This poem is one of a series of dramatic renderings of obscure corners of real and imagined history.
what a day!
at the Basin2 dove from the tufa overhang
into the water, playing my trick of
seeming to drown, not coming up until I finish wriggling
through that underwater chimney
and burst into air. always startles the tourists.
—feel the late summer heat, saw young birds
now half-grown, flying
the ones that survive the cats,
the juncos, usually close to the ground,
a couple on the way to Bow Falls
where I sit, watching the waters clashing and lashing—
remember when Daddy was building our house
on Squirrel Street
and I had whooping cough
first saw the river with Sue Macklin
from a high bank
it was dark and seething
—our fingers touched
we were so scared ran to the tent.
now to the bike
bought from selling door to door
Canadian Pictorial subscriptions
and those smelly sachet powders
grab the handlebars, run,
fling myself into the air
land on the seat, pedal
till the trees on either side this path
are a green blur—
—on the way to buffalo park.
that Englishman3 I talked to earlier
when he bought the newspaper,
he said war was building up
in the Old Country. he loved Germany
but England was holy, he said.
how I had startled him with my trick
at the pool! wonder if he believed
that whopper I told him
about grizzlies soaking in the Cave
to cure their rheumatism?
that was really the caretaker’s story, old Galletley
with his tam-o’-shanter,
but he really knew some true facts
like the Indians using the springs before us.
maybe after hunting buffalo. tiring,
chasing the herds, shooting arrows
twanging off the bows—
or else creeping up on them
covered in buffalo hide for disguise
stalking, but not here by
where they wander shaggy like
old brown blankets over them
fenced in, not free:
by the river I found that arrowhead
a piece of red flint chipped
to the sharp cutting edge—
I would like to join in the hunt
now on my horse4—zm zm zm
off to the Lux theatre to see
the late matinee: Flaming Arrows.5
1. Birney’s family moved to Banff in 1911, and stayed until 1918. He is here nine years old, proud owner of a new bicycle earned through sales of Canadian Pictorial subscriptions, and of sachets. He has recently branched out to peddle the Calgary Herald.
2. The Basin was the natural pool created by the outflow from the hotsprings of the Cave and Basin, now a historical site.
3. The English poet Rupert Brooke visited the Banff area at this time. After stops in Calgary and the Stoney Indian reserve at Morley, he stayed over at Chateau Lake Louise. He left a record of his visit in his Letters from America, where Chapters 12 and 13, “The Indians” and “The Rockies,” deal with his sojourn in the region. He neglected to mention his encounter with young Earle.
4. The bike.
5. Flaming Arrows (1911) was directed by D.W. Griffith, and deals with the savage redskins in a sneak attack on innocent European settlers.