Saturday, February 25, 2012

Say the Names

[image from]

At Real Toads, Mary's Mixed Bag challenge really spoke to my heart this week. Mary challenged us to use the first two lines of a poem we like, and create our own poem from it. Immediately, I thought of Say the Names, by the well-loved Canadian poet, the irascible Al Purdy, who passed away in  2000 and whose voice is missed. He is known as Canada's "unofficial Poet Laureate", with a career spanning over fifty years. He wrote thirty books of poetry, plus other writing.

 I will post Al's beautiful poem, written shortly before his death, here, and follow it with the poem that came alive, singing, in my heart in response.

by Al Purdy

--say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
Tulameen Tulameen
say them like your soul 
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
Tulameen Tulameen
--not the flat borrowed imitations
of foreign names
not Briton Windsor Trenton
but names that ride the wind
Spillimacheen and Nahanni
Kleena Kleene and Horsefly
Illecillewaet and Whachamacallit
Lillooet and Kluane
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
and the whole sky falling
when the buffalo went down
say them say them remember
if you ever wander elsewhere
"the North as a deed and forever"
Kleena Kleene Nahanni
Osoyoos and Similkameen
say the names
as if they were your soul
lost among the mountains
a soul you mislaid
and found again rejoicing
Tulameen Tulameen

till the heart stops beating
                 say the names

*****     *****     *****     *****
and my version:

Say the names say the names
and listen .........
these names that forever
sing through my soul,
that came alive for me
in the forests
and along the wild shores
of Clayoquot Sound.

Bedwell Sound and Lemmens Inlet
Fortune Channel and Sulphur Passage
those names ring through my heart
in kinship with those who put 
their bodies on the line
- and still do -
-No Pasaran!-
to protect this endangered ecosystem.

Drumbeats in the early morning
along the Kennedy River bridge
still tap tap tap in my heart
along with my passion
for the trees, for the wild shores,
for the curving slopes
of my wild spirit's home.

Hesquiaht, Ashousat,
Kakawis, Bay of Berries,
sound and resound
in my heart,
like the marine radio
my heart was once attuned to,
fishermen repeating the beloved names
above the static,
laughter and messages
and "Choo!" 
the Tla-o-qui-aht goodbye.

Wickanninish and Rosie Bay
and Combers,
Ahous Bay
where the gray whales
stop to feed....
riding out in a zodiac,
the seaspray in my face,
the eagle's cry in my heart,
blue herons on the rocks,
little puffins bobbing on the waves -
every inch of land and sea nd sky

Rain slickers and rubber boots,
the endless winter rain, and gusts of wind
that bent us over as we struggled
across the streets in winter gales
and the wild wild roar of the waves
crashing on the shore,
while the foghorn mooed
at Lennards Light
and all the seabirds hid themselves
to ride out the storm.

Lone Cone standing tall, 
and Catface Mountain,
peeping across at the 
womanly slopes 
of Meares,
the sentinels and  guardians
of our village,
orcas breeching in the channel
to our joyous shouted  "thank you!"
and, across the bay, 
the twinkling lights of Opitsat,
little boats chugging back and forth
across the harbor,
heading for home at twilight.

Say the names of the wild Megin River,
carving itself through root-packed shores 
of cedar and salal,
and watch the wild wolves
pacing  down to drink,
a black bear ambling along the shore
looking for wild salmon.

Hear the eagle's call,
hear the waterfall singing
at Tofino Creek,
or point the bow of your canoe 
up the Cypre River.
Paddle hard for Browning Passage,
beat the tide,
or turn off along Tofino inlet,
when the tide returns
to cover the mudflats.
Pull into the cove at Windy Bay.

Say the names say the names
and my heart weeps with love
for the otherworldly beauty
and the kinship with the wild
that lived inside my soul
when I lived there

My heart will say
these names
for as long as I live
and, when I die,
say these names over me
and bury me on a windswept dune
beside the sea,
so it can forever sing
me to sleep
in my heart's home.

Say the names say the names
cherish these wild and pristine places
Stand against the mining companies,
and those who would clearcut and strip 
these beloved and necessary slopes.

Say the names, my friends,
before they all
are gone.


  1. Oh, I do hope none of these beautiful names, rich in cadence and history, will ever be lost to the Canadians who love them.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, Sherry. I want to be there on The Island, on its wild west coast, to say the names, too.
    I've loved British Columbia place names all my life. My favourite was always Skookumchuk, and my favourite pair were Kitwanga and Kitwancool, followed closely by Bella Coola and Bella Bella.
    Did you ever see the 1993 German-made animated movie "Asterix Conquers America"? The Vikings spoke English and the Native North Americans spoke place-names. I don't remember the plot but the dialogue cracked me up.
    Still have this horrible cold, so better lie down before I use up all your comment space.

  3. Bay of Berries! Love the sound of that. I didi this exercise too, in a poem in My Nature. I named birds and wildlife. The timing on your post is interesting because we just had a major forum on the future of mining in Clayoquot Sound, with a huge turnout and most of the speakers were aboriginal, either Ahousat or Tla-o-qui-aht. The Ahousats have allowed Imperial Metals to drill for copper in Catface, but have not yet permitted mining. They are not necessarily against it, but attended the forum primarily to remind us that it's their land. They are so tired of being poor and dependent. The Tla-o-qui-ahts are concerned about a proposed gold mine on their territory. All this can happen in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve!
    Your poem is also timely for me because I've been working on a poem about trying to stop using the settler names like Colnett and Meares and Catface and starting to use the local names like Hilth-Hoo-Iss, Chetaape and others whose spelling I'm not sure of. How the appropriate language emerged from the ground and entered the Nuu-Chah-Nulth ancestors' tongues.

  4. Your readers can be left in no mistake about how much you loved the place that your heart and soul called 'home' It sounds very much like us here loving 'our' cove as much as we did.
    A fabulous write Sherry.

  5. This is a beautiful and lovely poem. I was swept along with your passion and words. Sometimes these names resonate and rings our heart closely entwined with nature and the land.

    Happy day to you ~

  6. we say the names lest we forget..they linger on our tongues lest they be lost...I love your poem. It seems to bring out the verse in me. That is the beauty of a great piece like this!

  7. Your love of place is again apparent in your poetry. It is so beautiful! Your piece is a perfect companion to the one you posted.

  8. Beautiful, Sherry! We all need to say our important names over and over and over! They cannot be forgotten EVER!

  9. Wonderful Sherry! I loved all the beauty you shared! It is a honor to remember their beauty~ Great job!


I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!