Kathleen MacleodKathryn Macleod

Working Note

These poems were written over the period of a couple of years, after having moved to a semi-rural setting on Vancouver Island after thirteen years in Vancouver.

Certainly the landscape of my new home influenced this work—living on acreage, working a large garden, being closer to forests and ocean—the details of daily life change sharply when one moves out of large city.

A second influence, more significantly, was a trip to India in 1999 and a continued exploration of Buddhist teachings. These poems retrace trails first explored in work written years ago, but readings in Buddhist literature have perhaps clarified some of the questions: the nature of self and desire, of faith and time, of love.

I remind myself over and over of the importance of process over product, of seeing beyond expectations of results. I believe this has led to a closer relationship with narrative in my work—a gentler approach to both following the story and to letting it go.

–August 2001









I have won and lost
great insight—worn skin as art
and starved my heart until
I could not see beyond
my grasping fingers

you who loved the telling
more than love itself
spoke poetry on chairs addressing
drinking crowds in dim lit rooms

Words were our gift. Those moments when
meaning was meaningless—

it was not faith, but fear that shouted

It took the poorest and most wretched
to scratch my diamond heart

(But  remember the mistakes you made were caused by the mistakes you made)

This simple process. The world inside
the kitchen, in the garden, in the guestroom


If memory exists—

it waits in hands and fingertips, in bones
and feet, in  tired shoulders

Sometimes I am within
seconds of the immediate

sometimes years keep me

Collapse all time, all fractions, multiples
of weeks and days

We’re left with pieces, dreams that wake us
promising to not be dreams

Imagine yourself close
to death, the rumpled deathbed
hovering mourners, awaiting
final words, a revelation

This is life
you have been told

death joyously remembers
life, stops counting




Nov. 12

We are influenced by light
its absence

on winter afternoons
makes us uneasy. Yellow leaves

rival the sun for brilliance.
Between mountain and ocean

the city sleeps. We too are waiting
This winter El Nino promises warming

on the coast. Global winds
they warn us.

Off a stone beach we watched
feeding salmon  charge the water’s surface.

The house fills with nesting
spiders and small rodents.


Nov. 23

This peculiar season brings
a few hours of intense sun. Bulbs

extend themselves, unwary
Whose rules or power do we bend to?

A shadow grows
over the north garden—

we breathe our history like air
and so it shapes us.

This moment perception and mystery


Dec. 5

A hard frost this morning—
silver grasses

the limbs of trees washed
by cold sun. One lesson

learned over and over:
we reach through

impossible silence. A year ago
the snow was soft and thick

and hid us well. I am watching
at the window—

in the long grass beyond the fence
I see your signal

one hand against the metal sky


Dec. 10

Rain diminishes the landscape—.

the field of sodden grass
black trees knotted

with shrunken fruit.
The gardener, behind glass, surveys
muddy furrows, imagines better months ahead.

We know the day to day as warden.
Approaching winter solstice—

the year is changed
by absence, promises.


Dec. 21

It is enough
to keep pace with the day sinking

into darkness—the brief glow of sun
frozen on cedars, laurels.

The path narrows under the black trees
milky ice along the road.

Tomorrow darkness will come
a fraction later.

Last night through the telescope
we watched four moons

tailing a distant planet,
the startling rings of Saturn.

A gentle shift in light and time—

a planet
crosses the sky to morning.




Not as secret as it has been.
Nor does the thin world engage us.
Last night a deer entered
the backyard, stalking
the sweet lips of the new lilies.
The story finishes without me.

The wind over the strait
brings weather. Waiting patiently
for life, strangers and acquaintances
keel over. Such a waste, we mutter,
imagining new graves, the quick scent
of turned earth.

The focus of our lives becomes
smaller and smaller, so that
the stirring of a leaf enchants
us. Thus, one’s heart
beats steadily and calmly
inside a curve of time
and latitude.

We woke this morning
beside the river’s muddy breathing—
scrape of a wings outside the window.
Soon, the house will be gone, the scene
will have absorbed us. Creatures
poise beside the water’s edge.
Birds lift into the sky
shedding questions.





Cross legged in the temple
rolling voices, nestled candles

this is art, this is not art
this is love, this is not love

A memory:  your hand on my shoulder
I turned and flew
a thousand miles in your eyes

The lama built
a butter sculpture in the woods
a creature draped
in entrails, in the dawn

we were leaving
            for the city and the hot plains

I placed a rupee at its feet
and asked for love
safe journeys, wisdom

monkeys singing with compassion
as we travel home


The old heart struggles in the night
beating red and firm as a young plum,
wakes me
from a new dream

This time, this time
arms spread wide, a hundred arms

we’re flying, buoyant, hopeful

over a thousand mile plain of dusty roads and aged cities
purple in the new light, the bathers
in the river praying
hands cupped

fringed in gold
almost naked
bathed in plum and gold


Bio: Kathryn MacLeod lives in Nanaimo, BC on Vancouver Island. Her publications include “mouthpiece” (Tsunami, 1996) and How Two (Tsunami, 1987). Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals in Canada and the United States. At present, she is completing a Master’s Degree at Simon Fraser University.


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