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Behind the Page: Carla Funk on Gloryland

In 2014, a few weeks before our family’s yearly summer road trip to my hometown of Vanderhoof, news broke of the burst tailings pond of the Mount Polley copper and gold mines. The pond silt, with its slurry of mining waste, spilled into lakes, raising alarm in the residents of Likely, a nearby community in B.C.’s Cariboo region. The threat of contaminated drinking water, of toxins killing off the rainbow trout, and of further dam failure put the locals on alert.

Every summer we passed the road sign that listed distances for the towns of Likely and Horsefly, and someone in the car (me) made a lame joke about the likelihood of an insect attack. But that August when we drove past the sign, I felt a strange shift, a quiet dread, no need to crack a joke. That summer was my first return home after my father’s death. Smoke from wildfires hung thick above us, veiling the sun. The pine beetle’s wake could still be seen in the rusted bug wood along the highway and into the hills. The whole landscape seemed foreboding, forbidding, as if signaling the beginning of a bigger end.

In this weird dirge mode, the seeds for Gloryland were sown. The collection’s binding force from the start was The End—and all endings—apocalyptic and epic, planetary and personal, visible and hidden. Endings were everywhere, and seemed to be speeding toward me. Only the winter before, I’d stood in a cemetery at my father’s gravesite, feeling the keen and inevitable winding down of the earth. And yet, as I eulogized my father, speaking what words I could for a man whose life had not been easy, I found myself vividly aware of the elements of beauty within this end. The valley and its frozen river. The barbed wire fence that ran along the cemetery, glittering with frost. The two horses—one white, one black—that grazed for what grasses remained beneath the light skiff of snow. Inside this sorrow lay traces of joy. Inside this end, hints of the beginning.

If the ending is the most potent place in a poem, then the beginning is close behind in power. Be it in image, word, sound or form, the seeds for a poem’s end are sown at the start. With my father’s death, with the groaning planet—a flood of memories from childhood, clues of some brighter world beyond. This notion of the ending being revealed in the opening, how the final images suggest the origin—this lit the wick for more poems.

Suddenly, everywhere, I saw emblems of the end infused with life. In a rain-flooded, garbage-studded ditch, two mallards briefly, awkwardly mating. On a wooden post beside the walking path, a lone snail climbing into light. Aboard a turbulent flight, a housefly flying with seeming glee from seat to seat. The world kept arguing death with life, ashes with beauty, dark with light.

Everywhere, endings, and in those endings, the hearkening to a genesis. In the beginning, the end. In the Omega, the Alpha. Over the stretch of six months, every poem I wrote arose from this duality and union. I couldn’t go forward without going back.

Last summer, when once again on route to Vanderhoof we passed the road sign for the towns of Likely and Horsefly, a memory from childhood flashed back to mind. With my father at the wheel of our old red Ford 4x4, we were bumping down a rutted bush road, heading into a darkened forest, when my mother shouted, Horseflies! Frantic, her right arm began to crank to roll up the passenger window. I saw, coming toward us, a black swarm, and felt the panic, saw it in my mom’s wide eyes. But just as the horseflies were upon us, the window closed, and they hit it, little dull missiles plipping against the glass. Close call, my dad said. Between them, I sat—four years old, sweating, terrified, relieved, strangely thrilled by the swarm that kept bumping against the windshield, trying reach me.

By the time we reached the clearing and the shore, the horse-flies had vanished. We pushed our aluminum boat into the shallows, climbed in for the journey. My father pull-started the motor into a sputter of fumes. Then, the lake was clean, the trout plentiful. My father’s hand on the throttle guided us to where the fishing was good. My mother shielded her eyes from the sun. I zipped up my life jacket and looked toward the glimmer-path of light on the water. I couldn’t have known it then—that beneath the surface swam words, past and future, ones dragged up from the deep and dark, ones hovering ahead on the horizon’s warp, waiting to find their lines.

Turnstone Press

206-100 Arthur Street
Winnipeg, MB   R3B 1H3
Ph: 204-947-1555; Toll Free: 888-363-7718

Turnstone Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Province of Manitoba through Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage.

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