Once Houses Could Fly

Once Houses Could Fly



About the book

In Once Houses Could Fly, ten kayakers snail along the rugged fjords of Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic.

Here under the roofless world, the ancient killing fields of the Thule people become campsites for tents, pitched among the bleached bones of sea mammals and the rough docks of shore-ice.

These poems speak of the bite and beauty of weather and the limits it sets on us. Be it “Jeremiah on a rampage” or the “which-way of ice,” the polar desert has a habit of dismantling expectations. There is nowhere to hide, no turning back. Beginner’s prowess ends in taking inventory of thumbs and “aging’s howl,” yet the light’s redemptive peace settles all distress, and what lasts is the quiet gratitude that overtakes the narrator, as the journey sets the pace for the soul to catch up with the body.

The book recalls this journey as a summoning to oneself: a humility, which does not anticipate competence, which opens its arms to the unfolding world.

About the author

Clewes, Rosemary

Rosemary Clewes was born in Toronto and enjoyed several careers, as a script assistant for CBC television, a social worker, then printmaker and now writer/poet.

Over the last decade, her poems have been published in many literary journals. She was nominated by The Malahat Review for The National Magazine Awards in 2005, and a year later was a finalist for the CBC Literary Awards.

Her first book of prose and poetry, Thule Explorer: Kayaking North of 77 Degrees (Hidden Brook Press) was published in 2008 and remains a fine primer for Arctic adventurers.

Clewes has travelled many times to the Arctic by kayak, raft and icebreaker.


First questions were born

                                        How big is the world?

That’s what I want to know     what I came for —

to travel where the world meets itself beyond fiction

where what is said to be so     is so.

                                                    The truth of bleached bones

wind-seared skeletons — I came for rock   

that dependable middleman between sky and ocean

binding worlds.

                                         Each world

holding to its own place.


I go here because the land     so sparsely peopled

is hard to plunder.



And me not noticing

                                  how rain can loosen a floater’s grip on rock

’til twenty feet from my bow

                                 shore ice plummets


                                             The ocean gulps a season

reminding me what brute force is in it

                                                        and I feel

winter’s revenge on summer in the waves’ attack       


                                                       Back up, orders Scott

don’t want that ice coming up under us



We’ve returned to a different camp on Skraeling

islanded until wind dictates

the which-way of ice.

About a mile — or maybe ten — light letters

the lustrous pearls

of the multi-year white menace

strung across the mouth of the fjord.


If I was a bird reconnoitering

I’d see how tide, spurring swell, could set sea-ice

packed with wind at its back:

trap us in mid-channel —

our paddles, pitiful staves

against the sea-gang’s swarm.



Meals under tarp, rain pissing on-off.    

I’m ornery, mean-minded.

Yet — there’s power

in the glare light

in just sitting

waiting it out

when you can’t run

turn it off     or     on

nothing to do     alone together —

better than kicking ass.



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