Patrick Lane (1939-2019), considered by most Canadian writers and critics to be one of Canada’s finest poets, was born in Nelson, BC. He grew up in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of the BC Interior, primarily in Vernon. He came to Vancouver and co-founded a small press, Very Stone House with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then travelled extensively throughout North and South America. He has worked at a variety of jobs from first aid man to carpenter, but has spent much of life as a writer, having produced 25 volumes of poetry, one memoir, one book of short fiction and one novel. He is also the father of 5 children and grandfather of 9. He has won major literary prize in Canada, including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Dorothy Livesay Prize, British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and have been translated into many languages. He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2014 in honor of his vast and accomplished body of work. 

Calgary City Jail

Today they took him away

and lonely in my cell I read the walls—

the names the thousand jagged scrawls

in slivers of words

in languages I don’t know.

And I think, he’s gone

and what the hell?

Yesterday he spent the hours

capturing roaches

in his cramped rachitic hand

and after supper

took a dented can

and smashed them all.

He laughed when I carved my name above my bed.

What does it matter? he said

they’ll only paint you over.

Elephants

The cracked cedar

bunkhouse hangs behind me like a grey pueblo

in the sundown where I sit

to carve an elephant

from a hunk of brown soap

for the Indian boy

who lives in the village a mile back

in the bush.

The alcoholic truck driver

and the cat-skinner sit beside

me with their eyes closed—

all of us waiting out the last hour

until we go back on the grade—

and I try to forget the forever

clank clank clank

across the grade

pounding stones and earth to powder

for hours in mosquito-darkness

of the endless cold mountain night.

The elephant takes form—

my knife caresses smooth soap

scaling off curls of brown

which the boy saves to take home

to his mother in the village.

Finished, I hand the carving to him

and he looks at the image of the great

beast for a long time

then sets it on dry cedar

and looks up at me:

              What’s an elephant?

he asks me

so I tell him of the elephants

and their jungles—the story

of the elephant graveyard

which no one has ever found

and how the silent

animals of the rainforest

go away to die somewhere

in the distances

and he smiles at me

tells me of his father’s

graveyard where his people have been

buried for years. So far back

no one remembers when it started

and I ask him where the graveyard is

and he tells me it is gone

now where no one will ever find it

buried under the grade of the new

highway.

Wild Horses

Just to come once alone

to these wild horses

driving out of the high Rockies

raw legs heaving the hip-high snow.

Just once alone. Never to see

the men and their trucks.

Just once alone. Nothing moves

as the stallion with five free mares

rush into the guns. All dead.

Their eyes glaze with frost.

Ice bleeds in their nostrils

as the cable hauls them in.

Later, after the swearing

and the stamping of feet

we ride down into Golden:

Quit bitchin.

It’s a hard bloody life

and a long week

for three hundred bucks of meat.

That and the dull dead eyes

and the empty meadows.