Considering my wheelbarrow

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About seventeen years ago I went to my first writing retreat at the Sage Hills Writing Experience in St. Michael’s Retreat just outside of Lumsden in the Qu’appelle Valley of Saskatchewan. Sage Hills was pretty new then. Coordinator poet Stephen Ross Smith (now at Banff) created a wonderfully collegial atmosphere where new and unknown writers could work, eat, drink, play pool and watch birds with many of the country’s best. I brought some poems to work on, but found myself struggling a few days in, overwhelmed perhaps by the august company.

I was looking for calm, for simplicity (it may have had something to do with the place itself), and was maybe missing home and husband just a little bit. Thinking of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”,  I cast about for an object (I wasn’t going to choose a bird – Don McKay and Trevor Herriot – both birders and naturalists were in residence that year) that held enough meaning to prompt the muse to speak. Triggered perhaps by Stevens’ contemporary, William Carlos Williams, I turned to my wheelbarrow.


Considering my wheelbarrow


In the tumult of autumn wind
leaves cut loose
the only still thing
is the wheelbarrow.


     An empty wheelbarrow rests
lightly on a flat tire.
Spilling firewood it sits
unmoved by my curses.


A collector of rain
the wheelbarrow is
not red.


There are so many kinds of wheelbarrows.
Mine is orange
like a schoolbus.
The children
it carried are grown.


Consider this:
when a wheelbarrow sprawls
on its belly
its legs are in the air.


After a summer’s labour
the wheelbarrow and the compost
bosom to bosom


I must keep watch
both on the wheelbarrow’s path
and its awkward load.
Its obstacles are mine.


Three stones from the creek
do not fill the wheelbarrow.
My arms teach me
of volume and density.


 I could rest easier without
a truck than without
a wheelbarrow.


Contemplate the barrow before the wheel.
Would I relinquish the wheel?
Who am I fooling?


 The wheelbarrow has many homes:
the woodshed
the garden
the compost.

In the wide light of the moon
it wanders.
In the morning
I have to call its name.


Twenty years:
one house
one husband
one wheelbarrow.


Steller's Jay 1 (600x400)


The poem was published in the weather from the west in 2007, at which time I changed the last verse from twenty to thirty years. When my son took this photo of a Steller’s Jay this past Christmas, I realized it’s still the same wheelbarrow. And the fellow who loads it up with firewood every winter morning is still the same husband. The wood feeds a woodstove in the same house. Thirty-seven doesn’t scan very well, but we’re hoping to get to forty …

One thing I learned over the years is that whenever I go away on writing business for any length of time, it’s good practice to write something for my sweetheart. The title the weather from the west comes from a poem I wrote when I was at Banff a few years after I went to Sage Hills.

the weather from the west

where the weather comes from the west
small birds gather
on the bare branches
beside my balcony

I stand
face upturned
snow flakes on my eyelids
my cheeks
in my open mouth

I melt
distill the crystal messenger
carrying this windborne dust
released perhaps
when the rock you kicked
bounced down to the creek
or the dog dug for a stick
you tossed

I swallow

2014-11-04 Lynn feeds a whiskey jack (800x600)

3 thoughts on “Considering my wheelbarrow

  1. Sheila – thrilling to read these verses and commentaries!! I sincerely wish you much success!

    From Rick and Judy Ellis


  2. Sheila I have always loved your poem ‘Consider my wheelbarrow’ and really enjoy hearing the context it was written in, inspiring!

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