Scholars of Haida

There is out there an island called in the language of that place, ‘Boundary Between Worlds’ because the inhabitants dwell on the shores of forested mountains, fertile oceans and rain filled skies. The word for walking and paddling is the same. On that island the colour of the world is the glimmer on a raven’s wing and daylight is kept in a box inside a box inside a box. There are boxes within boxes. And on these boxes within boxes people paint parts of stories of a world where there is no distinction among the souls of humans, animals and spirits but each may wear a different skin and wearing that skin may don another and another. With these skins these souls assume the skills of birds, whales and wolves, bears and butterflies. As for me I’ve never been there but I’ve read in more than one book about some stories transcribed by a traveler, related to him by a translator as they sat with the ones retelling the stories they’d heard in the dialects of that place. In our language there is no word for someone with the skills of Skaay and Ghandl.

Seal Sneezes (Breakwater, Vic BC)

A long path, two white fences, the sea each side. So long it seems to lead forever into night. Yet there is a bend in it midway and it leads to a small lighthouse signalling port. Reflected row of wharehouse lights. Town lights on a far horizon. Frogmen emerge on the stony shore, wriggling out of yellow flippers. The lapping water on the wall. A seagull waking from a nightmare. It’s one thing to see something move far ahead, a couple emerging from the dark distance and to exchange only an awkward glance as you pass. It’s another to stop at the bend to check for seals sleeping below and notice a solitary figure has been walking behind you. You can’t linger on the railing but must walk on to keep a distance. A seal sneezes so you stop again to look over the rail and notice that person’s pace is quicker than yours and they are gaining on you, and so you must hasten on again. What thoughts could bring a person alone on this path? Homicide or suicide? Might be in a moment fighting or talking about death. Hearing that song, Miserere, the first time, well I don’t believe in God, but I know there was a God when that song was written. Momentarily men ask and angels answer. All heaven in a well crafted high C and chord resolution. Milton attempts to justify the ways of God to men. Satan says, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” What will the angels do when God is dead? What did the angels do? What do they do? Some places are haunted by the ghost of God. Here flock orphaned angels singing praises to nothing. Soon enough the red lighthouse is near, one fisherman on it. The lighthouse must be touched in order to have been reached. Quietly laying a hand on the stone wall. Another voice calling in Mandarin from below, beyond the rail. This fisherman mumbling back.