Each season, Canadian Writers Abroad likes to feature a poet. Today we have two prose poems from Robert Hilles, who with his wife Rain, divides his time between Nanaimo, BC and Khon Kaen, Thailand. Hilles won the 1994 Governor General’s Award for Poetry for Cantos from A Small Room (Wolsak & Wynn). His second novel, A Gradual Ruin (Doubleday Canada 2004), takes place in both WWII Germany and 1960s northern Ontario. His first novel, Raising of Voices (Black Moss Press 1993), won the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s George Bugnet Award for Novel in 1994. Hilles has taught creative writing at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and Vancouver Island University.
By the fall of 2021, Robert Hilles will have published twenty-four books, including four works of fiction, and two nonfiction books. His latest novel, Don’t Hang Your Soul on That, set in Thailand, is forthcoming from Guernica Editions.
These poems are from his eighteenth book of poetry, From God’s Angle, to be published in the fall of 2021 with Black Moss Press.
A Piece of Rag Wrapped Gold: III
It will not rain tonight my beloved but the heat will sink deep into us. Deeper than marrow. Is that possible? Yes. And we will stand under that earnestness of stars. In Thailand the night sky produces heat without the sun. I am still getting used to that. You take my hand and point to the fireworks in the west and for a few minutes our attention is focused on that place in each of us where unity happens. You point twice at firework bursts higher than the others and that light rises and falls with such rapidity that in seconds it is dark again. We are not sure of the reason for the celebration but take in the fireworks as lovers cocooned by heat and night sky. You speak of the throb of the soul how it is different from a heartbeat and doesn’t have a location and doesn’t need one. That is simply how a mind gathers in what is really drifting. The stars overhead arc and are moving away from us but we can’t tell that from here. The regularity of them makes them seem permanent but they aren’t. Each moment like the fireworks is but a lit instant. If this were televised, I am not certain what the viewers would see beyond us in the starry dark. The fireworks’ flashes are but planned light exploding into view at a calibrated height. We could trace the arc of each projectile and compute the numerical path of that but what would that prove except our faith in numbers? As I watch the fireworks explode, I travel with them but return instantly here next to you. Thought is a false escape. This heat contains much good and I move a bit closer to you and look again at another burst of fireworks. We are travelling too even if we don’t realize it most of the time. But all that travelling only brings us to this moment. That is the true magic. Each moment is bundled meaning. If this were televised, we would fade into the shadows and remain half lit figures—a deep mystery to the viewers. The atomic age leaves behind a trail of ghosts.
The Days After the Disaster
The days after the Chernobyl disaster were windy and a week later in a radioactive rain a man walked through trees in search of firewood. He located a dead tree and chopped it down and limbed it and hacked it into short enough pieces and then loaded that into the battered wagon he pulled behind him. When he got the wood home, he piled it in his shed and went indoors and lit his oven to cook dinner. He didn’t feel then the small particles sinking into him claiming perches here and there. They will last 4.5 billion years longer than his body.
Three years later the man was very sick and couldn’t leave his small house. Most of the people had moved away by then or had been sent to cities farther north. Eventually men in suits came for him and took him away to a hospital where he told a nurse he dreamt he had a glass eye. His dreams didn’t make sense to him or anyone else. I was just cutting wood. He said by way of explanation. But none was needed. Once he was dead and his body burned the radioactive particles remained in his ashes. —Robert Hilles, From God’s Angle.
- Robert Hilles reading poetry on YouTube.
- Robert Hilles won The Stephan Stephansson Award for Poetry in 2004 for his collection, Wrapped Within Again: Poems New & Selected (Black Moss Press).
- For a full list of publications by Robert Hilles and awards received, check out Robert Hilles and his site, Robert Hilles.
- Robert Hilles’ books have been shortlisted for The W.O. Mitchell/City of Calgary Prize and the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Fiction.
- Nanaimo News Bulletin and The Navigator on the launch of Shimmer.