Have you ever gone to a free poetry reading and when you arrive there’s a sign on the door, “Sold Out”? It happened to me.
Some days you just have to get motivated for poetry. For weeks I knew the reading was coming and planned to attend, but, at the last moment, I wavered. Should I? Will I? It wasn’t quite a case of, “Do I have to?” I was bending, but I got out. I left a little later than I should have all right, and was taking public transit. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take north over the Cambie bridge and ended up waiting at the wrong stop, which pushed the clock further towards the 3 pm start to the reading.
I was waiting on the east side of Cambie around the corner from the entrance to the “Canada Line”. A bus pulled in. It was the “Downtown, Granville Island”. I asked the driver, “Do you go downtown or to the island first?” “The island,” he said. “You have to cross Broadway over there to go downtown.” Right there I thought again of bailing but pressed on.
For some reason I was feeling apprehensive or ambivalent about actually making it to the reading, the “Dead Poet’s Reading Series”, to which I’d contributed in September at the old “Project Space” venue on East Georgia Street, reading poems by Malcolm Lowry. What was I worried about? I didn’t know. I was on edge.
When I finally got down there (Vancouver Public Library, Main Branch) it was about seven minutes to three. The library guy (I recognized him from November, he was the guy who had introduced the audience to the Series’ new venue, the VPL) was just putting the sign up on the glass door to the room on level 3. I think the sign actually said, “This room is now full. See you next time.” Or something close. I turned around and left. I didn’t try to barge my way in. “Hey, I’m an important guy. I’ve presented at this series! Where’s my seat?” All the seats were taken and I could see that. There’s only about 40. The readings only happen every other month. I’ve felt myself that the organizers are on to a special thing here and that it could take off on them. Obviously, they need more room even now.
I went down to the DVD section on the main floor and checked out “Dawn Patrol”. I didn’t think I’d find it, but there it was. It was some consolation. I’d been wanting to screen the 1938 Hollywood epic again due to my research into Mick Mannock, States’ ancestor on her father’s side, the top scoring fighter pilot in the Great War. Really?
So now what? It’s Greytown, soon to become Darktown. You know what I mean. I’m back at Cambie and Broadway. I can see that the guy is still sitting there on the sidewalk on the west side around the corner from the entrance to the “Canada Line”. He was there earlier when I was waiting for the wrong bus. A native/first nations guy wood carving. There were wood shavings around his position and he even had a little dustpan and broom, presumably to sweep everything up once he decided to pack up. I decided to go over there and see what he was doing.
He had a couple of examples of his work propped on top of his backpack which was sitting on the concrete next to him. He had a freshly lit cigarette going in a small, round ashtray also on the concrete. “Are you selling these?” I asked him. I was all bold now and ready to engage whereas earlier I seemed to be unsure of things generally, trepidatious, as we used to say (incorrectly) back in grade school. Sure we did.
“This one’s twenty-five dollars, that one’s forty-five.” I picked up the twenty-five dollar objet. “Eagle and frog,” he said. It was about five inches long and an inch and a half or so wide, a pale blond piece of wood carved into some of those familiar totem motifs we’ve all seen, the eagle on top of the frog. “I’ll take twenty.”
That was good because besides a semi-expired transit ticket what I had on me was one twenty dollar bill, one of those bright, crisp new ones. “I’ll take it,” I said. The other piece was nice too, and bigger. It was the size of a coffee cup, a solid piece of red cedar with the image of a single entity. “Do you have a card?” I asked. “What’s your name?” The guy, he wasn’t young, past 60 at least, said he didn’t have a card. He told me his name but I didn’t quite catch it.
“Seventh generation carver,” he said.
“Steven Brown,” I said, and we shook hands.
“I’ll sign it,” he said. He took the $20 and the totem and turned it over and signed it in pencil. ‘Eric Williams’.
“Eric. Thank you, Eric. Where you from?”
Nitinat. Nitinat Lake. Vancouver Island. I knew that. “It’s a talisman, Eric. It’s good luck. It’s great. Thanks.” I was walking away but then turned back. “What is it, spruce?”
“Yellow cedar,” he said. Ah, I was going. Yellow cedar.
“I know about yellow cedar. Did some logging back in the day. Wakeman Sound. Kingcome Inlet.” Eric nodded. “Should I put a little oil on this or something, to protect it? It’s raw wood.” Eric nodded. I put the talisman in the breast pocket of my raincoat and walked away. It was starting to.
Next on samoyeddogs: The great Silly Season post that never was.