Sunday, December 30, 2012

A chance encounter

     I invite you to celebrate the coming of the new year 2013 with a poem I like a lot.
     Alberta poet Alice Major produces poems that feel good in the mouth when you read them aloud.   As in "Locate the site," offered below.   From the repeated t's in her title and the c's in her epigraph to her closing lines with "accept / the guidance of whatever calculating god / has taken you in care," I hugely enjoy the vocal experience of reading Major's words; and that pleasure enhances their meaning.  That her terms often are mathy adds still more enjoyment.

Locate the site     by Alice Major

      To find a city, make a chance encounter

The plane sails in above the setter-coloured fields
swathed in concentric lines of harvest,
circle on square.  I find myself returning
to this place that wasn't home.

I came to escape
somewhere else, to scrape
a little gold from the sidewalk,
a little frost from the windshield --
meant to pocket these shavings,
shiftless change that would melt and leave
me unchanged.  X
marks the spot on the treasure map.

     Marked here
     on this bend among so many --
     the only city in a thousand miles of river.
     A site decided through the puzzling ratio
     of random chance to fate.

The plane's wings slide in the angle of light.
Below, the river ploughs its brown furrow --
wedding of land and water.

     The North Saskatchewan.
     South Saskatchewan.  Rivers like longlegs
     of a compass splayed across the prairies.

A thousand miles of river --
how to take that measure?

     Arithmetic of river, aftermath of current
     as the river bends into cliff, cuts its path
     and rounder, rolls back on itself.
     But cannot flow in circles -- trips up,
     cuts off an oxbow, snaps
     its path straight again.

     Do we measure length
     as geese or gulls fly?  or as a leaf
     would float each elemental bend and curve? 
     Both these distances bound up
     In one another, by the ratio
     of circle to the line drawn taut across it.

Runways mark a skewed cross
on prairie.  Wheels rush at tarmac.
We arc in our seats -- thrust
forwards and backwards at the same time.

I collect my circulating luggage
from the baggage belt's meander,
cut through the swirl of strangers
and their bright foreign chatter,
head for the taxi stand.

To find a city, accept
the guidance of whatever calculating god
has taken you in care.

     "Locate the site" is from a sequence, Contemplatio, based on the ancient Roman rituals for the founding of a city.  It appears in The Occupied World (University of Alberta Press, 2006).  With the poem, Major also offers this note:  The length of a meandering river is governed by pi -- in other words, the more the stream meanders, the closer the ratio of the actual, circuitous length to the direct end-to-end distance tends to pi.   
     And, as  our counted days move from 2012  into 2013, here (at is a link to a poem that I like by Robert Service, "The Passing of the Year."  Service wrote largely of the Yukon, and one of his best-loved poems is "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

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