Hornbook #42

[…] In one of her letters she tells me, if you are going to appropriate from your own life, do so with immense care. […]

Yeah, easy to say but hard to do. They get up
for breakfast and talk about scrapbooks, collecting,
he’s writing an essay on ‘the scrapbook’ and wants to know if she ever
collected things. No, she says, forgetting the Calgary Flames victory
scrapbook and her seventh grade San Andreas fault scrapbook, so detailed that her social
studies teacher inquired: Do you have family in California?
No, she replied, disappointed, wanting to add that she would
one day move there, or to Manhattan.

What’s interesting to me, she writes later in her journal,
is how we academics think and talk in the abstract:
the notion of collecting
as opposed to showing each other our scrapbooks.

Hornbook #19

[…] In the end, we are defeated by gardens. They know too much.

Emboldened, she asks him
the questions. How he feels hanging around
the house and what he does
all day? Who does he talk to? He says he talks to
the neighbors or sometimes goes down to the
university and talks with people there. He says he
sometimes feels like a shadowy presence, each year
when he shows up, he gets the feeling that people
give him this kind of fish-eye: “Oh, it’s Bob Kroetsch again.”
They ask him the sort of stuff you’re supposed to ask
old people: “How’s your garden?”

She laughs at this perversely now,
as happy as she was back then.

Hornbook #83

Kleinhart earned the displeasure of some of her neighbors
in her generous attempt to write for them a collective
biography. Her announced intention of inscribing in her
poetry the ninety-nine back doors that were nearest her
own led, on more than one occasion, to her being forcibly
evicted from so-called private property
. […]

No shit Sherlock—sorry, Ray, but the neighbors must have
regarded Rita K’s back doors as closely
as she regarded theirs. They must have puzzled over
that woman in running shorts, soaking wet,
knocking to borrow their phone book, looking for K’s address.
As it turned out, he lived right beside them. Mortified, she left and
knocked on K’s front door, but he didn’t answer. She’d last seen him pissing
around with that subterranean system. He spent more time obsessing with
underground constellations than almost anything else. She knocked again but
still no answer, so instead of standing there dripping,
she jumped the porch and slipped in through
the back door. She had time to change, dry her hair, apply fresh make-up
before he noticed her
there.

Hornbook #77

[…] We deceive ourselves into words when all
that cries out is the body, wanting touch and taste and
smell and sight. Do you hear me?
[…]

He gets excited about lunch, wants to go to some glass
restaurant. (Those who dine in such establishments should not
throw stones). She eventually wonders when and with whom
he’s been there before, as the place is bleating hard
to find. He drives from recall, slowly around and around by the water, white mist
enveloping sensually. She wants to jump him right there in that tight little
car, but the best they can do is let fingers linger and press.

The glass restaurant, when finally found, is spectacular. She can see above and below
through the panes: clouds, sky, seaweed tufts. She gulps down a glass of wine,
barely touches her prawns. He feasts on exotic-sounding meat and orders a luscious
chocolate desert that they are supposed to share, but again, she only just tastes
it. He once professed, while watching a friend devour homemade sausage, his love
for a woman who eats. That friend wasn’t her. She finishes his glass of wine,
orders another, feeling superb. They talk about the over-determinacy of language,
least squares regression lines, her boyfriend’s fieldwork
to suppress their raging hormones.

Hornbook #63

[…] [Rita, sometimes when I’m sitting here alone in your
house, watching a hockey game on a Saturday night, I hear
the back door open. I hear the door close again. I hear the
lock. I feel just the slightest gust of cold air. Where are
you?]

They go out for Chinese that night, a nice family restaurant. She wants him to take her
again when they get back, but he is tired, so they watch the late news and some endless
dinosaur documentary. Beware the aging Alberta lover and his true passions. She says she will read
in another room, but The English Patient proves as tedious. Drifting off, she hears music
emanating from the living room. At first, she thinks it’s the radio but the music pulses with doleful and
distinctive connotations. Me and Bobby McGee. Sad bouzouki music.
She sleeps peacefully, fitfully, dreaming of others who care for them.

Hornbook #81

[…] You must practice, she told me,
and this is no uncertain terms, to confound the possibility
of your encountering your own double.

He keeps talking about the narrative of the house. She does not know at the time about
Rita K or her hornbooks. And if she does know, she does not care.
She does not know that Rita disappeared several years earlier, or that K
now seeks to reinvent her sprawling ranch house near the Battle
River. Whenever he brings up the narrative of the house, or writes down something she says
as if her words are clues about how to build it, she wants to shake him and say, Look around, poet!
The narrative of the house
is right here,
in the house.

Hornbook #13

[…] I intended to compose a WANTED poster and circulate it
on the Internet, only to find that what I had to say owed much
to your cryptic hornbooks:

You weren’t supposed to die Robert Kroetsch, Rita K,
Bob, Ray, whoever you were. She always planned a return trip
that involved asking some mutual friend for your contacts. She schemed
to bust you out of your barns, your granaries, your corrals, your ranch houses,
your Saskatoons and chokecherries that grew in patches here and
there, along the lane. She wanted to take you driving again,
down by the water.

Ties bound her over the years: marriage, grad school,
a job in New York, but she did think of you once
in a while. Okay, maybe twice
in a while           after she left
the West.

The night before his highway demise, she dreamt they met again
at a summer retreat or maybe at his assisted living
facility. He was old now, frail, but the trees shimmered bright
and green outside his single room occupancy

Hornbook #61

Rita Kleinhart was at work on a huge—and I would say,
bizarre—work that ultimately, I am persuaded, caused her
disappearance. She held to the conviction that she might
so write her poems that she would leave each object or
place or person that fell under her attention undisturbed
.

No wonder she vanished. To leave each object or place or person
undisturbed is bleeping hard. The copycat tries but cannot pull it
off. Ruckus is her middle name. Actually, it’s ___________. She is good,
yet not as good as she used to be, at disguises and disappearing acts. Once,
in Halifax, or maybe at Pearson International, the law finally caught up
with her. Though she had carried that corkscrew and handcuffs around
in her backpack for years, the metal detector abruptly betrayed her.
Returning the sound.
Returning the sound.
Returning the sound.
Returning.
The Canadian customs agent smiled apologetically and
with some intrigue as he clanked and clanged and confiscated her
stainless steel memories.

Hornbook #23

Can there be a poetics of regret? Not likely. Rather, I find in
Rita’s work a longing for the future. This longing is not in
any way utopian. Nor does it hint of a longing for death—
which is only a wily variant of the utopian.
[…]

By that act of disappearing—and I believe she willed it—
she gave freedom to her poems. And further, she freed
herself of any need to write more poems. Her existing
poems could begin the process of rewriting themselves, as
any poems must that are felt to be poems. […]

And so here we are, Ray, the prisoners, snoops, thieves, voyeurs,
strange birds and charlatans, even the nut cases who furrowed and pecked
and mustanged their way into Rita K’s archive. Who would have bet
on that motley band of masked marauders to start rewriting her poems,
creating rooms, homes, and eventually whole subdivisions
near her comely ranch in central Alberta?

I am just one of Rita K’s fans, though I barely knew her or
her entourage: Robert, Ray, Bob, and Kroetsch.
If those were their real names. In any case,
I miss them all and believe in their future.