A Poem like Sirmilik

More than enough to pleasure
eyes or soul, take your pick.
Sirmilik does not disappoint
beyond the treeline and barrens
with its tundra and moonscapes,
the frosted mounts and few carpets of green
hugging hills you could never hope to mow.
Glaciers rolling out to basins of stone
or ice, chilblain-cold.

So which Sirmilik do you desire?
The hoodoos like motley pagan worshippers?
Hills that spill against one another?
The lake below that is snow-illusion?

Sirmilik: a state of raw wild being,
impossible to reduce to a clause or phrase.
Oystered boulders, snow-illumined peaks,
the ranges forever spilling over,
gravelling downward everywhere you look
to multitudinous vistas.

Polar shelves and pale-layered strata.
Minute rivulets heading south or brooks
negotiating throngs of rocks.
Impossible to render except visually.
Inexplicable snowbergs without a Titanic
to waylay amid the blue or purple snow.
Striated coulees run dry
onto an interminable plain
with heaps of antlers now backlit by sun.
Just a weird dispatch from Sirmilik.

(Established in 2001, Sirmilik National Park is located in Nunavut. The name means “the place of glaciers”.)


Just watched another Frame Channel feature on Vuntut which is equally impressive, especially with thousands of caribou covering valleys and hills. More and more, I find myself mentally captured by these faraway Northern landscapes devoid of any signs of humans. Thanks to Parks Canada, these places remain relatively pristine havens distant from human exploitation and error. They are sacred places.

Though my bent has long been individualism, and I have certainly lived my share of only-childness, alienation, isolation, solitude, and inner peace, the above aspects of Nature speak to me louder as I age. There is, indeed, a preciousness, quietude, and sanctity to these regions far away from materialism, consumerism, political madness, social chaos, technological obsession, exploitation, agendas, violence, and war–none of which I feel the remotest kinship with.

Here are some other poems I have written about these states of mind and their sensibility.

Northern Journey

“A poet is a state of mind.”–Virginia Moore, “Saint Teresa”

There were so many
remote islands
you had passed
scarcely knowing them.

You may, in fact,
have preferred
the sunnier beaches
with crowds of people
to the south,
the slushy sand
and warmer weather.

But your curious boat
sailed on past
the deserted castles
on craggy hills,
the isolated outports
seldom visited
and quite unmapped.

Initially, there were
some islands
long, but thin
with lighthouses,
fishing fleets and
rough lives of men
you could not have
possibly known.

Maybe passing a
distant station on some
remote headland
one ran out to
wave at you,
more in disbelief,
that someone else
had found his sanctum
this far north.

Or, lucky, you may have
seen the wild ponies run
along the beach
of another solitary island,
their freedom strange
along the green waters.

But it was only then
when you entered
the high-cliffed fiords
with their steep water-
falls cascading down
that you first wondered
about home and
the possibility of return.

That cold barrenness
of final outposts,
the last land, with reindeer
champing grass
by a deserted hut.

It was there standing
on the last ledge of land
at the edge of memory
that you found me
at last, as you stood briefly
facing true north,
a moment
with nothing but
limitless sea
whichever way
you chose to turn.

(signature poem)


(after Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North)

(We have administered these vast territories of North in an almost continuing state of mind…)

High latitude
vast flatness of poles
wind a whitewash
breathing lungs

(I have an enormous compulsion to look upon the polar seas and I find that this is growing apace each year, so that I really want to get it out of my system somehow…)

Cold enlarges consciousness
an inner feeling: hinterlands
We are stirred & sharpened
made precise, altered–
a mental nordicity

(The North is almost everything beyond the comfortable and familiar, everything frozen and dark, treeless and windswept…)

Arctic night
blizzard bone
drift of pelt & parka
polar values
break the ice in rime
evoke an introversion
like isotherms

(When men live in the North their values change…)

cold Judas chill
& idea-flakes

(They live a lifetime and die when they emerge. They become citizens of a different country–that tapestry of tundra and taiga…)

blue-planed spirit
frozen subsoil
keen surface
vanishing point

(There was something spiritual about it, elements of magic having to do with the magnetic pole…)

brush-blade pointillism
breath & breathe
vision elemental
inland seas
frozen sonata

(Something really does happen to people up here…)

ice age cold snap
cold storage
pro-found snow-bound

(It cares so little and sort of diminishes you…)

pack-ice growlers
overhang design
spirit gathers hoarfrost
terminal moraine

(It looks so odd and cold you wouldn’t want to live there…)

chilblain shiver
raw polar night
boreal abstract
a treeline sensibility
gather & evoke
this nordic index.

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