A Stunning Debut – Linda K. Thompson’s 2021 Poetry Collection – BLACK BEARS IN THE CARROT FIELD

B.C.-based poet Linda K. Thompson: Photo Credit: Alberni Valley News

Pete Sillanpaa Never Loved the Moon

Aino died first and Pete lost heart.
Spent his last years at the Finnish rest home in South Vancouver.
The farm by Punch Creek: two small fields along the road,
the gooseberries, the sauna,
the green and white house with the steep pitched roof,
all sold off to someone from the city.

He said he and Aino walked together through that last night.
The moon stepping ahead, always ahead of the shadows,
lighting the rags on their shoulders. Aino’s shredded kerchief.
They came down through the birch and the pines by the river.
No lights, not a sound.
Not a horse or cow or dog.
No nightjar, no owl, no whip-poor-will.
Just chimneys, like bones of a long dead beast,
strewn before them. the stink of of everywhere.
And the moon, Pete said, the moon.

Pete had worked all over. Came to our place for digging.
Tossed hundred pound sacks all day.
Ate black bread with linden tea for lunch.
Told us about the old country. About the war.
Told us how the Russians marched his village
off to a work camp, and when they let them come home,
thaose that were left, the village was gone.

He said he and Aino walked together through that last night.
The moon stepping ahead, always ahead of the shadows,
lighting the rags on their shoulders. Aino’s shredded kerchief.
They came down through the birch and the pines by the river.
No lights, not a sound.
Not a horse or cow or dog.
No nightjar, no owl, no whip-poor-will.
Just chimneys, like bones of a long dead beast,
strewn before them. the stink of of everywhere.
And the moon, Pete said, the moon.

Linda K. Thompson from BLACK BEARS IN THE CARROT FIELD, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2021

This poem. How it looks to the past but also foretells the horrors in Ukraine. At the end of WWII so many stories, as in this poem, of razed villages and towns in Finland and other countries in Europe. And their citizens shipped off to work camps. And, now, the same thing happening in Ukraine. Ad these striking, haunting lines:

Just chimneys, like bones of a long dead beast,
strewn before them. the stink of it everywhere.

And the brilliance, too, not just of the moon in her poem but the title of Linda’s poem: Pete Sillanpaa Never Loved the Moon. How it sets a stage and takes anything sentimental or Hallmark-ish out of the last line: And the moon, Pete said, the moon. One of the most original takes on the moon I ever seen in a poem. Turns the old tropes of a romantic or beautiful moon and turns them on their heads. The utter surprise of a disdained moon in a poem. The so-many droll surprises in the poems of Linda K. Thompson.

This is my second blog post featuring Linda. Here is what I wrote at the end of my blog post on  February 19th, 2019:

I am grateful to Linda Thompson. My world is richer for her people and places she brings so alive in her poems. I hope some publisher gets real smart, real fast and snaps up Linda’s manuscript. It will be a strong book for sure!

Well, Mona Fertig of Mother Tongue Publishing on Salt Spring Island, BC, got real smart and published Linda’s manuscript BLACK BEARS IN THE CARROT FIELD in 2021. None too soon! To hear Linda read from her book please click here.

Here is more of what I said about Linda in that blog post. To read the post please click here.

There are many ways to describe Linda’s poems  but for me her genius is how she portrays the foibles of her characters without ever laughing at them. She recognizes something of her self in them I think and we get to recognize the something of ourselves in them as well. Our shared humanity. Her locations for her poems may not be familiar to most of us but I feel because of her poems I know this mountainous country hiding inside the coastal mountains of southern British Columbia near Pemberton and highway 99. In many ways in her poems I am reminded of Wendell Berry and the folks he brings so alive in his stories of the Port William Membership.

I have spent many hours with Linda in poetry circles especially with our mentor and beloved poet Patrick Lane. And heard Linda’s signature voice in poems first ever hear around those circles. What a joy to celebrate Linda’s poems and her book. One of the singular and truly-worthy-of-praise poetry collections to come out of 2021.

And here are two poems of hers in her new collection I first heard in these circles:

Near Nice, France – 1941

A paper lies on my desk, one corner folded under.
I don’t want to write about love again.

Now Matisse is old. Drawing from his bed with a long stick and chalk.
The walls and ceilings covered with shapes of leaves and dots and circles.

Patterns over patterns.

I am Monique. I am the portrait with the red-and-blue face.
One breast facing west, one breast facing east.

He talked to me. Sat close and asked about my family.
Looked in my eyes. Admired my hair.

The studio was hot in August.
Prespiration trickelled into his beard.

Madam brought water and lemon from the trees.
Through the window cicadas called and called.

How he painted.
Compelled to the last to draw every line within him.

Why am I red and blue, Monsieur? I ask.
My dear, he replies, exactitude is not truth.

And touches my cheek. Tips my head to the left.

Linda K. Thompson, ibid

The huge narrative tension so wonderfully underplayed in this poem. The heart-breaking use of Monique’s interjections to us and then to Matisse (and us).conversations. And the craft of the end-stopped lines and irregular line length.  She uses end-stopped lines with such effect. It is a signature of her work. A poem to read again and again for its simplicity, yet complexities.

This next poem I so remember as well hearing for the first time in a circle. The shocking image of the eels slithering by on a lawn. The echo back to a line of Seamus Heaney’s.

Soul Poem

How to hold to the now, the here.
– James Joyce

1. Marty is building a stone wall around his farm. Finally. I guess he thinks,
finally, it’s mine. In his fifties, his father dead twenty years, his mother
since last fall, the sisters gone south, and the wall goes up.

2.
When Sheila told the border guard she was attending a poetry retreat,
he asked: what’ll ya git from that, Lady? Sheila whispered: Inspiration?
Validation? A couple of poems? And his elbow cocked and his hand
hovered over his sidearm.

3.
Doris is planning a bit of astral travel. It’s been years, she says, since
she’s travelled a good distance. Down to the mailbox, every morning isn’t
cutting it. She expects she might meet Howie out there, somewhere.

4.Edie dreamed her daughter was little was again, her hair dancing in a breeze.
The thing was, Edie said, she hadn’t reached out. Hadn’t touched the
curls, pressed her face against the girl’s sweet neck.

While I am writing this, eels are working their bodies across damp
meadows. Sharma is at the Foxton Locks setting up his tent for another
night of fishing, the Windsor racetrack is still closed so Ray and Betty
catch the tunnel bus to Detroit every Wednesday afternoon. Lucretia
has celebrated her sixteneth birthday and is off to the government office
with her change of name forms filled out in triplicate, Findlay is up to
the waxing and waning gibbous on his phases of the moon project.
Jennifer is memorizing Heaney’s poem and cries every time she comes
to the line “elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea,” Japan is still the
lonleliest country in the world with kodokushi on the rise, and the black
bears, the black bears are pacing the sandbars of the Somass at low tide.

Linda K. Thompson, ibid

The high and low tides in this poem: Doris’s astral travel and the kodokushi (dying alone and unnoticed for a long time). The sly humour and the poignant intimacies of so many lives. I still remember the moment I first heard the line about Ray and Betty travelling under the tunnel to Detroit. It is these little (huge) details that mark the genius of Linda K. Thompson.

 

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