Canada

By Billy Collins

canadaI am writing this on a strip of white birch bark 

that I cut from a tree with a penknife. 

There is no other way to express adequately 

the immensity of the clouds that are passing over the farms   

and wooded lakes of Ontario and the endless visibility   

that hands you the horizon on a platter. 

.

I am also writing this in a wooden canoe, 

a point of balance in the middle of Lake Couchiching,   

resting the birch bark against my knees.   

I can feel the sun’s hands on my bare back,   

but I am thinking of winter, 

snow piled up in all the provinces 

and the solemnity of the long grain-ships 

that pass the cold months moored at Owen Sound. 

.

O Canada, as the anthem goes, 

scene of my boyhood summers, 

you are the pack of Sweet Caporals on the table,   

you are the dove-soft train whistle in the night, 

you are the empty chair at the end of an empty dock.   

You are the shelves of books in a lakeside cottage:   

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,   

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson,   

Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery, 

So You’re Going to Paris! by Clara E. Laughlin, 

and Peril Over the Airport, one 

of the Vicky Barr Flight Stewardess series 

by Helen Wills whom some will remember 

as the author of the Cherry Ames Nurse stories. 

What has become of the languorous girls 

who would pass the long limp summer evenings reading 

Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse,   

Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse, and Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse? 

Where are they now, the ones who shared her adventures   

as a veterans’ nurse, private duty nurse, visiting nurse,   

cruise nurse, night supervisor, mountaineer nurse,   

dude ranch nurse (there is little she has not done),   

rest home nurse, department store nurse,   

boarding school nurse, and country doctor’s nurse? 

.

O Canada, I have not forgotten you, 

and as I kneel in my canoe, beholding this vision   

of a bookcase, I pray that I remain in your vast, 

polar, North American memory. 

You are the paddle, the snowshoe, the cabin in the pines.   

You are Jean de Brébeuf with his martyr’s necklace of hatchet heads. 

You are the moose in the clearing and the moosehead on the wall. 

You are the rapids, the propeller, the kerosene lamp.   

You are the dust that coats the roadside berries.   

But not only that. 

You are the two boys with pails walking along that road,   

and one of them, the taller one minus the straw hat, is me. 

 

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