up the river

it was up the river in the late 70’s, me and johnny and you.
god could you curse, better than johnny, my ears couldn’t believe that
you drank better than johnny, my bladder refused to accept that
but god! you could, you did! pouring in a mouthful of barley rye
on the banks, into the river, “for those gone before” you cursed

then screaming at the sky you started shooting out the stars
and johnny started laughing and i wet myself, but covered it up
with the bottle passed to me, wonderful stories passed with it
all about decapitated charlies, your ages-old ear collection and how you
thought yourself the reincarnation of wild bill hickok, or kit carson with
your hudson’s bay bowie knife balanced between your shoulder blades point up

me and johnny believed you, you told us about the changing nature
of man, about the land, even johnny didn’t say anything to you about what
was also his, but he laughed about your stories, about the rifle shots it took to drive
off the seismic crews that drove away the land, that drove away johnny’s fur traps

johnny hated people too. he hated all the drillers and riggers, the seismic crews,
all the rules, all the lawmen. i was just along for the run, johnny was running too
but kept close to his bottle but not as close as you who with a swift swallow took
26 ounces into your gullet then you’d stand up, shooting out the stars, screaming,

“i’m gonna take apart a grizzly, i’m gonna shoot up the world, i’m gonna do me a lawman”

you screamed curses at god, man and yourself and i wondered why
you didn’t vomit and you didn’t, kept it all inside yourself, feeding poison
to your mouth so you could spit it back at your world and you did it, and me and
johnny left because we were becoming part of what you made, warping
the reflection so there would be no guilt.

in the spring of ‘85 you stood further north than you’d
ever had a right to be and took a Mountie’s life and your
own life and came to be all the poison i have ever come to despise

a footnote on the evening news

~ Dale A. Herrington

Dale A. Herrington has lived in Alberta since 1970. He has worked in the bush, at the tar sands, in Edmonton and Calgary. he has been published in dandyLion magazine, NōD Magazineand a couple of other magazines. Currently Dale is involved with Single Onion read series and loves the South Country Fair, where he strive to be most often.

I enjoy free flow writing as it seems to be most honest. There are many things that trigger my muse. Some of the strongest are memories of people, places and events that come back to visit. Mostly I have to say that I tried not writing and it doesn’t work for me.

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

Leave a Reply