Peter Culley: A Letter to Hammertown


The orange chestnut canopy has shredded
into a discarded hamper
of wet umber, umber-orange,
lacy amber, blood-orange
& bloody amber rags
through which tires carve calm channels in time,
neat stripes of a general widening
as the averages catch up.

I snobbishly note on Shasta’s behalf
the oddly spindly thighs
of her underemployed big city sisters
by fedora dad or leopard mom
insulting white bags
threaded through their collars
a badge of slavery–
no sniff, no FIELD, no flicker.

On the soundwalk the light
is louder than I remember,
darkest in the undertree gloom
dramatic gravel bony underfoot
until cranked across by cable car,
eighties rain filtering
through a carpentered forties porch
onto the basement suite stairwell.

Twin ghosts of my brother
pass each other at different times
& don’t look up.
wary, preoccupied, in transit.


Later I made a loop
of the pebble crunch & engine
so that they’d course
through her headphones
& make a kind of disco
that I could then loop again
& install in a top branch
under the streetlight
a kind of permanent radio.

Missing though: the persistent
sense of misdirection, the relaxation
of muscles associated
with certain vocabularies,
the slow rounding off
of matter under successive waves
of daylight & water.

The next day the microphone
was a hummingbird
extracting sugar from ink,
hovering locked sentences
breaking up in a

riot of orange lichen
& red bricks flattened under solar flares.


I abandon my self
to a blushing
of precise boundaries,
like where a squirrel would
step up to snap the branch
back fast enough
to ride the torque all the way back,
a walnut under each arm–
getaway with intent to spring
rather than English leave.

It’s why I wear my
shirts backwards
& my jacket is the color
of the sky.

I’d abandon everything
for a plush spring
with a fat calendar,
every day ringing a bell
every day floating
in a penumbra of sound
echolocalic lenses unfurling
coiled batwings unflapping
as I velociraptor
among rainy streets & thread
on a knotted length of fishing line
pinpricks of orange brick
mixed with holiday sweat.
You abandon yourself
to the runnels & channels
of a new boundary,
ankle deep sliding
thick transparency mirroring
even when disrupted
the thick marine light
located by inference
the waggle of a last leaf &
two minutes of leaping edit
is a spray of divided attention,
your lupine shoulder dropping
hot science on cold water.




The truckers eat on the roof
& the roofers eat in their trucks
tossing wax paper
out the window
until a cleansing thermal draft
sweeps the top of a cherry-picker,
a microbranded
cyclist smoking a Drum Blunt
squishes in half-sleep his thigh
pyjama dancing headset tuned
to the sound of a fan
or a tiny big band
but never opens his eyes not once–
an infant navigator
in a chrome helmet
racing the wax paper.


At the highest branch
of the chestnut an FM transceiver
relays sounds from the street
to another in an alder
on the shores of Beck Lake;
the chestnut is only discernible from the attic
on very quiet nights during frog
season or during storms
but the one on Beck Lake carries traffic
sounds at all times over the reeds,
only fading at the forest canopy.



& in sleep
the furious forest
reconstitutes itself
the ringing silence
thick fleshly endrenched
footfall & Shasta’s fast footfall
lakeside endorsement
underalder endorsement
ringing antennae of sleep
along the long hillsides
always stumbling & climbing
gravity heavy feet prescient sleep
sleep coming to each limb
separately heaving
the will forward fall asleep
walk & fall asleep
along the long lakesides.


Run & drift awake
the stubble of vocabulary
swirls around your feet
in spouts of antique bliss
the furious forest
now suffused with a pink x-ray light
under which the bones
of the street are revealed in
arched & baroque forms
ringing byzantine brass
through coloratura speakers
interrupts the operations of sleep
along the long avenues
always always climbing
the will forward will fall asleep
& run & drift awake
along the long lakesides.


Doesn’t everyone need a stapler
to bind with fallen leaves
their lists of unassailable demands?

A scotchtape splice
to return dead voices
to the brink of audibility?

A stubborn hippie structure
a  bottom heavy grid
a moving sidewalk portrait?

On the second soundwalk
the streetcorners bulged
with cartoon furniture
& clouds of silent winter gnats
swirled around the ducts & fans
I’d closed my eyes against
the expected unexpected birds
who kicked the waterjug downwind
stuck firecrackers in the gravel
held electric toothbrushes
against lampposts
the expected unexpected
tricolor of bad country fireworks
strobing raccoon morse code
through the left-open gate.

Better though to lay down on the curb
ears pressed hard against it
like GC used to
to catch those long lonely city tones,
through the headlamp glow
instructions were just
ghosts in purple offices anyhow.

Klondike? Do you hear what he
called me? Aren’t you
going to fight him?
Put together drunk, grinning
at her favorite brown thing
who’s mock desperately dialing a cab
on the unmanned cash machine
her filled in diastema
sinking through cookie
to cold whiteness
The other ones are called gaps…

An interval then
as you step through
this rip of surface tension
into another world–

& just as my father
carried a pint for his father
home from the pub
covering it with his hands
from the rain
I will carry this bucket
of cinammon schnaps
back from Kingsgate Mall
& not spill a drop.


Peter Culley‘s books of poetry include The Climax Forest (Leech 1995), Hammertown New Star 2003, The Age of Briggs & Stratton (New Star 2008) and Parkway (New Star, forthcoming).  His essays and art writing have been appearing since 1986. His blog mosses from an old manse has been appearing since 2003.  He lives in South Wellington, near Nanaimo.