Don McKay’s “Load”

I’ve finished Don McKay’s Camber, and unfortunately I didn’t find the second half of the collection much more satisfying than the first half, though I can’t pinpoint exactly why that is. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a lack of the “nature,” poems I expected to find when I bought the book. Perhaps it’s simply because he seems to write from so many different perspectives that I really can’t find a common theme or viewpoint in the poems, though I’m not sure that’s a fair demand to make of a poet. Perhaps it’s simply that we don’t see the world in the same way.

Luckily, I found enough poems where we shared a common interest to keep me reading, as in this poem:


We think this
the fate of mammals ‑ to bear, be born,
be burden, to carry our own bones
as far as we can and know the force that earths us
intimately. Sometimes, while I was reading,
Sam would bestow one large paw on my foot,
as if to support my body
while its mind was absent ‑ mute
commiseration, load to load, a message
like the velvet heaviness which comes
to carry you deliciously

One morning
on the beach at Point Pelee, I met
a White‑throated Sparrow so exhausted from the flight
across Lake Erie it just huddled in itself
as I crouched a few yards off.
I was thinking of the muscles in that grey‑white breast,
pectoralis major powering each downstroke,
pectoralis minor with its rope‑and‑pulley tendon
reaching through the shoulder to the
top side of the humerus to haul it up again;
of the sternum with the extra keel it has evolved to
anchor all that effort, of the dark wind
and the white curl on he waves below, the slow dawn
and the thickening shoreline.
I wanted
very much to stroke it, and recalling
several terrors of my brief
and trivial existence, didn’t.

I’ve been close to dogs my whole life, sometimes closer than I have been to people. If I’ve only had a few dogs in my life, it’s because I was too hurt when one died to want to go through that again. It’s easy to identify with the poet when he feels a “mute/ commiseration” when the dog lays his head on his foot, possibly because every time I lay on the floor to exercise lately Skye wants to lay his head on me.

Needless to say, I also identify with the moment spent with the White-throated Sparrow. I am, after all, the one who called myself “He Who Talks to Small Birds.” Personally, I’d consider it rude not to talk to birds while I’m taking their picture, at least if they’re close enough to hear me. I’m particularly sympathetic to hummingbirds, swallows and sparrows who seem too small to bear the burden of freezing weather

While I was online looking for comments on McKay, I ran into a number of entries that made me wonder if I shouldn’t have bought his last collection of poems, rather than his Selected Poems. In particular I found this video rather intriguing, hopefully you will, too: