I first read Randy Lundy’s Field Notes for the Self in strengthening spring light. It is a joy, because in this unexpected time of isolation, light and poetry are friends come to visit.
Evidence of a self informed by place (Manitoba, Saskatchewan), heritage (Barren Lands [Cree] First Nations), and experience lived and learned, Lundy’s “dark meditations” shimmer and plunge as I read. “Leaves” are both departure and burgeoning (“A Minor Apocalypse”); the prairie is “a hide tight-stretched in all directions” (“The Names, or On the Emptiness of Mind”), and I’m seeing it through a perspective so unlike my own I can only approach quietly, in stillness.
The book begins with an epigraph from The Upanishads, and it’s clear Lundy has sat with his art the way an upanishad invites: “near or beside,” the end note tells me, “as a student might sit near a teacher.” His poems call me to sit with them in just this way, attentive to their vivid landscapes, both outward and inward, and their clear, unencumbered prose.
Dispassionate yet impassioned, stark yet bristling with images, the poems encompass contradiction and expansion: “Languages—the languages of all your ancestors—do they exist? Probably not. Except they do, like the rest of the dead and dying” (“Except”).
Many open with notes about season, weather, time of day or night. They talk to themselves and us of desire, suffering, meditation, wisdom. Memory and dream share space with birds, trees, wind, grasses, dogs, and the star-filled night sky.
In “End of the Year,” it’s cold, and a bird is hanging upside down from a branch. “Your heart, too, has its beaks and claws,” and “wants what it already contains.” Yet “contains,” the poem says, is the wrong word, because sometimes it “overflows like a northern river […]. In your memory, a thousand years ago, the breakup was thunderous.”
The title poem tracks what the heart loves and wants to share: “You want to tell her about the seven pelicans,” about sunlight on wings, waking dreams, songs, places, “emptiness that filled the space” like a presence.
In “Two Requirements for Reaching the Goal: To Begin and to Continue,” the speaker recalls sunlight “glaring off the boat” as his now-dead father sets out across a lake, then denies that memory significance: “It’s only a memory. It carries no meaning. Nothing that lasts.” Further on, though, memory in the shape of a “crow in the alleyway behind your apartment twenty years ago, clutching another crow’s… eyeless head, in its beak,” defines the “moonless dark” of the speaker’s question about how to be human and alone.
One way, says “February: Full-Moon Meditation,” is discipline: “You know you should seek the dharma as a medicine […] meditate, live purely, do your work, be quiet.” This is not easy, though. “Thinking of Nothing” closes with an enigmatic, koan-like instruction: “Sit alone. Think of nothing. See how easily it comes to you.”
The poems repeatedly call us back from bleakness. Sometimes the prairie wind is “a miles-long tongue that holds nothing back,” the poem “Two Requirements” tells us. “Take your body home from the field—your mind will follow”—words I trust.
Susan Gillis’s most recent book Yellow Crane (Brick Books, 2018) is part love poem to Montreal and part meditation on ecologies of place, writing, and desire. A member of the collaborative group Yoko’s Dogs, Susan also co-curates the online journal HALIBUT, and offers manuscript services and mentoring. Visit her online at Susan Gillis and Concrete & River.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.