Photo by Lynette Loeppky

 

Timed

(for Robert Kroetsch)

He left behind not objects but place
places where he lived and did not live
places he left and places he observed

He was most fond of valleys and vineyards but relished too
the balconies of well-read critics
the decks of lakeside friends
the windowpanes of attics
the backdoors of old frame houses, their screens propped open to shell a breeze

Visit was his verb

He activated it, sent it on its way to pay a presence,
an object to the idea of guest
visit between the cleft of travel and separation
visit projected as a harvest of hope
visit a waiting to be alone again
visiting the dead husbands in conversations with their widows

The question he asked himself, repeatedly
“Are we there yet?”

Borrowing time, “borrowing fragments of other lives”
waiting for a poem to exist, incomplete or not

But he never arrived, just dropped in for a quick visit
a cup of coffee and a piece of pie
a conversation about the weather or epidemic theory

An ephemeral stay, time spending time, temporary
no visa necessary

He came and went

Visited the future, the past, his sisters, his enemies, his friends
visited language as if it would serve more than a temporary purpose
visited demolished grain elevators and abandoned train stations
visited those few gravel roads left unpaved

He preferred small places.

Not for him heroic cities, but the off-centred world of Coimbra and l’Aubrac
vanishing parkland villages, slowing pulling themselves
down into grey, unpainted list

His visits were less sojourns than brief stopovers
restless as his reading
irascible as his histories
the ones he kept trying to elude

Sociably unsociable he was
there for a silent visit, sapient silence
rendezvous, he thought, was illusion

Observational, he stood at the fringes of brag and racket
wary of rodomontade
his own innocence at stake

For Kroetsch, leaving was missing a train
catching a plane
riding a road
he practiced, to become the “gone stranger”

He carried keys for doors long locked against him
only visiting, somewhere between hello and goodbye,
waiting for a chance to balance equidistance

His postcards were visits too, dropping in from nowhere,
enigmatic entrants

And the familiar arrival
of “the immense sadness of travel”
incited him to leave again
a wandering
a wondering

His visits, unintentional
neither erasure nor creation
but edits
unplanned re-visiting of worlds lurking behind
occasion even—an adjective preparing a site

Flee or tarry, merely the bookends to visits as
stopovers
stopgaps

He departed always

His step jaunty

His elbows lonesome

How do we re-visit that vanished voice, occasionally resurfacing
in a poem
a repetition of words
a wise riddle
the conundrum of love

Are we ever ready?

That adverb of surprise, the paradoxical visit
and its haunting forfeit

 

Aritha van Herk
Calgary, Alberta

 

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