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RICHARD LEMM

Mountain Creek Homesick Blues


How did I end up
this far from home? On a pastoral
island with no real mountains
within hundreds of miles. No glacial
run-off and lakes, no plunge and tumble
down cliffs, over deadfalls. No streams
cascading, speaking to me
in the clear, cool flow over boulders,
bubbling eddies, swirling pools,
in the voices of cork-booted ancestors
pausing from the work of axes and saws,
from the toting of buckets for cookstove
and washtub, the bending of aching backs
to inhale the creek’s breath, and drink.
The salmon bucking upward to spawn
and die, eagles in the trees and the great
bears feasting, the young coho and chinook
gliding down, past the horses watering,
the girls wading, my grandmother’s and
my mother’s voices among them, flashing
in the sunlight with ouzels, northbound warblers
dabbing their gold on the willows,
the splash and creak of paddles
at the mill, the voices of my great uncles,
the twins, across the millpond, gunshots
echoing through the cedars, not deer this time
but quarrels with a rival clan over timber rights,
Walter washing Winfred’s wounds in the stream.
The voice of my first lover shrieking
as she dove and rose in the roiled snowmelt
below Cougar Falls, the water’s white
lightning in her brain, her temples
throbbing, her eyes gleaming with mica
and quartzite, her tongue a creek-polished
stone warmed alive by the sun. Today,
back in my first home, I sit beside
Lithium Creek, its waters that drew
seekers of serenity a century ago, those
burdened with malaise in their parlours
wainscoted with wood from my ancestors’ mill.
I am not in the high-country meadows,
not above tree line, not where the creek
descends through the patchwork quilt
of forest and clear-cut I saw from the plane.
I am near boutiques and bistros, artisans’
booths along the creek’s banks, the edifices
of the continent’s grandest Shakespeare
festival lifted above hemlock and rhododendron,
cappuccino and gelato stands, a shop
crammed with Native American art.
Upstream, in Lithium Park, the voices
purl in the water, liquid words
from the icebound syllables above,
all those laments and sighs and rejoicings
ever-returning from snow clouds and sun bake,
and sitting on a boulder embraced by cedar roots
just below the trail where Tilley-hatted
camera-wielding seekers of refreshment walk by,
I am suddenly weeping, then remember
the words of B.B. King, that the blues
are not about being sad, but about washing
away the sorrow. The water rushing
toward me and beyond, but never gone.
The water rushing toward me and beyond
but never gone. All the voices
pooling beside me, every single one.


Ashland, Oregon
Prince Edward Island


RICHARD LEMM was born in Seattle and lived for several decades in the Pacific Northwest, often hiking the mountains and wilderness beaches of western North America. He moved to Prince Edward Island on the Atlantic coast in 1983, and teaches creative writing and Canadian and post-colonial literatures (including Australian) at the University of Prince Edward Island. He has published four books of poetry, a collection of short fiction (Shape of Things to Come), and Milton Acorn: In Love and Anger, a biography of the PE Islander who became the "People's Poet of Canada." His forthcoming poetry collection is Burning House. He has received the PEI Heritage Award and the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island.