Poems from Temagami and Other Poems

Jim Flosdorf

Fishing in the Dark

I like to fish these waters at dusk
as the light fades in the north
to a salmon pink
whild deeper blue spreads from east to zenith
and stars emerge
point by point;
my line runs out to the bottom
in search of silvereyed feeders
sliding in lazy schools
at the shoal's edge
to sniff the bait,
circle, return, taste --
these shadows cruising the bottom
bump the line
tease it
too shrewd to get hooked
and played to the top
to lie flopping in my net
of words.

What Grey Owl Knew

It's fitting we should meet
on the water

you hailing me with
'that's a familiar stroke'

and it should be --
you taught me

Ojibway style, the first time
we tripped together

years ago; and before I can see
your face I recognize your voice

light-traveller, voyageur, poet
you're off again

just back from Heathrow
and into the bush

Canada's Lake District outshining
England's by a country mile.


clinging to rock
like a japanese garden --
            covered with
hard cones

year after year
they grip the branches
gradually weathering from green to gray
still shut tight

unless released
by fire

gently opening
the petals of the cones

a damp,
cool, wind
to pick out
the winged seeds and
scatter them across a desolated land

fall in the crevases and rise
next to fireweed
and ashes.

Place: an island

just north-east of Frank's Falls

on the rocky pre-cambrian shield

of Northern Ontario

in this blue nylon tent
on this rocky point
I dream
this sky is my sky
this rock is my rock
this sky is all sky
this rock is the world rock
nothing else is

sky hovers
recedes above me
pressing my back
is all rock
and this is
nothing else is

only sky
and rock
and I am the centre
while the sky swirls
and the rock




I heard the swish
of outstretched wings
as they fingered the air
and let you down with a
little bounce

and I turned my head.

The moment your feet touched
the rock, maybe even before,
you were all eyes
for movement, your defence,

and there we were, eye to eye,

you stretched your neck and froze
and I tried to do the same,
but you are better
who live by playing statues
standing like a stick on shore
bleached and
not blinking until
the swift and fatal spear strikes
and you swallow and clap your bill
then preen, congratulate yourself
and stalk away, haughty
and stiff.


The fire snaps, roars, and spits
birch juices in the stove.

Outside the wind raves in the pine tops
and leans against the foaming waves.

Yesterday was hot and humid;
and now the wind pours down from the north

driving sheets of mist and low-scudding clouds
and in between, glimpses of clear, ice-blue sky.

On Getting Back My Photographs

Those magnificent shots
snapped in a distant land
of thunderheads piling high
across the eye of the sun,
leaden clouds edged like gulls' wings
building, moving, throwing light
and rain in sweeps
across the driving water
misty shapes leaping on the waves

those magnificent shots
vertically framed and wide-angled
to take in the height, depth
wind and scent
of the approaching storm
snaps which capture the drama and power
the colour and contrast
turning to silver and dye
upside-down, reversed, and negative
through my lens' eye--
glorious potential hidden in the dark

these magnificent shots
missed it entirely--
I must develop the image
in chemistry and synapse
of words and paper
in the camera obscura of my brain
lightning thundering in my eye.

At the Dawning

a manitu
glides serpentine like mist
through the channels of lake and pines
insinuating like a dream
and weaving together
land, water, and sky
before the sun
sets on fire the pine tops
and the far shores
dissolves the dew beads on spider webs

when the light of noon flares
myths disolve and fade away.

The Quiet Way

The quiet way the waves
move after the wind has dropped

the silence in the air
after the last bird has sung

a sunset song, or rise of branch,
twitch of leaf that follows
a bird's unclasping, tell me nothing
about the way you shake out

your hair and let it fall --
but afterwords, everything.


Afterwords I bathe
in the small, chill
mountain stream

substitute soap
for your scent
like earth.

The icy water
my flushed skin

and the autumnal
leaves, red and yellow,
circle my ankles

and bump my feet
before they sink
brown to the bottom.

Tomorrow the skin
of ice will grow
thick as stone.

Tomorrow you and I
will be gone
into the hills

leave only these
in the sand.


On a balmy early-spring day
he set out across the ice
by skidoo, speeding
on the white surface
skis humming over snow bumps
and pressure-ridges, spraying
through slush at forty miles an hour
racing around the bend of the island --
he never saw till too late --
ice feathering to dark hole,
going so fast he and machine
leaped from the crackling edge
into the middle of night with spray
like a slalom on a summer's day --

but the water took him gently,
tugging, filling the arms and legs
of his suit, slowing his flailing,
slowing his frantic hands at the ice-edge,
slowing his head, bloody, butting the glass-thin
ice searching for strength, slowing
the racing heart, slowing the flow of air
to the fainting lungs, as
slowly he gives in,
slowly drifts
like a feather of a gull,
and rests at the bottom,


Smoke Signals

Like smoke rising
in a whirlwind
a shriek
from the tortured land
and a people in pain

oh land
where is your grain
oh rivers
where are your mists
oh people
where are your hearts

oh rain
where is your sweetness
oh trees
where are your songs
oh seas
where are your swimmers

oh people
look on your hands
oh people
look in your minds
oh people

Smoke rising
from a tortured land
and a people in pain.

[Note: although this poem was written in about 1982, I rededicate it here in memory of all those who were lost and all those who grieve for the destruction of the World Trade Center, 9-11-01.]

 -- these poems, with some small changes, are  from the collection: Temagami
published by The Penumbra Press.


The Cabin

I haul the 3-4-5 triangle out
of my long-dead mathematical memory,
mark the corners for post-holes, dig stony soil,
search the backshore for a good cedar,
and cut it, lop it, put it in the boat,
then set the posts, level.

I lay the joists, the floor, raise walls,
then the roof.  Sitting on the peak
hammering in the last row of shingles
too tired to enjoy the treetop view--
then walls, windows, the door clicking shut
just so, like a Rolls Royce.

I stand inside and say "I made this.
I can walk around in it.  It will keep the rain
off my head."  And now I sit with this thin book
of poems roofed over my head and grin.

--from Blueline, IX, 1 & 2, p. 17, with one change.

Canoe Makers

Quickly, deftly out of the steam chest
a rib extracted,
and with a hasty grace
they bend the supple wood
over the mold and tack it down,
over and over, growing skeleton,
nailing it to backbone
in the old way.

Muscle and tissue planks lift off the mold
like a dragonfly slipping from its crysalis,
a skin grows, breathes
again.  As it swims among brother
pike and bass, cedar and ash,
they nod to each other,
exchange greetings.


for Doris Allen

I tell you today of the osprey
that scared the duck in its dive,
how at the sound I twisted to see
a great hawk rise from the water
and balance, like a ballerina on one toe,
at the top of a slender spruce,
and dive, swoop, and perch again,
wide wings adjusting a tenuous

equilibrium to each bending tree tip

and you tell me of the day you fished
a secret bay,
three bass in the bottom of the boat
when the great bird hovered and dove
and stopped just over your head,
rose, hovered, and dove again,
the fearful attraction-repulsion,
a flurry of white feathers,
bandit-masked face, sharp black eyes,
and black hair, the silver fish,
outstretched claws--
everything stops,
in a wingbeat

until breath returns.

from North Country, Ann Arbor, MI, 1986, pp. 80, 81.


The Annual Meeting of Le Hot Club of Island 647, 1986

for Peter Moes

Your old steel boat seems frail, tied
to an unaccustomed tree among the rocks--
in graying light, you wait.

Through the window of your cabin,
facing north, storm clouds troop
across salmon, violet, northwind rages dark,
and out on the big part of the lake
beyond the channel, waves crash, breakers
pound the shoals, foam and roar the end of season.

That tall, white pine on the next island
marshalls lesser trees, cedar, fir, spruce
like a great eagle with wing outstretched--
buffeted, straining
to keep balance.

Inside, a dim light of wavering flame,
incense and smoke, drinks rise and fall,
food, a little talk.
Shall we break bread?  Ice?
Now your boom-box remembers
in a hush, Benny Goodman.
His clarinet notes
vibrate in the wind.  Pay tribute.
Remember the dead.
Our feet mark time to the rhythm
like a distant cannon,
and the cabin shakes.

You are that boy waiting
for the end, the marching,
September 1944, straining
through the crackle and static
tense in the air
for Goodman on the wireless
cramped under that roof in Amsterdam.

Now you smile.

--from Northward Journal  42, p. 37.



I slowly, almost reluctantly
    slide off the city-slippers
        and slip into deer-skin

I am a stone skipping in a pond
    ripples spread
        widen, widen
            merge and blend

Wind and rain, mortar, stone and wood
    speak with one voice, dancing

Return to earth, return to earth
    feet must tread the forest-floor lightly
        bare all, bear all, stretch like roots
            and lose not the bearing

Sunrise and sunset are the same
    only the direction is different

         The center will hold

                                                --July, 2002


~ Four Poems from My Father Was Shiva ~




We follow the horse,
watch the cutterbar
slice the hay.
We run in the stubble.
He raises his tail
farts, drops something.
We laugh.

We follow the rake,
watch the tines
drop and lift.
Comb the long rows.
The horse knows
"gee," "haw."
And so do we, now,
Right, left.

We follow the wagon
and the men with forks
who lift, to the one on top.
We wait.
Are hoisted up.  Ride over
hillsides, rocks.
The iron wheels crunch,
tip and bounce, to the barn.

Nearer the city
they have tractors
and trucks.
Life is nicer here.
In August.


In the barn
an old machine
with wood sides, red.
Faded yellow letters.
The horses stamp
and breathe.

We climb to the top
of the haymow.
High above the wideplank floor
among the beams
and leap into the
air.    Laughing.

For a Friend Whose Wife Died in the

          Puerto Rican Hotel Fire

Last night I dreamt of you,
your tragedy close to my heart
brother.  The deep foreboding
that enshrouds my mind
finds an echo in your story --
I am not sure if it is foreboding
or memory -- that blast, the smoke,
the searing, charring flames
crackle, and crashing
finds a fearful resonance in me.
Once again unwept tears
swell forth in unaccustomed eyes.
Why do we rehearse
these things over and over,
compelled to gaze
into the shiningness of eyes,
to peer into the pupil-hole
like leaning over a rotting well
to see what fell in overnight --
floating swollen, grinning.
A dark and coiled snaking
rounds my innards.  My heart
spasms.  Why this nameless
hemming-in, this lack of air?
How do we deal with these things
brother?  You can let your rage run free.
Track them down.  You can be proud and angry.
To understand conspiracy, arson,
is to travel in a country of deep cynicism.
To understand terror
is to travel below ground.

We Knew


We knew
(we children)
before it happened
a cataclysm was coming
veiled allusions around the dinner table
names of men, scientists, linked
with the project
whispered predictions
"something big" --
Enola Gay was pregnant.

We knew
or felt it rather
behind the pride of clearance
lurked the guilt of one who had served
thousands of lives
freeze-dried blood plasma
(we showed off  the bottles in school)
the gift
twisted now, contorted
to preserve the germs of anthrax --
(I knew and wordlessly
taunted him in a painting)
unknowing it grew
in secrecy's veil
in the interstices of words,
between the joints and bone
in the nerves
that shook the hand
as the glass tipped
in nerves that burned
in the gut
in long rambling talk on supperless evenings
(we staring at the floor
shifting weight from foot to foot)
but we only saw
the glass


We knew
and winced
at bruises
in the morning
and no one
dared speak
"canst thou not minister
to a mind
silence of fear
and ignorance
"pluck from the mind a rooted sorrow"
the doctor there
in his cabinet there
below the sink
"and with some sweet oblivious antidote"
a golden vial
of clearest liquid
"cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff"
we knew
"which weighs upon the heart"
which weighed
our hearts


Quaker Meeting

like dew in the still morning air
and the great spirit bird
wraps its wings round
and sits
in the


Dave, Pat Madden, and I
used to play
by the side
of the dirt road
under dust-shrouded
lilac bushes
carving roads for our little cast
white-metal cars
trucks and tractors
with black rubber tires
on sweaty
summer days in the mountains

We'd stay all afternoon
wrapped in the dust
of an occasional
passing car until
we heard a rumble in the distance
we drowned in a tan cloud as
Henry Gilpin's
roadster whizzed by
in a shower of
pebbles and sand
that stung
our skin
and burned our eyes--

or until
the dinner bell

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           --from Blueline, XXVIII,  p. 109.

Ó all poems on this and the next two pages,  2000.

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