Three Poems

Read Catherine Owen's poems here


Catch & Release

Imagine them

                        down there – the sturgeon –

lonely trawlers in the benthic gloam, moving through the dark below us for over 100 million years,

                                      cartilaginous dreams, fish witnesses &

now we serve them up

                        until they are scarce, pop out their roe, discard the heavy old bodies, pose
with trophied remainders, say

                        the head was massive as a wine barrel


                        it felt like holding a dinosaur


                        this guy has been alive since Confederation, all 18 ugly feet of him

six of them stationed along the white flesh, gumboots in the muck, gloves pressed

           against its scutes, barbels trailing the unreadable surface

                                                                          of the river.                    O what do we know

of its polypoid mysteries, how its rostra was shaped by its anadromous passage, this ancient

                                      bony Huso

                        caught twice in one season, can you believe our luck?

Now the hook weaseled out from the lip,

                                      the desecrated weight of it all



Conniption: The River

Split & raucous with light it wings past us. The river yields pale & dark, pale & dark variants, then a
tug. You sleep on and I cover you, juxtapose you with what is lost. The point being, not an already
thing and thus. It’s as if we are seeing the insides of trees everywhere. Dust in a backwards veil
hovers, then is sprayed down. Depression is like a sheath, he says, the eyeball opens, you live in it,
water flicks up on the banks; you feel nothing. Even the fruit could be cast away. Then, the fetal
happens. So you can wait beyond concepts of waiting. I’m telling him – the grief regions are vast. I
may call out hello hello I live only here now but the truth is a geography. Saw whinges. Click of
trucks. The over-exposed heron doesn’t calibrate quickly. Lollop of otter. Fish whipping and the
elusive option that this is not, again, a hook. Falling a 1000 feet into your memory. The claw marks
on the faux leather loveseats resemble insane constellations. Vagabond heart, always. Though I
drizzle the tomato plant every day. The hummingbird, virulent, hurts.
The mud hisses on the low-lying beach. Seriously more a sluice though for ghosts, wastes passing
from the chi-chi bowels of new urban dwellers, the faint stink always where machines were, the mill,
dead forests do-si-do-ing from pylon to pier, souls set to rapid Lucreatian decay, abreacting.
I’m happy today, you tell me. We picked blackberries bowering over cement wreckage. We engaged
in a simple conversation about baking with an elderly pair of sportifs, so navy & white in the
sunshine. There is the chance we will survive to participate in such a duet: the sawhorse on the roof
yearning, weeds playing competitively on the deserted volleyball courts. O gasp, a blue moon, then
an orange one. The apocalypse promises aestheticism after all though he’s not around to see it. I shy
away from his likeness, looking to the furry clouds instead, to birds I identify by the curves of their
wings, the speed at which they mitigate all suffering.
Guessing the look on a corpse’s face is not transcendence but devoid, I still, staring at the river with
crows rowing over it or through the burr of first sun, smell him some days. Smokes & gum mostly.
Sense him around – a spectral swelling in the room – just another contradiction at the supermarket.
Like building wilderness island: a place where birds stay! The grid descends, clicks into place and all
my efforts to write nonsense have failed. Sound is a holy toil but not the only cat & stuffedparakeet-
on- a-rope trick. Perhaps a withering glance is what you give me at this point, I ensconced
in my aerie of language while you deal with the plebes again, texting & perishing everywhere, until
you wish you’d been born with your retinas gouged out. Every log boom has a silver lining however
and on this morning in the initial ruckuss of September, I want to honour those who have more
dead in their kaffee klatsches than living. Growing old, as Oppen noted, is a strange thing to happen
to the young, blackberries pinking somehow wrinkled fingers, the tongue holding the cold fruit as
long as it can. 


I look at the degraded river & say I love you


I look at the degraded river & say I love you

and mourn that they are perfecting its shorelines

without returning any purity - but there has always


been this yearning in the artist towards childhood

& its fire, to wanting others to see this and they mostly

not - so a state of grief is far from uncommon


and can wash over everything sometimes saying -

you are incapable of doing the one thing that

brings you joy, bequeaths meaning -


there is an incompleteness to it always,

like love because of mortality, and remaining

in that place of uncertain, often graceless,


sorrow at the improbability of ever

being able to accomplish what the imagination

holds holy & told you from first & always


was essential is, for days at a time, problematic,

even painful to the point of devastation, of the self,

others too, not to compare this end to anything else


and there are those who claim it is choice, one

can cease, no one is telling you to make art

in this world, but I have never felt it as a releasable


proposition: there is a pact & no you don't have to

support anything resembling beauty - the sun so hot

today for nearly mid-Autumn and in the sky a raucousness


of crows, a swallow in its singing-niche between them.


The rain, machines but I remember –

                       The rain, machines but I remember – on the shoreline last night –

a sandpiper –

                       how just at sunset – that smudge-down of red & swarthy pinks – it had


                       its frantic ticking among stones and was plumped upon a splinter from one of those


                       creosote logs – so still – even as I moved closer – only its slow head stirring, that


                       a notch of black – aloof to the barking herons, the swallows who are river made


                       as they skir the evening for midges, their convulsive lack of beauty – even the long


                       of a crescent moon – all this & a tug, the Ken McKenzie – yawping out


                       , log drivers leaping shadows upon the booms, chain clanks & a guttural chug

away –

                       the sandpiper not like anything human – him & you & I vanishing – and it,


                       for the day – maybe or, not vigil, not witness – O Sandpiper, we have no


                       to say this, you see





Catherine Owen is a Vancouver, BC writer. She is the author of nine collections of poetry and one of prose essays & memoirs. Her work has won the AB Book Prize and been nominated for the BC Book Prize,the CBC award, the Earle Birney Prize and the George Ryga award for Socially-conscious literature. She collaborates with multi-media artists, has written songs for an eco-musical, plays bass with metal bands and runs a photo blog. These poems are from a manuscript about the Fraser River. Her website is

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