Lyric Narrative Spell-Casting – Three Poems of Linda K. Thompson

Canadian poet Linda K. Thompson, a member of the Island Five Poets!

And the Light Already Turning

I worry about Father. Do not know which way his body faces in the grave.
Does he look out to the Ryan or south to Mount Currie?

On the farm, only one birch, far out towards the river,
shone like the edge of a galaxy.

I am tired and I will not write here about love.
Father and his brothers ate honey from the hives in the fall.
Ate till they fell into the shade of the woodshed, dizzy.

Do you remember the sound of Mother’s voice? How she sang herself through
Father’s death? I am looking more like Mother.

Still I see the green of the fields, stretching to the rivers and south to Erickson’s line.
The smell of vines as thick as syrup.

I am no longer there to see the evening sun across those fields. It is here, inside me.
A light of girlhood, of things to come.

Linda K. Thompson from Solstice, a privately printed chapbook, nine copies, 2018

Who is Linda Thompson? Well, first, she should be a lot better known in the poetry world outside of Vancouver Island. This woman is the real thing! She could stand tall on any reading stage, anywhere. And where I have seen her read her audiences come alive. Nothing quiet about their positive responses.Linda’s quirky characters strike a nerve and a funny bone. But not a mean laughter. A knowing laughter.

And what a better way to introduce her than in her own words. No mistaking this voice:

Linda K. Thompson writes from her treehouse in the shadow of the Beaufort Range and she ends to pin her puny, homesick characters against this walloping landscape.  Since 2007 Linda has studied with Patrick Lane and recently with Lorna Crozier.  Her poem Botany for Beginners was shortlisted for the Malahat Review Far Horizons prize and she received Honourable Mention from the Troubadour International Poetry Prize out of London, England for her poem Gloria.  Linda has a chapbook “Four Small People in Sturdy Shoes” and her full-length manuscript “Black Bears in the Carrot Field” is making the round of publishers. A poet friend says of Linda’s writing:  “Her poems manage to combine the twang of the hurtin’ song with something dark and lyrical.”

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.

Gloria

Remember Gloria’s house on 8th? Or was it 12th?
The place with the shutters and red steps?
Remember how she whacked all the walls down
with those skinny arms of hers? The energy
that was busting out of her after she finally left Larry,
who couldn’t seem to love her enough?
But what do we know?
When they lived in the double-wide out Cherry Creek?
the chicken plucking parties? the trout pond?
the turret he built so she could reach the clothes line?
How he called her his “little German woman”?
Didn’t we all feel happy then?
Sitting in the kitchen, eating baby carrots out of the garden,
drinking wine from that big box with the spout?

Linda Thompson from Speakeasy 20: Canada in Five Voices, a limited edition chapbook, 2017

This deft touch Thompson has. What she doesn’t say about Gloria. What we can guess. And the longing, the wistfulness of this line: Didn’t we all feel happy then?

In December 2017 five Canadian poets, myself, Terry-Ann Carter, Barbara Pelman, Susan Alexander and Linda were invited down to Bellingham to read as part of the occasional SpeakEasy Poetry Series hosted by Judy Kleinberg and Luther Allen. What a huge gift those two are to the Bellingham literary community.  The signature feature of that round-robin reading was how each poet connected one of their poems to one of the poems of the preceding poet. Creates a lovely continuity.

Bellingham was so successful and we had so much fun we formally called ourselves the Island Five Poets and read last June in Victoria as part of the Planet Earth Poetry reading series and and will read again on April 20th, up in Nanaimo as part of the Nanaimo Poet Laureate’s reading series. Each reading has featured a new series of round-robin poems. Lots of work but it adds a secret sauce to the readings! Oh my!

This next poem of Linda’s which she read in Bellingham in 2017 brought the house down!

 Spreadsheet for Semi-Miracles

I.
It’s true, we were a kind of mishmash.
A lumpy mix of Presbyterian, Baptist, Atheist,
with some far off Catholic phantoms.
But we were not without our own odd
miracle or two.
Mother had a certain touch.
She brought a long gone red-necked
slider, named Tony,
back to life when we finally found him –
three months down
the living room heat register.
Popped him into some tepid water
and he puffed right up
into his old self again:
clambering up onto his Mason jar lid,
smacking up celery and dead flies
with his bony turtle mouth.

And there was No-Name the goldfish.
(Like St. Francis, Mom had a knack
for pet-centered work.)
It was a teary kafuffle
the morning we found him
floating belly-up in his bowl
there on the counter between the Rice Krispies
and the Cod Liver Oil.
Mom rolled out of bed, lit up a Menthol,
yelled at us all to shut up,
then sprinkled No-Name
with a pinch of baking soda.
One burp and he was belly down,
cruising his castle turrets
with cocky fishy slaloms.

II.
And what about the student ministers?
God. Yes. Truly our miracles-in-the-flesh.
They came to town in May
after a winter of theological pop quizzes
and too much K. D.
Ready to serve and save amen.
The love of God lighting their ecclesiastical
brows, they glowed behind the pulpit
like back-lit Persian cats.
Jan and me in our Dalkeith twin sets
and Sunday undies.
We never felt closer to Jesus.

III.
I wasn’t thinking much about the Pope
when I toured the Vatican
last August. Now I can’t seem to stop.
Watching every news show,
filing every detail up here:
the blessed Gammarellis hunched over,
stitching cassocks since 1798,
one bellissimo stitch at a time,
socks of the finest long-fibered cotton,
warming those Holy toes,
and the red, Blood-of-the-Martyrs Red, shoes,
the weapons-weight crucifixes,
the purple and red, the black and white.

My insomnia’s been a blessing.
Now when I wake at 2:00 a.m.
it’s like I have good homework to do.
But what do I really want? Haven’t I been secretly
proud to be an atheist? Well, ok…but, for sure, agnostic?
I may have lost my mind.
I keep wondering how would it feel
to wrap my arms around his middle,
rest my head on that warm velvet mozetta.
Would he take kindly to a has-been Protestant?
A woman with so much on her mind?
A woman who flirts with sloth, envy, pride…the works?
Would he pat my back, murmur si, si,
in a nicely modulated tone of voice?
That would be a kind of miracle, wouldn’t it?

Linda Thompson, ibid

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!

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