors

Everything that is here needs praise. We follow praising, just as we followed Crozier’s poem. Without the creosoted fence post above, we would have to start again, at the moment of colonial or imperial contact. It would take us another 175 years, time we do not have, to get where we are now. The future is not an ‘as if’. It is here. And it often looks like the past.  That’s just a human bias, and one easily shed.

3 replies »

  1. So much a Crozier poem, Harold – thank you for posting it. I too had a wolf-dog and felt him almost sentient, unowned, but a kindred soul. He has gone to spirit also but gave me almost fourteen years so I was blessed.

    Like

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