Here is some of the poetry I have written.
This poem describes the memorable events of the last day of a trip I took to Nootka Sound in 2019 with Fire-Drake.
Pale dawn light breaks with song of thrush and wren,
Tucked behind small island in McBride Bay.
Anchor fouled; I was lucky once again.
Sport fish boats speed, full throttle, on their way,
Missing subtle charm of forest and shore,
To reach some spot where they plan to go slow.
Tahsis Inlet heights, where stern eagles soar,
Through rain clouds threat, brief gaps of bright sun glow.
Sea otters float, ignore my intrusion,
Smash their bivalves with shocking violence.
Best bays blocked due to fish farms exclusion,
Yes, we need protein but this makes no sense.
Converted mine sweep, Uchuck III, on her way,
She’s an old friend, a reassuring sight.
Alongside Gore Island, will the breeze stay?
Wind holds through the gap, sweat halyards up tight.
Five knots straightaway, we’re nearly hull speed,
If we hit six then it’s time to reef down.
Sun’s out now with dappled cloud above peaks.
The scene is sublime, no place for a frown.
Now speed is more than six, sometimes seven,
Wind over transom tops more than twenty.
Reef time once more, round up and drop the main,
Straight to third reef, though small, it’s still plenty.
We’re on a tear now, still way too much sail,
Furl up the mizzen, blowing twenty five.
A glance at the chart, there’s no place to bail;
Shouldn’t be here – can I get out alive?
Can’t reef any more so hang on and steer,
The boat picks up her skirts and off she planes.
Speed’s up past nine now, beginnings of fear,
First time this quick, maybe never again.
The wharf and launch ramp are approaching fast,
How the hell to pull off dropping the rig?
Sheltered a bit by the point once I’m past,
There lies my hope, where the swell’s not too big.
Throw the helm over, shoot in to the lee,
Water is flatter, the wind still blows hard.
Wrestle the sail down on a still rough sea,
The sail won’t behave ‘til I grab the yard.
Strike both the masts and ship both of the oars,
From broadside on, try to heave the stern round,
She wants to broach – but one short strong pull more,
I’m hard by the quay, for the ramp inbound.
A dock hand shouts: Were you sailing out there?
In those waves, in that little boat I see?
You bet, I reply, just for fun, I swear,
Although it may not be your cup of tea.
On final approach the wind is no more,
The heat off the land exhales in great gouts.
Tie up the boat, drag my tired butt ashore,
Excitement’s done, now it’s time to chill out.
Alex Zimmerman 2019
This poem describes the longest day I experienced on the second half of my 2017 Inside Passage trip in my sail and oar boat, Fire-Drake, from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy. That trip forms the last chapter of my book, Becoming Coastal. I toyed with the idea of including the poem in the book, but the book was very long already.
The morning sun at the head of the inlet shines down on the waterfall’s roar,
As another day dawns in a whispering breeze on the trail of sail and oar.
With this wind there might be no need to stretch and pull and curl,
I might have a chance to raise those sails, too long so tightly furled.
So hurry the breakfast, pack up the tent and stow the rest of the gear,
Lower the board, step both the masts, drop the mizzen and cleat it in.
Hoist up the foresail, then from the bottom, break the anchor clear.
Take the tiller in hand, harden in the sheet, and settle back with a grin.
I wish you were here to see me, boys, finally – a sailing day!
But hope is dashed as I round the corner, for out in the main channel there,
The zephyr grows more ever more fitful, then it completely dies away,
‘Twas naught but a vagrant sea breeze, a delusion and a snare.
I lower the rig, fit the oars in the locks and bend my back once more,
And what’s worse luck, I have the tide to buck, all morning along the shore.
As hours tick slowly by, only short breaks can I find, and for them I am more than ready,
In the weakened current behind a point, sometimes there’s even a back-eddy.
Then just when I need it, along about noon, I pull into a small creek mouth,
A place to rest, drop the hook and eat, watch the boats, then once more head south.
The tide’s turned, the sun’s out, the wind’s up, perhaps this time to stay,
I wanted good wind for sailing, now I’ve got it, it’s time to be on my way.
The tide’s in my favour the whole afternoon, though I’m headed twelve mile dead to windward,
Though where I’m bound won’t see me there soon, I’ll be tack upon tack, shore to shore, sailing hard.
Ah, what a glorious sail that day, perhaps the best that ever I’ll see!
Set up the GPS; keep one eye on the telltales, and one eye on the VMG.
The least little lapse in attention, and the speed it drops by a knot,
Concentrate, lad, stay focused! Don’t deviate your helm by a jot,
And maybe, just possibly, maybe, in this narrow and desolate channel, so very far from home,
If you sail the reach of it, to the best of your skill, though there’s no one to witness your deed,
You’ll win through to a quiet safe harbour, far from the tumult and foam,
Before the tide turns against you and bright day to dark night finally cedes.
A mere mile and a half to the Point now, a couple more tacks and I’m round,
But the afternoon’s gone and so is my tide and with it my sailing wind.
I’m back on the oars, and fighting a slop, left over from out in the Sound,
Now bury the loom of the oar, now slice off the top of a wave, I wish the sea would make up its mind.
I’d hoped to be out of it well before now, near the end of this long, long day,
But there is nowhere to run and nothing to be done, except heave and sweat and curse.
At long last the Point’s gained, and slowly round it I creep, to the shelter of the deep wide bay,
Where the sea is dead still, and quietly I dip and lift the leaden oars, while aching muscles I nurse.
The waxing moon tracks close behind the orange of the setting sun, down the fading blue sky of the west,
As I anchor my boat a cable from shore, I feel I’ve earned me an outsized beer, then a long tranquil night of rest.
Alex Zimmerman, 2019
These two brief poems, written in classic Shakespearean sonnet style we all learned in high school (iambic pentameter, ten syllables per line, seven rhyming couplets) are about ecological disaster, specifically climate change. One is written from a place of anger at politicians and business leaders who spout the right word but who do nothing, while the other is written from a place of hope, that there are solutions, based on a new way of being, based on ancient wisdom learned from First Nations ways of understanding.
Sonnet 1: Spin
Sacred mother, connecting all that lives,
You gave us minds, you gave us physics clear,
You leave no doubt what each of us must give,
But there are plenty who refuse to hear,
Who somehow imagine that they’re immune,
From karma’s reckoning or consequence.
Our leaders say, we’ll action it real soon.
One percent swears; world can’t bear that expense,
Meaning, of course, it curbs their privilege.
There’s none so blind as those who will not see,
That they’re casting themselves beyond the edge.
Swept up in their foul wake are you and me.
So our leaders, they spin; the world, it burns,
Who should lead just spin, meanwhile the world burns.
Sonnet 2: Regeneration
Sacred mother, connecting all that thrives,
Be it quick life or slow eroding stone.
Now teach us to co-operate, not strive.
Show us gardens that First Nations have sown.
Our stale old mode of thought, replaced must be.
A clear new way of being true, we need,
One less like machines, and more like a tree.
That ancient wisdom the world needs to heed.
We are not other, not set above all.
We must recognise ourselves in the whole,
Find the courage, the grit, the wherewithal,
Grasp the new future, seek the worthy goal.
Nature and humankind can integrate,
Through bold design we must regenerate.
Tarnished jewel; Salish Sea of the soul.
Sun calm, hot dry, Arbutus-dappled shade,
ancient village midden sleeps under knoll.
What value are these; how shall they be weighed?
against our fossil fuel dependence,
whose careless ravages obliterate
small night creature’s bioluminescence,
and harry lean Orcas in their home Strait.
Chip laden barge brassy water does pound,
monstrous cruise palace tankers blind to whales.
Just one house more; one more road on the ground,
onward creeps human tide, sweeping wholesale.
Your beauty we’ll defend with our last breath,
while our compulsion will love you to death.
Gale guarded, fog shrouded isles in my dreams,
vast sea urchin’d walls ‘neath pearlescent deeps,
tree clad inlets decant pure bubbling streams.
Cloud clears, then gaze to distant mountain leaps.
Watchmen and paddlers converge on Hot Springs,
limb’s rest and heart’s ease by bright fire are found.
Waterfowl frantic on swift whistling wings,
raven and eagle in each cove abound.
Elders now teach us what we all should know,
their wisdom long eons, homeland has graced.
Totems mute witness – high culture brought low,
not gone, still strong, stopped chain saw’s witless waste.
New way’s guardians; continent’s outpost,
sacred heartland, this Haida Gwaii, wild coast.
Vancouver Island Outer Coast
Broad powder sand beach, surf break’s endless roar,
above storm tide, bleached logs, seaweed wrack,
plastic, plastic, plastic from far offshore.
Ghostly Cougar not seen – merely his track,
Wolf brothers watch close their territory.
Sand fleas in night’s fire smell just like shrimp roast,
Grey whales feed in peace; once they were quarry.
Trollers and seiners still hunt all this coast.
Through mist I watch Osprey’s imperative –
Stark is the lesson – fit in or perish,
will we learn on time that’s how we must live?
or surely we lose all that we cherish.
Here on the edge, is there nowhere to go?
Or does this begin what there is to know?
Snow crowned mountains with their feet in the sea,
white falls tumbling straight down to tidewater.
Salmon bodies feed sacred cedar trees,
wrapped safe in kelp beds; vital sea otters.
Grizzlies on beaches flipping over stones,
jade liquid slow lapping on hard white sand,
yellow iris meadows filled with bees’ drone,
thrush calls, wren warbles, soft behind the strand.
Slashing rains driven by the rising gale,
give way to mist-shrouded dead calm dark fjords.
Cannon-shot breaching of a humpback whale,
night sky stars like lasers; galaxy’s swords.
The mind will not focus, the heart it yearns,
soon back to my north coast I must return.