Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt



Selections from "Pacific Cantos" in NEARNESS (2020).
Copyright Leonard Neufeldt and Silver Bow Publishing.

                              Canto 1

Raise an arm in farewell benediction
to the Pacific white from the storm
that made the air more peaceful.
It begins, that yielding up word by
word the world where you were born,
where some things hold on: spinal curve
of a fish skeleton beside a sand-
sequined sneaker pointing landward,
bending the incoming margin of ocean,
a large bird grey in its wings standing
in the shoe, wearing it backwards.
Derelict shoe filling with water, hermit gull
looking out to sea, the small desolation
of bones run through by eddies

                              Canto 2

And a long reeling in of the soul,
the feeling of having lost something
important, anthology of purpose
looking for you even after
your return to a green shuffle-down
of the slope, the shoreline’s gleam
as the sun sets, night a quarter-moon
roadway streaming like the urgent
hesitation of a touch that stays
a touch away, morning an argument
of small gusts. Salt in the air
and on the lips, your mother tongue again,
the fluency. And millions of years of drift
finding you, weaving currents
through you, this strangeness of being free,
debris left behind like indecision
before a full head of onshore rain

                              Canto 3

Between the spats of rain
a hymn of sunlight on the surf,
the clouds like Bellini angels on their own.
The line we call horizon does not exist.
Here the peacemakers can say 'more
than usual desire, more than usual
calm.' And the patience of the Pacific plate,
that deep-down calculation
which will never allow
that all its ways be told

                              Canto 4

Years ago the smell of brown kelp,
sweet taste of the eel grass,
salt on your cheeks, and in the instant
you turned your back to your three-year-old son,
a rogue wave, emptied lungs, the burn
of sand under eyelids, legs straining
against the pull. “Why didn’t you stop it?”
every nerve of his fibrillar body frantic
with tremors despite the change of clothes.
“My clothes hurt.” The wonderment.
Learning to give more of himself to matter.
Learning to give more of yourself to fear

                              Canto 5

Far back the Gulf Islands ferry,
under a clothesline of clouds
to the margin. Follow closer in:
crescents of black, a pod of orcas,
their purity of motion suspended like moments
in a diorama of time — and the sun lapsing
into itself, setting an ocean on fire.
Wait another hour:
the phantasmal groan of the foghorn
man-hauling the dark’s heaviness
from land to sea

                              Canto 7

You remember the Baha images:
two fishermen singing of lovers
and loss, their white and blue
boat double-bowlined to a rock
on the shore, boat and rock becoming a coastline
of an inland sea as you mused
what else the bay held for you
where you could wave the fishermen adios
and watch a patch of sea-grass quiver
12 metres down, the wonder of the deep,
how it could lull you into sleep forever

Since you began this canto darkness fell
and the weather turned

                              Canto 8

The desire before you reached Kailua
Beach, and a promise kept
like the grin of a silly photograph.
The curl of the breakers, thin spray clean
off the top, the upsurge, your body pearling
down into the wave’s hollow, arched back
inside the motion, the sea’s sudden underbelly
hard beneath you, yourself beached
on the shore, that first breathing groping
spitting after rebirth, chest
bleeding, ears filled with the high surf
percussion, sand rushing back into
the sea, this and a need free of fear.
It will not be satisfied,
drawing you yet again into the offshore

                              Canto 9

Your brother’s catamaran seizes the wind
and you seize the harness to hike out, Kailua no more,
the boat urgent, slapping rollers down
and leaping up slopes of swells or plunging
through, the ocean knowing how to whelm
us — a spangled blaze then blue then green
then the reverse and the rush back into light,
wonderment riding the edge of grace
into a long trough sinking, unwinding straight,
widening as though to gather the sky’s endlessness
and make room for two far-off sails
autonomous, white as miracles,
and the dark shimmer of another notice:
a hammerhead having found us out,
nose touching the tiller, searching for room
in our reverie. “Coming about, brother”

                              Canto 11

Ah Victoria, no one forgets your loveliness
riding an island’s shoreline like a mirage,
your rookeries of verse hungry
for sea winds, your words winged
for salt marshes filling draining the day,
sometimes the light just so,
sometimes the words keeping their shape
even as cloud shadows unravel
inside the wind’s ardour for change,
bringing with it another sky

and yet your underworld fatness
of alimentary canals still spills
all its corruption into the sea.
In the long run an ocean will not negotiate
with your thirdly and fourthly

                              Canto 12

The ocean’s sucking, gasping in the bottlenecked
basalt chamber, a vortex near its mouth
deepening your question of how far,
and no one there to catch you going down,
drowning inside yourself, lungs bursting
to breathe, your eyes still wide, looking
for a sign like the ebb-tide,
the chamber emptying, released
from yourself

                              Canto 14

The dialectic, repetition of change
and change of repetition, the flow of cliffs,
their glow as the sun bends west,
the high-rise rock on Cannon Beach they call
The Haystack, two old men arguing the best way
down to where the shore has undressed
the children, where voices
in the onshore wind measure distance,
where a golden retriever
shakes off an ocean and finds it
yet once again, with joy

                              Canto 17

Long Beach: other than the end
of a continent? B & Bs, cheap
motels, resorts with 24-hour desks?
In our dreams we are the measured sound
rising from sleep — the muffled tremolo
of surf against the shore,
an innermost rhythm
feeling the restlessness in which a shore
defines itself and us sleeping
on its nearness

                              Canto 18

And awakening to countless sharp-billed
yellowlegs unicycling along the shore,
stopping as one to face the tide, to watch,
to listen, the Pacific still the messenger

                              Canto 19

There are times when stars are suns
with halos of fire high above the street lamps
of Ocean Parkway; there are moments
when you and the fire and the sea
are made for each other and the universes
hum the infinite of time. So many currents
carrying the years




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