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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Jewitt's lake


Red Cedars (Thuja plicata), Vancouver Island: photo by Teryn Robinson, 3 May 2011

June 12, 1803

Washed...put on clean shirts...went out amongst bushes
with prayerbook...pray to God to send a ship

Under the starcrowded night
skies tremolo bird
calls echoing in cedars

the quiet eyes of the lake
where Jewitt went to bathe
and pray for his release

are shining shining cool
and wet with distance
and silent lamentation

File:Mossy trees Vancouver Island.jpg

Forest on west coast of Vancouver Island: photo by TheOtherJohnC, 13 February 2008


As-aak-quaksius Lake (Jewitt Lake), around Yuquot (Friendly Cove), Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island: photo by Neal D, 7 July 2012

File:Nuu-chah-nulth children in Friendly Cove.jpg

Three Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) children at Friendly Cove, British Columbia, 1930s: photo by Associated Screen News Ltd. (Special Collections, Vancouver Public Library)

Giant Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Walbran Creek, Vancouver Island: photo by Myles Green, 1 February 2010

Jewitt's lake from TC: Empire of Skin, 1997


Anonymous said...

beautiful methaphor about the the pics!!

TC said...

A Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, only survivor of the crew of the ship Boston, during a Captivity of nearly three years among the Savages (1816)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The mosquitoes made it so
eating my feet
where there was nothing
of center

washing was the biggest
that summer of the lake
its salmon
and fox tracks
all around
the people
not eager
to go anywhere
but the lake the lake

Amazing how different
the New World
head clean
new start
daily life
with halos
patient cedars

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The trees move, they go somewhere at night, vulnerable.

TC said...

This piece comes from an extended poem centered on the Northwest Coast Fur Trade.

Most people won't know what that was. When the book came out a bookstore buyer expressed disappointment at having ordered copies. "I Ihought it was going to be a sex book!"

Ed Dorn generously contributed a preface, bits of which which might help out here with the drawing of the larger picture.

"In the American westward expansion . . . the search for peltry [skins, furs, 'soft gold'] led the way before all other exploitation––mining, ranching, land hunger. The Pacific Northwest was the last of the late-eighteenth- and early-twentieth-century frontiers, and it is still 'the last frontier.'

"Empire of Skin is the recapitulation of the greatest hunting enterprise of the millennium, which brought the grounding and mapping of what is now demarked by the geopolitical term 'Pacific Rim.' The story encompasses the somber pursuit of prolific creatures [beaver, otter, buffalo, bear] irresistible to a race born without the hats and coats necessary for surviving extreme latitudes. This was the last great raid on nature before nineteenth-century advances in chemistry began to break out the chains of synthetics, allowing the masses a measure of warmth and affording the comfortable, morally opportunistic condemnation of the wearing of animal fur.

"[Empire of Skin] is a beautifully founded document. It is created with a poetry that carries the authority of the full modern tradition. Its exactitudes of diction generate and inform the imagination. It is only such poetry that is capable of saving such extensive cultural memory from the decaying vortex of history."

TC said...

A number of parts of this serial work have been posted here over the past four years.

After the Taking of the Ship

By the Sound

The Ya'ai

The Whaler's Wife

Ritual Business



calls echoing in cedars

the quiet eyes of the lake


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, blue jay landed on redwood fence
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

man without his hand, after
that seems to reflect

world worlds, more in being
than, never an object

grey white of fog reflected in channel,
pelican flapping across toward horizon

TC said...

And then too -- in response to the clamorous public demand --

Mild: Sea Otter

The Apparitional Canoe


TC said...

Maybe it's the Ya'ai visiting my tent one too many times but -- uh-oh -- man without his hand.

One worries for him.

Have the savages eaten it upon the S=A=N=D=W=I=C=H Islands?

Was not the Captain Cook Luncheon Special enough for them then, without having to consume all hands?

TC said...

And surely there are pertinent historical questions still haunting the public mind.

Such as, Is it not a great coincidence that a young man from Boston in England should have found himself a hand upon a ship called Boston, out of Boston, USA?

And how did this island come to be called Vancouver, anyway?

Or should I say V=A=N=C=O=U=V=E=R, and start a proper movement out of this?

Jonathan Chant said...

A perfect poem. Love those eyes in the lake.

TC said...


Many thanks.

Those quiet eyes, they're always watching when you least expect it.

Jewitt felt spied upon much of the time, probably for good reason. His hosts didn't want him slipping off.

He went by the lake to pray.

The people of the place had their own private sanctuaries for that purpose.

Different sets of gods (Sky vs Earth and Water), and different measures of desperation and accommodation.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I see it, glimpse it, trying, like Jewitt, be able-- do anything to live in this life whether by way of Boston or other isles. I name something after M=Y=S=E=L=F. What place? What name?

TC said...


I spent a long time (years) trying to imagine him, in that situation. He did his best to make do. At one point he was even "given" a wife. But much always remained A=L=I=E=N for him, there. He had continual longings to be back among "his kind". One can't wash one's longings of that sort out of one's hair the way one would wash the vermin out of a shirt, there in the lake, by the praying place. Come to think of it laundry and prayer make a fair association. These things were important to him, trying to keep his soul clean. That may have proven a losing battle.

washing was the biggest

Your trick of in-feeling gets right to the heart of this, I think. Intuition unlocks as many secret historical doors as data. The data anyway is pretty spotty when you have only the one written source, and one understandably affected by lingering cultural disposition and prejudices at that.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The state of longing can be home, can be what the traveler seeks. It is a thrill, addictive. Love. Do you think his alien self was H=I=M=S=E=L=F? (sorry, it is so tempting to go on and on with the equals sign...)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Jewitt, so alone by the lake. No
longer feral.

larry white said...

Absolutely lovely poem and photos. You are the master, Tom. I've been dipping into the book but concentrating first on Sleepwalker's Fate, having loved your sobering and delightful Dorn, Céline and Berrigan books these last few weeks (and waiting for more).

Well I picture Big Foot country another century/
Crowded with giant green men and loneliness/
Bottomless homesick lamentations/
Keep on surfacing one less clean shirt/
So many Bostons no fine sane harbor/
No fun hide 'n' seek so far from kind and sundry little feet/
God's mail undeliverable to savage deer till/
A palimpsest addressed to tomorrow's poet-clerk/
Found asylum in the poet's current post and comments.

TC said...

The voyagers to that coast came to buy otter skins for teapots. They hadn't known the natives were far more sophisticated at trading than they could ever pray to be.

The equals sign must have been stamped on their sails. It must have had a terrible hold on them, must have put them under a kind of spell.

The poor interlopers. With their hideously tiresome anthologies, their utterly humourless self-referencing, their odious conferences in honour of themselves.

Jewitt hadn't meant to be there. He didn't want the wife. He couldn't get over the unpleasant odours. To a native of course the odours would not have seemed unpleasant at all, in fact probably the reverse. They had their own excellent hygiene. The very cold salt water, the seaweed sachets, the never wearing any pants.

He was becoming more feral than he might have wished. His unedited Diaries reveal what the Official Narrative Constructed Later in Connecticut by the Publisher did not.

And then along came the ship Lydia, out of Boston.

Susan Kay Anderson said...


Susan Kay Anderson said...

Ed Dorn's sentences are Dorn writing tamed; sentences sharpening themselves on each other to a useful, gleaming edge for his friend.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The metal
obviously copper
one could say
and not be wrong
when speaking
to the (peaceful)
who accepts
most of the foolishness
a lot of the time

TC said...

Ironies are always a bit tiresome, but there's no avoiding the irony in the fact that it was neither iron nor gold but copper -- all those teapots & kettles & c., hammered and pounded out into sheets to become the #1 value commodity in the potlatch exchange system -- which was the death sentence of the beautiful sea otter, the one creature in this whole complicated web of relations that could be said to be truly innocent of everything.

Thinking of ED, brass would also apply... it was well known that if hospitably invited aboard ship, the natives had to be watched every minute -- and somehow even the vigilance did not prevent the discovery, once they'd left, that the brass buttons on all the officer's dress uniforms had mysteriously gone missing. For the guests were both more and less ingenious than the hosts.

While the otters swam round the ship harmlessly, preparing for extermination by means of "the trade". The white-eyes left the risks and skills of the killing to the native hunters, who were so much better at the job; after all they'd been doing it forever; but just not at the ramped-up volume of "harvesting" encouraged by the Yankee traders on the ships out of Boston. At Nootka a little bit of cheapjack copper bric-a-brac could buy you a dozen or maybe a hundred otter skins. The trading ships went on then from Nootka to Canton, where one otter skin could bring $100. The top mandarins valued otter skin garments very highly. As well they might have, for the fine thick fur of this remarkable deep diving cold water swimming animal was like nothing else in the world. Something like 6,000 hairs per square inch. The fur of a river otter (for example) has no more than a fraction of that density. The "soft gold" of the sea otter, one of nature's marvels. And you know white world business will always make off with those, not infrequently seducing the native peoples into colluding in this attrition of their most precious traditional resource, simply for the prospect of short-term goods-exchange show-off-system profit. Greed is always the easiest of human vices to exploit.