Sunday, March 25, 1979

Dolphins, Inland Passage, journal

We walked down four flights of stairs of bleached wooden cedar planks that connected the cliff with the shore, and the railroad tracks below the town. The stairs, like the ones at Pike Street Market in Seattle collect all the town winos, and the Indians.

We are on foreign soil, their stares tell us. The streets are for white folks that ride the ferry up from the mainland in there well padded Winnebagos. They are like metal wombs that completely isolate them from the people that live here. They're all bound for Prince George to go fishing and hunting. No one stays long in Prince Rupert.

With our grubby backpacks and jeans, a symbol, just as the Winnebago is, we wandered down the tracks where the vegetation grows the thickest. We watched the natives of the forest with their cheap wine watching us.

The mid day summer sun warms the railroad ties that smell of creosote and tar and the light shimmers wet on the inland passage that faces to the west to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and beyond them the open Pacific.

Why aren't the Indians somewhere out there and dugout canoes like the Haida in Curtis's film? What's here for them? Work in the floating ship factories? They drink down their two weeks pay before the weekend is over.

I've been to the coast of Vancouver Island. Uclulit, another fishing town 40 miles away by sea, some 90 miles by road, wouldn't want to spend the winter in either place.The intense loneliness of the isolated towns along the coast. Even the sun seems indifferent as it filters down to the hemlocks.

The quality of light in the north, a difference of angle of sun to the earth. The sun didn't set until midnight and then it arose again too early. Orange sky for three hours as the sun dipped to the horizon. Haida Bear stands sentinel to  the deserted longhouses, rotting away  in the wilderness on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Winos lying along the railroad tracks, when's the last time they saw their totemic ancestors? Last night, dolphins escorted our ship into port.

No date, but a copy was attached to my Hoh River piece, 7/25/1979, though the experience was from 1977 or 78.
This may be a piece I wrote in 1978. By fall of 1978, I had turned it into a poem and added it to my poetry MS (calligraphed), so it dates from 1978 or earlier. But it's interesting to see them side by side. If I wrote the prose in 1978, I was clearly a much better prose writer than a poet. If only I had known.

Inland Passsage

Added 10/16.

Thursday, March 22, 1979


A leaf scuttles across the blacktop
on four tiny feet
and leaps up the embankment
where the full moon lamp post
illuminates the way

In the western sky the new moon 
carries out the aging moon 
in her crescent arms

The sword of Orion dangles at his side
the hunter and his dogs bound 
along the western journey
through darkness

Does his sword slice through the perfect orb 
of darkness and light 
making an even cut across its surface 
this equinox?

Do the days end nights 
dole out their essence carefully in spring?

Does Orion chase after the setting sun 
or does he hunt for something else 
only in darkness?

Does the new moon flee 
from the edge of his sword
with the encased egg of the old moon 
in her arms like a spider
protecting her young?

Will we never see the stars 
from the Southern Cross from here?

Why is everyone chasing through the sky? 
who brings in the day?

Spring Equinox, 1979
added 2/2017

Thursday, March 15, 1979

A mile a minute past midnight

A mile a minute past midnight, my memories of you reminds me of tiny words pattering across my mind at night when I'm about to go to sleep. I'm not aware at first, that I haven't gone to sleep, and that I'm not dreaming, but I catch myself thinking at 60 mph, and it's an hour past midnight, and I'm still not asleep.
I can't shake the words out of my head and onto a piece of paper when I need or want them. Fickle words, they raced back-and-forth willfully and disturb my sleep, or whatever else it was that I was doing.
They seriously disrupt my every thought process until my poor tired mine looks like an oatmeal porridge bowl fraught with tangled, snarled, wounded, mutilated words limping back from the wars with goblins and hobiyas.
I have to gather them up neatly and packaged them and place them in the proper crannies and knotholes until I need them again.
The problem is, they won't stay of their own free will. They kick off their wrappers and start making themselves heard, and so I spent a lot of time repackaging and re-rapping them to put them back where they belong in the dusty recesses of my mind.
Like you, they tip-toe out uninvited and run rampant as soon as the lights go out.

Good night… Again.
Spring 1979? No date
added 10/16

Thursday, March 1, 1979

Driving to K’san, Skeena River

Driving to Terrace

I admired the rough beauty of the Skeena River and the glacial sweep of the mountains. We were nearing Terrace. There was Old Terrace where the Indians mostly lived, New Terrace, a government project most likely, and there was a lot of empty road between it and 'Ksan, a reconstructed Indian village near Old Hazelton, that Vernon helped to design. Something to do with national pride. The Gitxsan Indian Nation.

Vernon was nothing like the Cherokee man we met in Vancouver who wanted to annihilate all white folks. But he liked us right enough. He wore a breastplate made of bones in the Cherokee style. Bones that reminded me of the delicate bone of my forearm. Paranoid, I told myself.

Vernon Stephens was driving down the Yellowhead at 110 mph in an old 60s pickup truck. Our packs were in danger of flying out the back of the truck. But I trusted Vernon implicitly. He picked us up in Prince Rupert. Liked our foolhardiness. "Anyone nuts enough to try to hitch out of that place deserves a ride," he said.

I had briefly met Vernon years before in front of the de Young museum (or was it the UBC?) I once spent an afternoon watching him carve a totem pole in the old way. I never expected to run into him again in Prince Rupert, of all places.

Vernon's hair was the most beautiful wavy black cloud I had ever seen. Bob's hair was long, and curly, California style, but he always wore his hair tied back in a knot, like he was secretly embarrassed by it all, and only grew long to be defiant after he got out of the army.

Vernon wore his hair like a bride's veil and he walked with the comfort of the man in touch with his body, his energy directed from his hips led him forward with grace and ease. Bob was head oriented. Like there was this string attached to the top of his head, lifting him up every time he stepped forward. Not of the earth. But then, that was Bob's way.

I'd been with Bob for so long, I'd gotten used to his ways. I'd forgotten about them, actually. Vernon made me aware of it. Made me turn over in my subconscious. Took me two years to realize it. Bob made me unhappy and I didn't even know it.

We stopped off to have a beer in Smithers. Vernon knew everybody there—there wasn't enough room for another chair at our table. "Can I buy you another round?" another face asked. I couldn't even place the name with the face, there were so many buyers.

I noticed that I was the only woman drinking in the bar. This was truly a man’s world. I was gatecrashing.Again. I asked, "So, don't women drink beer around here?" No one answered. The waitress was the only other woman I had seen since leaving Prince Rupert. Rosie was her name. Vernon said she was a great gal. He knew her well. I think. It made me a little envious.

Amazing to watch this man who had the profound respect of all these white folks. Not like the ones who hurled slurs at Indians in other towns. Not like the drunks sleeping it off below Pike Street in Seattle.

Vernon is a goldsmith. A well-known goldsmith. Most everyone around here is wearing one of the chased wristbands he makes for the Provincial Museum in Victoria, and other tourist shops. One of those bands costs more than what Bob and I have to live on for the entire summer.

Vernon takes off his cuff to show us how he makes it convex. I dabble in silver and show him my turquoise rings. I can tell that he is not impressed which makes me sit up a bit, as I'm pretty good at it, but I have no intention of becoming a jeweler, and he knows it.

The beer keeps coming. Soon, I'm slithering under the table, and they all have a good laugh. "She can can't even hold her beer," Vernon says smugly. I feel the implied dig and I slur, "I'm Irish. 100% Irish. We feel it sooner. It's this Canadian beer, it's stronger than our American beer." He laughs.

"Yeah, that’s real piss beer," someone offers. I retort, "Hey, listen, you got to account from my relative size. I am a lot smaller than you guys." And then I pretty much fall into a heap on the floor. Vernon takes my unfinished beer and drains it down. Lifts me up. Says, "Well, we gonna hit the ground. I got to get to Terrace. Thanks. Be seeing you."

Vernon pulled the battered truck into the only gas station in town. It took us two tanks of gas to drive from Prince Rupert to Terrace. We paid for gas. Least we could do. Nothing is close these parts. To go to the nearest bar, you have to drive 40 miles or so. No alcohol on Indian reservations.

Soon we have to take a break, return all that rented beer. There's so little traffic in these parts, the two men just stand there jawing on the side of the road at dusk. Male bonding in action. Twin rivulets track across the road and head down to the Skeena River. My beer frothed into a little well of sacred earth by the side of the road, making me realize, that despite the company, I was very much alone. In retrospect, I should’ve folded my bad hand, and run off with Vernon. But it was not in the cards.

typed 3/1979


Skeena River and vast glacial mountains
We drink from a pure stream along the way.
Why did Vernon say he hated the river?
Whey did it ever do to him?
Halfway to Terrace we stopped off for a beer
Soon the table was crowded with Indians
and two gringo hitchhikers.
After several rounds, I slid under the table
and all the men laughed because
a woman couldn't hold her beer.
We returned the rented beer to the river.

I’ve backpacked through British Columbia
and slept wherever it suited me.
But in Vancouver there was nowhere to stay.
So we slept in the shrubbery
at the University of British Columbia
and under a tree in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria
only to be awakened by an aphid rainstorm
and to a young man waking the swans with his flute.
And after a hangover from the Beaver Pub
we slept in the shadow of the lofty Empress Hotel.
In Stanley Park where we watched the ships in the Straits.
At Jasper, deep in the Rockies, We slept in a hotel lobby
with other travelers of the thumb
And we snuck into the showers upstairs.
Ah, such heaven.

On the reservation
she was young and big and brown
and seemed so much younger than I.
She looked forward to the day
when she could join the RCMP Academy.
She said her grades were good.
I looked at her in disbelief
and thought to myself, ah well,
one can be miserable in the midst of splendor
but it still is a kind of hell for her.
I have traveled so far to see her hell.
I camped by the Skeena River
in the bushes that night
and I got sick from the water.
Another hind of hell.