Alterations is a book of arrival at beginnings. When George Payerle finally escaped city life, he returned to the coast into which he had been born when Vancouver was a much smaller town — a coast where the mountains fall into the sea as waves of rainforest. This is a coast of "shadow weather" amongst cedars and fir where the light of everyday is a Turner painting, a land/seascape suffused with the spirit made visible.
In these poems the old coast of logging and fishing is all but extinct, inhabited by ghosts of men with peaveys in their hands and bulldozers in their eyes. Ghosts with the power to inform us, like the rusted logskidder’s arch standing by the highway as though it were a dinosaur’s hipbones.
These Alterations continue the musical meditations of Payerle’s Last Trip to Oregon, which memorialized the death of his friend, the poet Charles Lillard. The music has moved towards Bach’s cello suites and Jan Garbarek’s loon-like saxophone. The serenity achieved through mourning the death of a friend has moved into transcendent contemplation of the diurnal and the extraordinary — garbage day, George W’s baleful face, Vancouver Island rising like a tsunami in the west, the return of a prodigal daughter — transcendent but never without pain, or death — language many-jewelled as the fangs of "these wolves herding prey toward consummation, and tender yet as ewes with lamb."
Devil's club and salal
pour down the deadfall-tangled valleys
and lead us, lost, thrashing & spine-pricked
to the sea,
where no Coaster can be lost
any more than the Greeks
wise Xenophon led and followed
They came in grace,
angels of the paradigm
strolling madrona beaches of Davis Bay
soft steel unto the blue bones
Of the Island.
This place gives god -
grace of cedar, fir, salal and weeds
a thought containing our absence
into which we make incursion
like Israeli armour into dust of Palestine.
It is among the rocks we have placed our mattresses,
slept with swordfern
and pale copper-green skin of madrona;
Joni Mitchell lives here
yet we are paving paradise.
We become accustomed to
Roberts Creek Wilson Creek Sechelt
accustomed to our rural polity
until three kids in baseball caps
and a broken-down logger wearing shades
seem cool and cynical
as the civic millions.
Daft and hopeless as rain,
the coho flashing silver sunbursts
to leaven with light
the graceful waters of Davis Bay.
like a jump horse going over an eight-foot wall
and it's only a day.
The horse hangs in the sky, eternal
instant of the godforce stamped into eyeblue sky
and into the brain-
four-hooved flight beyond the impossible,
phar lap, which means lightning
and was the name of a horse
murdered for beating the best
America had to offer.
And it's only a day. By midafternoon,
so still at 30° in the shade nothing seems to move,
not even the strip-loin bands of cirrus in the sky,
not even the children running in the shade of the trees.
And not the jump horse
that will never come down.
The night time, the sweet time,
the neither waking nor sleeping time,
the slow erogeny
at any time of day,
real as bricks and bones,
different utterly from the day time, "real time,"
think and do and act time,
pretending only to be all time,
"From Gower Point to Irvines Landing"
The men with bulldozers in their eyes
have mostly gone on pogey now, or into rest homes
or the grave
Mad Frenchy ran
the Gulf Oil in Madeira Park,
Maudzi Anglais! to any customer who looked sideways
or got in his cuestick's way on the plywood floors up
the Rigger's Roost looking over Garden Bay;
fell in love vvith him, or him with me
across the butt-end of that pool cue one hot day
thirty-two summers ago, when everyone figured me
for a cityslick Summer boy with his hippychick,
and I smiled into Frenchy's deadly sea-blue eyes and
we ended up drinking Blue out of bottles down in the
bent-chrome midden he called home out back the Gulf
Tombstones in his eyes And after that
he'd phone and say "Where ya been, white boy?"
and we'd pound down unmixed boilermakers sweating in the sun
while he tried to egg me into fistfights
over T.S. Eliot vs Jules LaForgue or which end is up
when you've been down so long End up in rassling matches
in the dust, him small and strong as a terrier's jaws, me long and sneaky,
lying flat on our backs drunk as skunks staring at the cerulean sky,
"The underbelly of God, white boy, the underbelly of God"
with all his less agreeable friends and foes
who ruled this coast with chainsaws and peavies and
fists quicker'n sledgehammers
We miss them God knows we miss them,
though there never was a damn thing you could do,
except beer for beer, shot for shot, a poem for a punch
in the head
Glad the old Pen Hotel's gone, where the only
way not to eat a pool cue was feed one to the other guy
first, or run No good, the Pen But I miss '
old Gilles Lalonde and the Rigger's plywood floor gone
cutesy Hallmark pink and mauve,
those lean and hungry scruff-faced bastards
who decided I wasn't what I seemed, though I was,
once Frenchy took me under his steel-belted wing
The way I think sometimes
the lonely forests miss
those guys come humping block and tackle up the sidehill
to clearcut the mothers down
Thirty years ago and more,
already this Coast was dying,
though no one would've been left standing
had it lived on And I'm still waiting on a postcard
from Frenchy to say the beer's fine and the women finer
here where the dead poets dance
on the other side of the hill