forest fires #21 and #22
tent city cook tricks
soft smoke rises
from little houses with white rooftops
barely a town
pushes against tree line
black bone-saw spruce
glints of giant shield
billions of icy pinpricks
exploding into light
highway truckers pull their shades down.
an old woman looks up from her coffee
dances through her backyard
if there are roots here
they are plunged into the deep
twisted between rock
from the mine, a man emerges
squinting into the shock of day.
at the hospital, a tiny, bruised bag of soft bones
a flickering, mosquito-wing heartbeat
I take my very first breath
if you can,
move around while you’re young.
inside on the carpet
outside in the yard
halfway between them the deck that dad built
on the sunny side of the house
wakes up early in the dark.
a metal beast is dug from the snowbank.
rumble and mutter and slam
diesel fuel and Maxwell House
sitting in companionship
while their engines glow.
he’ll move out into the town
and past the town around the lake
and past the lake into the forest
and under the forest and into the rock...
and makes note of the news
and makes light work of zippers and mittens.
you can move out a little at a time at first,
to the snowbank that’s as tall as the company house
to the corner with two churches
and to the coffee shop in the rec centre
and eat muffins
move around when you’re young and then
never stop moving
so when the leaves dry out and rot
and the frogs freeze beneath the bank
you are the river;
cutting your own slow shape
into the great shifting rock.
forest fires #21 and #22
a strange, soft tissue on the wind
sooty little angels drifting
silently filling nostrils
melting into poison tar.
thick smoke billows down
into the mine shaft
do we build things only to watch them burn down?
in every log house, a matchbox
and all four of us with dark hair and quick hands
and the instincts of an outsider
a hole in the ground
a family in a house
a fire tearing through the forest and the century surrounding
who wouldn’t leave?
the less arms to pull to safety
I keep tape around the lunchbox
that my ancestors stole
and I write my name on it
in red marker.
If I’m hungry I just grab it
take a bite and chew it slow
stare hard at those who dare
and spit through wasted mouthfuls
tent city cook tricks
in a little camp of canvas tents
wake with a hunger
like a cavern in the earth
but the blackflies have been hungrier
to eat and be eaten is
a race against time and any airborne,
flesh-eating disease has the clear advantage;
itching bites in bloody patches and every inch of skin
attacked, relentless stinging panic
armed with iron pans and grease
jo welsh’s oil-burning stove
smokes out the worst
delivering the word of god in
6 dozen tarts and
pails of cookies
with vicious persistence
of those savage, cross-eyed
brave and capable as she was
if jo welsh baked the men a black forest
then she must have known
what was in it
so send the bugs back in gift blankets
to the new queen
a white sparkle on dark blue—
mint-coloured lichen peeling off the rock point
like paint off a radiator
from the fifties
a soft orange pine needle path,
sprawling plants with three teardrop leaves each,
a portable barbecue
a tin boat.
an island with a red fishing shack
and a kid that yells into the bay
a shed full of tools and pieces of wood
and a collection of trucker hats
from the 80s.
a book series we took turns reading out loud
a banging screen door with a moth-eaten hole.
a sphere-shaped game like a rubik’s cube
I never figure out
a long afternoon
a tree stump with a little chair
carved out with a chainsaw
a birch bark basket fastened with a stapler
sun chips and fresca
most valuable player goes to highway 17
a vein lined with gravel and juniper
pumping tractor-trailer lumber through
the foggy hills of early morning and
the dried-out afternoons of
anything beyond its winding
with a guide
and long socks
and a reverence for death
if you’ve heard that some have slept out there
collecting rocks and feathers
and in the middle of the night, come face to face
with moving shadow
it's difficult to understand
everything I have been given.
alight in wonder on the wild shore
the sun descends beyond the pines
further ahead, a friend will spark
a fire in a ring
of rock, our guardian
towards the water
for the night is strange and shifting
in its exquisite terror
and you can still
allow your limbs
IN STRATA was created in respect and memory of the past and present inhabitants and wilderness of Manitouwadge, Ontario, where the author was born in 1992. The rightful owners of this land are the Ojibwe people, and Manidoowaazh translates to ‘cave of the great spirit.’
Some historical information within the collection references Manitouwadge: Cave of the Great Spirit by Pauline Dean, Great Spirit Writers 1989.
Memories supplied in sharp detail by Monique Charlton. Photos and field report materials created from 1990 - 1993 by Greg Charlton, an exploration geologist for the GECO mine.
Erin Charlton is a musician and graphic designer living in Toronto. Born in Northern Ontario and raised in Muskoka, Erin has been writing lyrics for close to 20 years and is currently interested in creating zines and other printed ephemera. This project was a careful and personal consideration of roots, responsible autonomy, and the tactile memory.