Category: poems

Driving North on Highway 43

Somehow it is Thursday, and I haven’t posted anything here yet this week. I am starting to wonder if my goal of two posts a week is too ambitious, but rather than give up, I am allowing myself to bend the rules a bit and offer the occasional #throwbackthursday post.

This weekend I will be driving to Grande Prairie to visit friends. When I moved to Grande Prairie in May 2001, to start my first professional job as the Children’s Librarian at Grande Prairie Public Library, I had no idea how significant highway 43 – the highway south from Grande Prairie that led to the two places I called home at that time: my parent’s farm in Barrhead and Edmonton where most of my friends lived – would become to me over the next few years.

An excerpt of this poem was published in 2007 by the Calgary Herald in their Discovering Alberta series.


Driving North on Highway 43


1. the first time, from Barrhead

I moved to Grande Prairie
and suddenly, home an
hour north of Edmonton
became south, and this highway
the umbilical cord
straining to pull me back
to the land that birthed me


2. and many times after that

I find myself on this road
driving south to north and north to south

to pass the time I count the creeks
that weave their way through trees
under the highway before disappearing
into the bush again and I wonder
who gave my favourite,
the tiny Chickadee, its name

eventually this highway and I
become uneasy friends
as I learn to forgive the slights of
oil patch trucks racing to work
and the sight of road-kill
decomposing on the shoulder

instead I look for beauty:
the valley at Bezanson
glorious in autumn
before the big wind
sweeps away the splendour;
a great horned owl perched on a sign
Fox Creek 46 km;
brush piles burning at dusk

mostly I drive straight through
but once I stopped at Kleskun Hills
climbed to the plateau
spent an hour lying in tall grass
watching sky change pretending
not to notice those first drops


3. close call

driving through Sturgeon Lake Reserve
in a blizzard blinded by whiteout

just over a rise snow shifts
reveals an oncoming semi
passing another semi
despite double solid lines
hidden under the snow

so I drive on the wide shoulder
knuckles white
the trucks roar past

as I pull back into my lane
the shape of a man appears

a dark shadow in the beam of the headlights
walking through the blizzard
just before the sign
to watch for pedestrians


4. seasons

driving north on highway 43
I witness the seasons
each with its own particular colour:
the new green of spring,
summer’s azure sky,
burnt umber, ice white

with each I become more
part of this northern place until home
is at both ends of the highway


I love lying under trees


I love lying under trees on grass still wet with dew, arms outstretched. Above me, the breeze runs its fingers through the branches and the tree sighs and lets go of a few unneeded leaves.

I don’t know what kind of tree this is, and it doesn’t matter that it is a nameless stranger I found in a park in an unfamiliar city. The only thing that matters is that it stands here, stretching its green canopy above me, reminding me that I am safe, that I am loved.

glimpses of blue sky
slip through
pure effervescence

For my grandfather

ruins of the windmill

Each year, the city’s tendrils creep closer
to the ruins of the farmhouse of your
birth. Our family’s firstborn Canadian.

When you were only two weeks old,
the census taker spelled your name wrong,
unable to understand your parents.

No matter. You thrived like the prairie grasses
and now I am here: more than a hundred
years later, only a few miles away,

part of these urban rhythms, bearing witness
as this city that was your future consumes
my past beneath this holy, expansive sky.

the old Kublik farm
Dad shows my brother, sister-in-law and I the layout of his grandparents’ house near Ellerslie, Alberta. Photo credits: Gladys Kublik, 2009.


It seems I must content myself to be
a poet of quiet places and gentle hands
of sun-streaked sky and rough-edged voices
dusty prairie towns and wind-burned faces
everything so commonplace and familiar

– Glen Sorestad, “Sitting on a High Bank Over the South Saskatchewan River”

I haven’t had an extraordinary life
just an Alberta farm girl
few adventures to tell
the lack of tragedy leaves my poems bland,
like soup without enough salt
the cook hiding in the kitchen.
It seems I must content myself to be

relinquished to obscurity along
with the life that birthed me,
consumed by the urban, my great-grandparents’
farm swallowed by sprawl.
I try to tell myself there is room for
a poet of quiet places and gentle hands,

but my words are a generation too late,
even as I am certain that then my poems
would have been planted in the neat rows of a farm garden,
canned into sealers in a hot August kitchen, or blanched
and frozen to consume in deep winter.
There may not have been words
on pages, although I would have noticed details
of sun-streaked sky and rough-edged voices

and heard the poetry in the cadence of their talk
as I refilled coffee cups around a kitchen table
after lunch. But I wanted a life with words
and so I packed a bag, betrayed those
dusty prairie towns and wind-burned faces

became a scholar, and, for a time,
lost my voice to the roar of city streets,
to post-modernism and deconstructionism and
the discovery my words were too late,
that no one wants poems about barb wire fences and sky
and the sound of the wind. Silenced, I thought my words obsolete.
Yet when I come home, the river sings to me and
barley whispers and poems demand to be heard,
recorded, recognized. And so here
is my declaration that,
like my poems, I am a simple girl, awed
by clear winter mornings – that first lung-cutting
inhalation a prayer – as the sun
illuminates snow-covered fields and sets every
tree ablaze with frost, and it is my all, my
everything, so commonplace and familiar.

On visiting Pablo Neruda’s house, la Sebastiana

“I went to find in Valparaiso a little house to live in and write quietly.”
    ~ Pablo Neruda

More than anything, I wanted
to sit at his desk, hold
his pen with its famous green ink,
write a few lines of my own
about this poet who loved life
and lived– and found this last house,
when he felt the “tiredness” of Santiago,
in the skeleton of another’s abandoned dream.

I wanted to ride the carousel horse
around his living room, drink his special punch
mixed in the ceramic bull,
sit by the fire on a rainy afternoon,
scribble in a notebook while he napped
upstairs. I wouldn’t be offended at my host’s
neglect, content to sip water out of a green glass goblet
and admire the view of the cerros, houses
built one on top of the other, scrambling
for the best vantage of the bay.

I wanted to sit at the bar, accept the glass
of wine he poured and listen
to stories about his beloved Chile.  I would admire
his collection of curios– many of which simply appeared
to fulfill his wishes.  “Collectors must not be shy,”
he would say, “they must tell everyone
what they are looking for.”

I wanted to linger in his house
until all the other tourists were gone,
wait by the window as dusk crept over the hills
and listen to the poet recite as shadows grew.
I want a house like this, I would say
into the darkness, to live and write quietly.
The silence would approve.

Valparaiso, January 2013