Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


Poetry by Barbara Klar
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Barbara Klar's third collection of poetry, Cypress (Brick Books, 2008), is a poetic vision quest, a pilgrimage to the inner powers of landscape and a series of transformative meditations. A work of fierce engagement with the Cypress Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan, Cypress reminds us of that place where poetry opens, perilously, onto the sacred.

Ranger Station Road

I walk down into the valley where I was last
young, down into the darkness of the wisdom
of alder, down into willow’s old need
for water, down to the winding world,
the trout-jumping valley of flowers
and money and love

                            and the only barnyard
for days of walking, a bluebird warbling
truly on the only sign since Maple Creek:
West Block Ranger Station, established 1917,
the flag of the Dominion
come before me,

                        I am walking down a rutted
road two horses wide into having been
a tree planter, twenty-seven and immortal
in the valley of the never dead, the ghosts
of all the rangers riding.

                                  Somewhere in the hills
the invisible part cowboy part cop
is protecting me. I’ll only see him
if I’m lost and he must find
me, if someone’s death is lost
and he must find me.

                               My shovel leg
is aching. My dog and my truck and my father
are all on borrowed time. Wooden bridges grieve
the downward sleep of the green blood of water,
nothing waiting but the black friends
of my fears in the valley where the dead
will watch for me,

                          the grizzlies
and the invisible gazing from
their vision posts, everything alone
with itself. I wait for the horseman
to take off his hat and call me ma’am,
his words falling down
to the valley.

West Tower Trail, Fear of Hills

You are lost,
have lost everything about you
except sadness and the direction
home is. You say your name
to the sun and the sun has you
repeat yourself, your body
without features
doing everything you do
against the grass. Keep to the right
of this shadow. You will be walking
southeast through trees that all look the same
through a pasture of strangeness to a valley
you’ve slept in many nights, a rudimentary bed
with a hill’s arm around you, a thing to cook on, a radio.
This is the way: fear of the hills inside you. You followed
a map and some orange paint on trees, climbed
over deadfall at Benson Creek, changed
direction with every step to cross it and now
you are lost, trusting the sun
that repeats your shape to the left
of your path. You are lost in another
way. You want to lie down tonight with a map
of sadness. Even in their folding
the hills lead you to you.

Night Tree

Dusk in the narrow country
of the North Plateau. The lodgepoles have been
waiting, villages of the undead with their arms
out, the night clerks of stone hotels
with broken beds and caving basements.

I enter, cambium locking,
and the father of doors knows
I will wake without a body. Choose your tree.

In a country disappearing over cliffs, invisible
bones in the bone trees, mine is the lodgepole
of the hot pasture’s edge, candelabra
in the Church of Pine, a year’s hymns
bundled in the flames that light my death.


A low branch opens: back room, needle dust,
hip hollow last lain in before the discovery
of magnetic north. The hound who has been following
circles its sleep and lays down a long bone line.
It has followed for years toward this bearing,
muzzle pointing through the tree
to the north northwest of the afterlight.

I lie down also, kiss the velvet bone, hound skull
spearing its heartbeat, my arm around the great chest
thumping slowly and more slowly,
for a seasons-long minute
not at all. I am alone among
the dead again, a spoon
around the dark spoon of the hound
who will hover in the branches,
someone staring north
from Lodgepole, Montana,
the Hound Star rising.

I will live alone if I must, leave
for the coyotes the gift of flesh and lung,
I will walk downhill abandoned
in the flickering morning.


Strobe lights flash over lake beds
nights of walking to the west,
the tree bucking in the lightning wind,
a cold wave, a warm wave, storms
seconds long, no rain, the fear of thunder
curled against my fear of pine. Lodgepoles crash
within earshot, too dark to run, the hound awake
and trembling in the tossing night, coyotes dreaming
of our crushed flesh below the toppled dark,
the star erased by daylight.

Through a tunnel in the branches a half moon,
company, an eye. Between winds the pine
holds its stare. I believe in the top of storm,
in luck, nothing safer, in the beating
under the rocking tree.

Excerpted from Cypress by Barbara Klar. Brick Books, 2008. Pages 19 - 20, 46 and 81 - 83. Reprinted with permission.

Barbara Klar

Barbara Klar lives northwest of Saskatoon. Her first book, The Night You Called Me a Shadow, won the Gerald Lampert Award. The Blue Field, her second book, was nominated for the 1999 Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry. Klar is also the author of the chapbook, Tower Road, from JackPine Press. Cypress is her third collection.

The views expressed in the magazine are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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