British Columbia Field Notes


Japanese brides drink red wine in the rose garden;
patches of snow (all the way from here to Hokkaido) .


The inhabitants of this continent eat potatoes for breakfast
their coffee is German (or Polish) not Italian;
they mix the sweet with the savoury.

The houses could be in Wolverhampton
the apartments, Irkutsk;
from Beacon Hill the horizon is American.

Seabirds (sooty gulls? Pacific gulls?)
appear outsize on the entablatures.
Techno resonates from a distant car.

Attached to the old meridian,
a siren carries me back to Brisbane.
When I wake I don't know where I am.


From an old photograph, the movement of redwoods,
heads and faces imposed upon stages of totem;
deities vomited up outside the weatherboards.


Circa 1890
jail sentences imposed for potlatch because
the government thought it wrong
that the people should receive, gratis, sewing machines;

an assumption that existence, no longer considered
should obey
the laws of economics
(all other kinds of transaction,
politics, art
subsumed or erased
as extravagant or
unnecessary entities.

Item: a silver mask
partly burnt
on entry
into the Christian life.

Smallpox 1862,
again, in Vancouver, 1888-90.

In the period of measured history
the events are too familiar:
logging, the fur trade, mineral extraction;

on the flat calm of Georgia Strait
chained timbers float,
the beach shored up with dead wood.

Advent 1843 or thereabouts.


In the hall beneath the smoke hole
shadows give life to shapes
discovered in redwood trunks
(beaks and other protuberances added on) ,

figures produced from figures,
from the womb or from the mouth,
as naming regenerates the dead
(and the sur-name, imposed,

breaks this continuity for another:
the purpose of statistics and control,
a hunt for ‘the family'
as normative ethnology.


The Provincial Legislature appears
"like the Brighton Pavilion
backed by the Himalayas": a Brighton
gargantuan and colourless;
high Victoriana
larger than the governance halls of whole nations.

The Empress Hotel - 1908
built on reclaimed land

(back at this smaller establishment
a light well, grimy astroturf at its base,
rear of a nearby hotel
its regular windows,
a low sky over placid water of James Bay

(invisible from here) .


Though the air chills
the thick green is summer,
a late light on the horizon,
across the esplanade
moored bulk carriers
the wooded park at UBC.

Cirrus clouds grid
at cross-purpose, around the point
in the wind of English Bay,

the colours of buildings luminous
against the clouds, the shadowed mountains;

two yellow cones of sulphur
across Burrard Inlet, a space
beneath the bridge (the Lion Gate)
denoted Indian Reserve #5.


Emily Carr's cowled or hooded trees,
her grids of darkness and light

(the provincial dilemma: is the work overvalued
regionally? nationally? because she's ‘ours'?)

those vertical totems, the trees themselves
and what shadows they make available;

under the cool white dome of the Vancouver gallery
these charcoals imitate the sky, cirrus and crossbar,

as I catch the trolley back to West End.


Apartments date mainly from the 1950s,
an erasure of wooden housing from the city to Stanley Park.

Burrard Inlet is still a working harbour
(containers, sulphur and woodchips)

logs chained, floating downstream
the odd escapee beached and weathered

fit for sunbathers to shelter, leeward from ocean wind
or rest a bicycle against.


The disposition of things.

Neighbourhoods of a strange city
escape from the map;
a district without ________ [name the missing convenience].

These tall glass buildings
in front of snow patches,

mountains at the end of every street.


Hotel ceilings creak,
beams visible through plaster,

voices audible;
an extractor groans.

From the bus stop you can look down, either direction
to Burrard Inlet or English Bay.


Go to where the trees cross the numbers
to spend money near Arbutus and 4th,

Kitsilano; the houses protected
by security firms, back onto the water

as the city towers appear, whitened
in a bleaching wind, against the mountains and clouds;

to Green College, UBC - Arts & Crafts in an English garden,
bagels over the Georgia Strait

(below, on Third Beach: rocks
woodchips, nudists and Italian fishermen.


Bill Reid's
glacial curvature of bird shapes
fits the materials
to the landscape

and the body
(fine delineations
of a bracelet) .

Old people tell each other what's happening
as they read museum labels, dramatising the educative;

a Haida man
spends all day in a dark room


Victoria below, then, south, the Olympics,
Washington State's snow ridges.

Cartoon birds on a washed-out screen.

Diagonally back, two Canadian businessmen
(retired) register anecdotes and statistics

all the way to Honolulu.

Diane Hine 03 May 2012

Pared back travelogue-much more interesting than a slide-show.

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