The Rocky Mountain Poems

In the summer of 1973, as a long Steelworkers strike dragged on, I deserted my comrades on the picket line and made my second trip east to the Rocky Mountains. The year before I had cycled there from the West Coast; this time I hitch-hiked.

I met a friend on the McLeod River, a major tributary of the mighty Athabaska.  After he left, I stayed on to hike solo, west toward the foothills. I returned to Jasper, then hitched south to Banff, spending a night on Sulphur Mountain, listening to wolves howl.

In Calgary, concrete and frantic humanity repelled, but I would return that winter, drawn by  “distraction.” So began my affair with the Rockies.

I’ve returned many times, to hike, to climb the great peaks, and to photograph the wonders of this wrinkled expanse of our planet — most recently this week. Photos below.

McLeod River

His heavy leather feet
stumble over round stones
drag through grey sand
He bends, watching a small toad
leap into the scrub
Catch him there, bending
amongst the rocks

Dali’s Chemist … in Search of Absolutely Nothing
He shakes his hair
to dislodge a persistent horse-fly
He is animal
His mournful whistle falls flat
against the choir of trees
and the incessant sermon of the river
Wind scatters sand behind him
clouds skim toward the immense mountains
The sun is high

Removing his clothes
he slides his feet over hot stones
to jump into the icy river
His flesh is glass
brain jelly
muscle wire over brittle bone
Vertebrae melt
an amoeba flowing
into the plenum
of existence/non-existence
Standing upright
muscles fighting current
pushing, pulling, sucking
at his flesh
feet slipping
on the green riverbed
He climbs to the bank
waving his arms
into the hoard of buzzing predators
hastily pulling on clothes
He sits (behind smoked lenses)
reconstructing the counterfeit
(you must hunt him down)
The slow one
hunt him down
(the one who falls behind)


The woman in the dark
blue coat
outside the Banff Museum
asks her friend
if she saw the ptarmigan
(stuffed, perfect
behind glass)
“They change colour
to suit their surroundings”
she says


A crow flies over
the sun stands still
— a song discordant
for the evergreen —
My soul is caught
in a sudden gust
of drunken trees come
reeling through
the windy spaces of eternity

Athabasksa Hotel, Jasper

I wake up this morning at 8:30
in the small, modern room
I paid ten dollars for
at the Athabaska Hotel
— checkout time: 1:30 —
I want to use every minute.

Boil some water on the Optimus
for instant coffee
have a cigarette
Try to sleep some more
No dice.

Outside the rain has stopped
but dark clouds hang like smoke
over the sharp mountain peaks
Go down to the restaurant for breakfast —
bacon, eggs, toast and tea: dollar-seventy-five

Back in the room, figuring finances
(how much spent on beer last night?)
girl with vacuum-cleaner knocks on door

“Oh, just wondered if you were still here.”

My dumb presence in the doorway confirms I am

“Oh, OK.” I say, leaving the door open

The girl with the vacuum-cleaner is attractive
carrying towels and sheets down the corridor
to vacant rooms

It’s 11:00
I force away the thought that the beautiful girl
with the vacuum-cleaner
wishes I would leave so she can get her work done
Start packing my knapsack
Go through routine for the umpteenth time:
soap here, clothes here, rain cape on top

The exquisite girl with the vacuum-cleaner
has given up and gone to another floor
Knapsack packed
I check out at 11:30

I must go back to the mountains
or Oh Calcutta!

Sitting in the pedestrian mall
in Calgary I conclude
I must go back to the mountains …
too many distractions here
(Oh, that impeccable ass!)
Two days sitting
talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses
and Children of God
while my eyes wander
(“O quel cul t’as!”)
I must go back to the mountains
or I shall become a fanatic
walking the streets
demanding piety
One Truth
The Final Reality
above all the distractions of the city

I must go back to the mountains

I will not speak of miracles

I will not speak of miracles
the thunder announces
a moment of light
I will publish nothing
small dark letters
cankers on the white page
lightning strikes
the miracle kisses you gently
awake from this dream
your eyes turning
under a delicate veil
of membrane and hair
while in my arms
you sleep silently
against the electricity


when I turn my
eyes away
sun melts
over jagged mountain


Magic Stone: More Notes on the Sacred Fire

Winds speak
And I carry you
grey source of antiquity bent from time
Molten glass spiders through my skull
stretching over the wild precipice
like your breath

Fractured plains lay silent
for a moment
until thunder returns
so that I am emissary
— gravity’s child —
to bring you home

I want your wisdom
I want to suck the bright sulphur
When I smell your acrid heart
I am victorious green
and the sky is my sweet blue desert

I am your slave and titan
I am emperor of day
I am flesh

In my palm nerves grow between
bright crystals
Your slow heat awakens
to dance in my atoms and live.


Stone #2: The Spell (A poem for the September equinox)

why do you turn
when I balance still
over the silence like a word?

Where I have been
is lost: unknown
Yet I remember magic
I have the stone

I am your angel
only then and why
stones melt under my hand
and I am edgeless in the light

come into me

this fever
like September does



“All saints revile her, and all sober men” ~Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Smoke from my cabin chimney ―
a steel blade cutting through black trees
to the Milky Way,
a cloud of blasted diamonds

The Great Bear triangulates sleep
Moon draws aside dark curtains on
voluptuous white skin
garden of jewels
sirens of heat
refuge of soft breathing

I turn away
walking into the cold dome of night
lifting my face to the blinding tide


Robson River

I came looking
for tracks in the snow
to take me home

Many small creatures
have crossed my trail:
mice and shrew, a rabbit or two
perhaps a vole —
their passing
lightly etched in a skiff of new snow
The hunter stalks the riverbank

The cold ramparts of Mount Robson
rise above the forest,
its summit hidden in rolling shrouds of grey and white

The river, clear as glass,
courses between boulders
bounded with snow
canyon walls iridescent
mantled in green ice

Its waters go to the sea
where I restlessly abide
pulled by relentless tides
tossed by waves of indecision

I came looking
for tracks in the snow

Return to the Athabasca Hotel

Jasper’s Athabaska Hotel, polished by renovations,
wears its eighty-eight-years well

It was forty-five-years young
the last time I took a room here
(at ten dollars)
and I was a hitch-hiking youth
who fancied himself a mountain man,
a wandering bard,
a refugee from the assembly line

I return in comfort
driving my own car
booking two nights (at $119 per)
No pressing need to count pennies
worry if I’ll eat on the way home
(Fifteen-dollar breakfasts are nothing to me!)
or endure hours stranded on the side of the road
thumbing the air

The mountain heights
encased in winter
My ardour stilled
but restless with memory

Hobbled by injury, age and imprudence
I carry my luggage
and a ruin of dreams
up to the second floor


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