Three Poems by Karen Solie

cervantes final size

Lowry at The Sylvia

"... he knew how to act, and I how to write: we were destined for each other."
	-- Don Quixote de La Mancha

"Perhaps Don Quixote wouldn't have hesitated so long. . . . A character for whom I've the greatest respect by the way."
	-- The 1940 Under the Volcano

"Don't you see it'll kill two birds with one stone -- a stone, Cervantes!"
	-- Under the Volcano, 1947




The life I've led and the one I remember
separated like the ply of thread
in the lucid heat between the third glass 

and the fourth, requiring a fifth as per the natural 
rhythm, even if it has to be the piss they drink 
in Vancouver. My friend, those clothes 

are wearing you, said my friend, who is also 
my enemy, whose name only signifies 
outside the fiction in which I'd like to leave him. 

Like war, he makes no distinction between public 
and private places, and has acquired an ancestral 
quality, the unshakeable me and not-me. 

Let us convey our sorry aspects back to Dollarton, 
under twin flares of the Shell refinery, 
where we can think. If it's to be our deathbed, 

we'll make it last, said he, raising a mescal 
to the salt plain of English Bay, to the freighters,
monstrous and priestly, full of the word

of a new world. Reality is a theory retroactively
applied; to invoke it is to do nothing but clear 
one's throat. And when I abandoned 

the one decent bar in this city of pulp mills and hotel 
managers, he pursued me through the eastern 
neighbourhoods' poisonous Canadian broth of neglect 

and over-legislation until I wanted back 
what I thought I had, and didn't care if it was real, 
whether I gave it away, or it was taken from me.

 
 
 
 

He Remembers A Friend From His Travels



Dispersed atoms sluggishly reconvened, 

I woke to a human noise originating 

outside me, for once,

and a bundle over to which I hauled my body's carbons.     

A griskin. Hard bread. 

For 30 years an otter brought fish to Paul the Hermit.     

Yes, well --     

and neither can I subsist on grasses and spring water

as did Kentigern.

Another story there. His poor mother.

What a place this is. 


Unwilling to let me expire in their vicinity     

or in the hope it buys favour, 

people leave food.

I wish they wouldn't. I wish they would.

Some remember me from when I was a person.

Their backs to me now, a child's small frame,     

or yards of female fabric indicating wind direction.


Jesus is love but bank the coals or die. 

Hands wrapped in rags, collecting stones for a cache against

wild pigs and others, light to moderate snow 

horizontally north-south.     


I recognize this rough farm cloth, its provenance.

A wife from the hill of daughters 

whose husband walked a path as though to shame it,

although you did not sit, did not loosen your coatcollar

before first talking to her.     

I must not soften my blisters with water, she said,     

and her environment molested by druids.


      Worship? Please. It's an excuse to drink 
	in public. The earth may provide for them
	but by Christ's fingernails not what grows from or grazes 
	upon my own. Low-balled dogwalkers,
	granary robbers, fucking mannequins, skeets, litterers, 
	they bang on about human sacrifice but I seriously doubt
	they're that effective. Specious lawsuits, the serving of writs 
	more likely and their degrees are probably stolen.
	Brother, their poetry is truly awful. 

Her warm kitchen, honey and dry leaf smell of cut barley.

A spade leaning in a corner representing mortality.


      Eejits lying drunk and sunburned by the dyke,
	one a stretched rope, one a shrivelled root, another
	an angry little spider, you laugh, but I take my washing
	in when they approach, the ill-shaped shitty-arsed leprous
	perverts, hirpling like carthorses in their bad shoes.
 	Schoolboys pelt them with rocks, and I understand. 
	To look at them is to have one leap into your hand.
	You'd think if Columba's powers banished demons from a well
	he could have ridden Dunino of the druids.


The good and lowly vegetables she prepared. 

Memory.

I would rather starve now than suffer it.

 
 
 
 

He Abandons the Cult of Saints


"His fame then, who raises the dead, gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, and cures the sick;
 before whose sepulchre lamps are continually burning, and whose chapels are crowded with devotees,
 adoring his relics upon their knees; his fame, I say, shall be greater both in this world and the next..."
	
	-- Don Quixote de La Mancha


I can't say now if there ever was innocence in it.    

Burning the self as though it were a city.     

Believing the past, once destroyed, returns, 

but remade, and better. 

We Companions of God appeared, 

even to ourselves, to suffer our visions 

as actual conflicts. Confronting dragons as did 

the Child Jesus, improving on St. Serf's arguments 

with the devil, striding broad tracts of land 

in pleasure and in duty to the people to whom 

we brought direction and focus, evidence 

of those who lived and died 

contrary to nature's precedents.

The faithful were visited by these spirits. 

They received special talents. 

They got a lot more done.

But the veneration of relics became a trade in relics 

that eventually suggested our dear saints possessed, 

in addition to various divine attributes, 

more than the usual number of working parts. 

Whose were they? 

The fingerbones and blood-soaked cloth? 

The several tongues of St. Anthony?

Corpses piled up until the whole world was a tomb.

Death lost its autonomy; strange to say,

it sickened, the boundary 

between this world and the next

no longer firm. Between place and no-place.

It reduced people's ability to think metaphorically. 

They believed the things they said 

because they said them. 

And as my colleagues seemed no longer capable

of  speaking naturally, in the middle voice,

the blood of my own voice drained away.

Karen Solie

About Karen Solie

Karen Solie was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Her collections include Short Haul Engine, Modern and Normal, Pigeon, and The Living Option. She has received the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Pat Lowther Award, and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. The Living Option was named one of the best poetry books of 2013 by the National Post and The Independent. Solie lives in Toronto, Canada.