Harry Thurston
If Men Lived On Earth (2000) Gaspereau Press
$14.95 | 1-894031-22-9 | trade paper

- The De Jong/Harris interview with Harry Thurston

- The Writers Federation of Nova Scotia Page on Harry Thurston

Five Poems on Animals from
If Men Lived On Earth

The Owl and the Mouse 

The world does not have words…
Language, but no words.
-Tomas Transtromer

In February, a feral alphabet: a thin line
of mouse tracks scribbled across the flawless powder,
intersecting it, the signature of attack // caesura.
two lives met here, one, light-footed, earthbound,
the other, aerial, heavy-winged. Two lines
drawn together by hunger. On impact, the owl made
angel wings, white and perfect as the living body,
every feather, every barbule, printed in the snow.
two lines on the page of winter
tell a simple story, in simple language, not words:
two lives met here, became one.

Chimney Swifts 

For Catherine

Fly ash, swifts swirl counter-
clockwise around the chimney

like smoke returning
to the fire. Time’s arrow

is reversed. As we watch their flight
spiral into darkness,

we are growing younger,
back toward our births,

borne to our mother’s womb
on charcoal wings.

First one bravely dips 
into the inky stack,

then the others 
obediently funnel down

to the mystery of our origins.
A place still, dark, expectant.

Dusk, the show is over,
we file obediently toward our appointment

with sleep, resume our steady movement
no longer suspended by waking wonder.

In the morning, the flock 
unwinds like clock springs,

flies up as if the night foreman
had returned, kindled old fires.

The swifts, winged carbon, spiral up,
clockwise at the dawn light.

setting the day in motion,
unfurling the future.

Snipe Sonnet 

O what a brave suitor is the snipe,
spinning in his amorous orbit,
a feathery satellite above
the rain-tamped earth.
Dizzy as a Sufi dervish, he dances
his aerial love; folding his wings,
drops like a plumb bob, his tail
feathers the ribs of a fluttering fan,
hoop-hoop-hooping his earthly intent.

O what a brave suitor is the snipe
who makes his whole body a love song.
yet, in the south, they do not hear
a heart beating
but a shroud torn as the snipe
rends the sky, a spirit speaking
when the body falls headlong to earth.


littering the lawn 
of this man’s castle,
their antics a never-ending cartoon
unreeling on a spool of wind –
Sylvester in endless pursuit
of Tweetie Bird,
one man’s hedge against time. 

I remember another bright beating whirligig
in grandfather’s backyard,
a little man in red shirt and blue overalls.
The prop powered strokes of the bow saw
bent his hinged body into the task
but he never gained an inch of kerf
all the long summers of childhood.

My grandfather shuffled when he walked – 
a scar of his youth,
feet cast in a molten spill
at Burrell & Johnson foundry;
the patience of pushing broom
along school hallways – 
a simple man like any other
going about the business
of his last day(say, in Pompeii)
shuffling over the flagstones.

Afternoons he slumped in his lawn chair,
smiling Buddha in a wine cardigan
misbuttoned over his great belly
where his hands rested
except for the thumbs
running round and round each other.

Grandfather meditated among the clouds
of roses building behind him
while the little man worked,
bucking to each zephyr,
the sound of his sawing
and endless pleasure. 
He flashed his colours,
red-blue, red-blue,
the old man’s eyes beating
in time under the giant suns
of his lids.

River Otters at Play 

as it ought to be made
leisurely, buoyant, liquid. 
The river otters roll
over, the male a helpless sailor
holding hard to the capsizing 
keel of the female.
and under
they sink,
bubbling desire, emerge
au pair
sucking night air,
circling together,
one to the other –
otter to otter.

love as play,
in this they are always
faithful and true.
Love made as such things
ought to be done, with grace,
for fun.
I have seen them before,
not locked like this,
but moving free,
in synchrony
dive and surface together,
anxious to spy the other’s face –
okay, they say, and dive again
weaving their submarine passions.
Or on the slippery bank,
over the other’s oily back,
musking each other
as they enter the water,
each quick, sleek movement
a kind of foreplay,
sensing the other’s wet wishes.
Now they are in no hurry:
as the light fails
they court the dark waters, 
stirring them,
and, deep down,
limbic me.

Kind permission to reprint poems given by Mr Thurston and Gaspereau Press