The Witness Ghost by Tim BowlingThe Witness Ghost by Tim Bowling

The Witness Ghost

byTim Bowling

Paperback | March 17, 2003

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The Witness Ghost is Tim Bowling's most unified collection of poems since his widely praised debut, Low Water Slack (Nightwood, 1995). Here, in an extended sequence of powerful elegies, he traces his feelings of loss, bewilderment and anger at the death of his father, a man who spent his working life as a salmon fisherman on British Columbia's majestic Fraser River. Borne back into a past of old wharves, boats, nets and ripening blackberries, the poet enters into the lush west coast riverscape in an attempt to recapture Heck Bowling's lingering spirit in all the complex human tangles of sorrow, joy, weariness and reverence. In his characteristic style of direct emotional statement mixed with startling imagery and metaphor, Bowling has written one of the most intense and loving statements to fatherhood in Canadian poetry, while at the same time extending his rapt immersion in the west coast's mythic history and beauty.
Tim Bowling has published numerous poetry collections, including Low Water Slack; Dying Scarlet (winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry); Darkness and Silence (winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry); The Witness Ghost and The Memory Orchard (both nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award);...
Title:The Witness GhostFormat:PaperbackDimensions:80 pages, 7.5 × 5.25 × 0.19 inPublished:March 17, 2003Publisher:Nightwood EditionsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0889711917

ISBN - 13:9780889711914

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Read from the Book

THE WITNESS GHOSTI woke in the dark to your voice(Trickle of creek over rock,clench of tide around pile).We left in the dark, the old way,down the lampless, houseless block,past the row of wild cherries,the crunch of our boots on gravellike the drawn-out growlof an old dog who doesn't reallymean it. And when the blossomstouched my cheek, I understoodyou had turned back to kiss mewithout turning. I went intothose kisses like a bride.There wasn't any light, though the starsshone. It was as if someonelooked at us without seeing us;we could have waved our armsand never raised a blink. Half-asleep, I lulled in your easy wakealong the wind-scoured parapet of dykedown the gangway to the mossy wharf.A mast-chain shivered as we left the planks.After you had warmed up the boat,I stood aside and watched you chooseto steer from the cabin not the deckbecause a spider in the nighthad attached a strand of webto a spoke. I almost heard you sighfor the ruin you'd have to makelater, when the dictates of your worklorded over gentleness, as ifyou had to spare a life for thoseyou planned to take. A reverse sacrifice.The river trembled, sheened to silk.Heavy in the damp, the muskof mud and creosote. Distantly,a coal train cried, leadingits black pod a little closerto the kelp. I wokefurther. At the towhead,beside an island of rushesslightly rising and fallinglike the roped chest of Gulliver,I saw the little throw of lightsup Grouse Mountain, in North Vancouverwhere you'd been a boy, splashingtruant in creeks so silver that, wheneveryou moved your body, even to kill,something essential had been smithied,struck from fire.The net rolled off the drum.You steered across the channelfrom the stern. I stoodbeside the doomed cathedralon the deck, my heartstill as the unsuspecting spider.For ten minutes, we strainedto hear a salmon hit the net.Then we picked up. Closer,I watched you hang abovethe ripping silk. An urgent whisperand I came beside you, on rubberytiptoe, staring into the drip of black.Slowly, you bunched in your handsthe web as soft as muddied lace.We bent like two sunflowersseeking the earth's internal light.Shhh. The unending cautionof the breeze. Your lipshad become the vessel of the race.In your hands, the will to strike.In your eyes, the wonder that you would.I hunched into the sudden shadowof your shoulders, gaping like a baby owl.Something big was down there. You helda single mesh between thumb and forefingerand traced its tooth-snagged geometricon the air, careful inch by inch. Then angledthe hook of the gaff, prepared to strike.In the invisible, acrid clots of exhaust,I held my bones and heartbeat in,stifled a cough.The downward arc dippedin the black before it piercedthe skull in the fatal crush,striking up from underat the gill. You rarely missedand knocked it loose, or stuckthe hook in the valued flesh.A painter's skill - you musthave traced the pattern of deathten thousand timesin the roiling darkuntil even your sleep was etchedwith crossing lines so thickthey came to mimickthe grains in a woodcut.And I was the spider who watched.I was the pupil in the crystal,widening, my black into the blackof the earth, that has to turn and killwhatever's formed from the gutsof the self - nothing gentlein the fall of a blossomonto a street blackas the lid of a coffin,or in a bubble of black frothat the torn jaw of a salmon,nothing gentle in an art thattraces out lines only to turnand stuff its own creationin its mouth.Yet I woke this morning, and will always wake,to your voiceand the hopeless taskof replication,to string along the webwithout breakingthe first, struck silverof dew,and listen forthe dying-as-it's-bornechoing afterclang of hush.THE HARVESTA man and a boy on a riverin a boat drifting rapidly to sea.They labour together in the stern,salmon fluent at their gumboot tops,others flopping in across the rollers,hanging, thrashing, in the meshes.Over the island poplarsthe tiny moon tensesat every tug on the web,creeps its white sack forward.Late August. The corn has been cutin the fields they drift past. The scentof cut peas is on the wind, cut hay.The salmon's mouths open and close,open and close, like fast wounds.The man and the boy drift faster.At their legs, the sickles cut.Decorously. As a caretaker cutsthe grass of the unvisited graves.Almost without sound.The boy fell first, too manyyears ago to count.And the man with the nimble fingerswho spoke always with a deer's look?Three months ago this day,the river struck his gold.

Editorial Reviews

"[Bowling's] series of elegiac poems on his father's death, The Witness Ghost, haunts me: it's exactly the kind of poetry I wish I had the energy and commitment and imagination to write, and had he written often thus, it had been vain to blame and useless to praise him. Good stuff, is what I'm saying. ... I'm teaching the book this fall."
-book addiction